Improving Engagement and Classroom Management with Bell-Ringers

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. 

This post is now part of a link-up. Click HERE to see related classroom management posts. 

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 often times 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. Somedays it might be a grammar or sentence combining activity. Somedays it might be a critical thinking or reflection question about our current reading. Somedays it might be a quick writing prompt related to current events. Somedays 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 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 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. 

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

What are some classroom management strategies you have tried that are successful for starting class on time?

Teaching Romeo and Juliet to EL Students

Teaching Romeo and Juliet: Making the content accessible for all high school students, even ELs!
It’s that time of year again. High school English teachers are breaking out the Shakespeare and introducing their freshmen to the classic tragedy of Romeo and Juliet.

When I first started teaching, Shakespeare intimidated me. Sure I read it in high school and again in college, but now I was expected to be an expert in it. I would read ahead every night, annotate my teacher’s edition textbook, and prepare for the next day’s reading. Eventually the fear of teaching Shakespeare diminished completely. I now look forward to this unit every year. I’m pretty sure that my students experience a similar wave of emotions: at first they are unsure of themselves and intimidated by the Elizabethan language, but by the middle of the play, they are pros.

So how exactly do I teach Shakespeare?
First, I begin by introducing William Shakespeare and Elizabethan language. To demonstrate how language changes overtime, I give them examples of phrases my grandparents used to say: gee whiz, golly wolly, young whippersnappers, etc. This shows them just how quickly language can change.

Then, I provide my students with this handout from I print both sides out on brightly colored paper and encourage my students to hold onto it for the entire unit. 
We take some time in class to go over some of the different ways to say things. Then I like to have my students work in small groups to decipher different Shakespearean passages and write their own. I’ve found that this activity is especially effective in familiarizing students with Elizabethan language.

From there, I utilize all of the teaching materials that are included in my Ultimate Romeo and Juliet Differentiation Bundle.
Teaching Romeo and Juliet to EL students.

This resource includes six different teaching resources. All of the resources were created with my ESL students in mind.

Teaching Romeo and Juliet: Making the content accessible for all high school students, even ELs!
I use the editable PowerPoint presentation to easily break down blank verse and iambic pentameter for my students. I’ve used this PowerPoint for five years now, and the students are always engaged.

This vocabulary packet includes vocabulary for the entire play. Each Act has ten different words, graphic organizers, a crossword puzzle, and a quiz.
These Romeo and Juliet CLOZE passages took me a very long time to create. However, I am so thankful that I have them now. This is one of the single-most helpful Romeo and Juliet resources I have ever used. These CLOZE summary passages can be used in a variety of ways: while reading the Act to help comprehension, after reading the Act to help with comprehension, after reading the Act to assess student learning, and after reading the Act to model proper summarization techniques. There are six CLOZE passages in total: one for the prologue, and one for each Act. Answer keys are included. 

Romeo and Juliet: Differentiated Writing Tasks for ESL Students
Rather than assess my students with multiple-choice tests, I like to see what they have learned through this series of writing tasks. Each task is differentiated, and there are multiple handouts for each different Act. While it may take a bit longer to grade these assignments, assigning these writing tasks instead of a simple quiz really lets me asses where my students are at in terms of their comprehension. Furthermore, these assignments also ask students about complex drama and English elements including monologue, blank verse, and characterization.

These organizers are very helpful for documenting how characters develop and change throughout the play.

I use this essay to finalize my unit on Romeo and Juliet. Students write an argument essay that answers the question of who is ultimately responsible for their deaths. This prompt requires them to analyze the events from the drama, formulate their own opinion, and provide supporting evidence to support their claim.

Reading the Play
I like to engage my students in the theater aspect of Romeo and Juliet as much as possible. That is why when we read the play, we read the entire play aloud. Every student in my classroom is assigned a certain number of readings. Usually they have to read 3-4 times for credit. However, if they read more than the required amount of times, they receive extra credit.

Students sign up for the roles on a first come first serve basis. Before every class period I write the Act and scene we are reading on the white board along with all of the characters who have speaking roles in the selected reading. Students must sign up for parts before the bell rings. I rarely have to assign reading. Usually my students rush to my door to select their parts. This encourages them to read ahead the night before, and they have more ownership in the play. For some of the more important scenes, I have the students read aloud in the front of the classroom on an elevated platform. They actually look forward to reading the balcony scene!

What are some of your favorite teaching strategies for teaching The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet?

Teaching While Pregnant: A Survival Guide
As teachers, we tend to have a difficult time making sacrifices in the classroom. For many of us, especially those of us who teach in low socio-economic areas, we might be one of the only constants in our students’ lives. We want to make sure that we are always “on” for our students. At times this can be a challenge, and it only gets more challenging when you are pregnant. However, there are ways to survive teaching while pregnant without sacrificing anything in your classroom.

The first trimester can be a difficult one to navigate, especially if you are experiencing difficult morning sickness. I was fortunate enough to have mostly afternoon sickness, but I was queasy all day long. Many women also prefer to not share any pregnancy news with family, friends, coworkers, and bosses during this time as well, which can only make these 13 weeks more complicated. Hiding morning sickness and frequent restroom trips from students and fellow staffers can be challenging.

Here is how I managed to survive the first trimester while teaching:
  • Have seltzer water on hand at all times: This helped me so many times combat morning sickness. I would just sip on it casually throughout the entire day, and it would help. My favorite is La Croix lemon or lime. It is crisp and refreshing, and very carbonated. It helped to settle my stomach.
  • Have bland crackers on hand at all times: Once again, this would help me manage the morning sickness. Pretzel sticks were also one of my go-to snacks. 
  • Keep your desk stocked with snacks: Eating smaller and more frequent amounts of food helped me as well.
Many women decide to let the cat out of the bag once the second trimester starts. It is always best to share the news with your administration before telling any colleagues. News can spread quickly, and it is always best if your principal hears it from you first. 

This is also a good time to start the dialogue with your principal about finding a long term sub. Many districts require long-term subs to be fully credentialed or licensed teachers. The sooner you find a sub, the sooner your mind will be at ease.

The third trimester is one of the most difficult trimesters to teach through. Being on your feet for six or seven hours is rough when you are pregnant.
  • Plan your days so that students do a lot of the work: This doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice your teaching to get some rest. Instead, plan some inquiry-based group and individual work for your students.
  • Take advantage of your prep period: Eat a snack, get off your feet, and grade/plan as much as you can.
  • Ask for student volunteers: Ask your students to help pass out and collect papers. This will help you stay off your feet while helping those antsy students get some energy out.
  • Dress comfortably: One word: flats. I love Born flats. They are cute and provide some additional support for your feet.
  • Don’t be afraid to take a day off: Some days you just might not feel well. It is okay to take a day off and relax at home. I made the mistake of NOT doing this my during my second pregnancy, and I was pulled from work a few weeks earlier than I anticipated.
  • Start planning for your sub: I am an over-planner. I can’t help it. I like to make sure that my sub is more than prepared to take over my class while on leave. I make a binder for the sub that includes everything they could possibly need. However, this doesn’t mean that I plan each and every single day for my sub. That would be too much. Instead, I provide my sub with unit plans. The unit plans include key readings, assignments, assessments, and a general time frame. I’ve found that this gives the sub a bit more flexibility when it comes to planning and preparing to take over your class. Furthermore, it allows the sub to take more ownership over the class, which is something that will benefit everyone involved.