An effective bell ringer routine for the secondary ELA classroom

An effective bell ringer routine for the secondary ELA classroom

Classroom management is something that many teachers struggle with, especially as budget cuts pack more and more students into classrooms. Some secondary classrooms across the nation have as many as 40 or more students in their classes. This not only makes teaching the content difficult, but it also makes classroom management and individual student contact more difficult as well.

One particular area of concern is maximizing instructional time. In an ideal world, class starts the very second the bell rings with a classroom filled with attentive students who are ready to learn. In a real-world setting, this is oftentimes not the case. Depending on school tardy policies, many teachers may struggle with stragglers coming into their classrooms at the very last minute. And then there are the students who need to sharpen their pencils after the bell rings, the ones who come in after the bell rings, and the ones who need to catch up with their friends during those first few minutes of class.

The fact of the matter is this: those first few seconds after the bell rings are crucial to establishing effective classroom management and setting the tone for that day.

Like many other secondary teachers, in order to try to utilize every single moment of instructional time, I rely on procedures. Particularly, I rely on a daily bell-ringer exercise.

At first, I struggled with holding students accountable for this exercise. I struggled with how to handle students who simply do not do work if they do not receive any credit for it. I struggled with getting students to sense the urgency of starting the bell ringer at the very beginning of class.

After some trial and error, I found the perfect solution that improves student engagement, classroom management, and instructional time utilization. I invested in stamps and ink pads.

Every class starts the same way. I have the bell-ringer posted on board for students to participate. My bell-ringers vary day-to-day. Some days it might be a grammar or sentence combining activity. Some days it might be a critical thinking or reflection question about our current reading. Some days it might be a quick writing prompt related to current events. Some days it might even be a fun riddle or puzzle. However, no matter what the activity for the day is, my students know that in order to receive credit for that day they have to be on time, in their seats, and working silently on the activity.

My students use this pre-printed handout to record their bell-ringer answers. This helps with uniformity maintaining a constant routine.

I take attendance as soon as the bell rings and then I grab a rubber stamp and an ink pad and make my rounds up and down each and every single aisle. This allows me to have contact with ALL of my students that day. If students are on task, they receive a stamp for the day. By doing this I can quickly glance at my students’ answers and see if they understand what we are working on. It is a great opportunity for informal assessment. Plus, since I am already right by their desks, I can quickly help students who are struggling.

  • If students are tardy, they do not receive a stamp.
  • If students are absent, they do not receive a stamp.
  • If students are off-task, they do not receive a stamp.
  • If students are talking, they do not receive a stamp.

Each stamp is worth a point, and those points add up before progress reports come out. This classroom management strategy helps me start my class on time and get the students quickly engaged.

Furthermore, I offer students opportunities to receive more stamps to increase student engagement and encourage students to participate in classroom discussion. Often times I will offer extra stamps when students share their answers. This also allows students who were absent to make up points from a missed day.

Since starting this routine, I’ve noticed that it is easier to get the class started on time and to get my students engaged in the day’s activities. Students thrive on routines, and they know exactly what to expect when the bell rings in my classroom. Walking up and down each aisle also provides my students with some one-on-one instructional time. I’ve also had many students take advantage of this time to ask me questions that they don’t feel comfortable asking in front of the class. My students know that I will pass by their desks shortly, and so it also helps minimize classroom disturbances.

I feel that this strategy is a great way to start my classroom, engage students, and many myself more accessible to my students. 

An effective bell ringer routine for the secondary ELA classroom

If you would like to try this strategy in your own classroom, you can download my bell-ringer activity log here: Bell-Ringer Activity Log

Bell Ringers for the Middle School and High School Classroom

Growth Mindset Bell Ringers

Shakespeare Bell Ringers

Classroom Community Bell Ringers

Sentence Combining Bell Ringers




  • Hi! I love this idea, can't wait to use it! Curious though, how do you keep track of who got stamps that day and who didn't? Do you include these points on report cards?

    • Hi Chelsea,
      I stamp the entries every single class period. It's a way for me to show a classroom presence by having one-on-one interaction with every student. I collect the forms and use this as a participation grade for each grading term.

  • Hi Chelsea,
    Since I teach high schoolers, I hold the students accountable for the stamps. I only collect these logs three-four times a semester. The students have to keep them in their notebooks. I usually give them a few days notice that I'll be collecting them. When I collect them, my TA adds up the stamps and that is how many points they earn. These do count toward report card grades. I put them in the participation category. The points usually account for about 5 percent of their grade.


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