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Bell Starters are Essential
Focus activities, or “Bell Starters", as I like to call them, are essential for successful classroom management. When students enter your classroom, they should be well aware of the opening procedures of the period. A disruptive start to your class period can set the tone for the rest of your instructional time. Students who are engaged from bell to bell in organized and enriching activities are benefiting from the teacher’s attention to planning and detail.
Although it has taken me over seven years to perfect my Bell Starter methods, I feel that my focus activities are an essential part of my daily curriculum. The key to effective focus activities is to apply them to what you are teaching. Never should a focus activity be simply “busy work" for your students to do while you take roll and attend to “housekeeping" issues. Students are intuitive and can sense when what they are doing is mundane and pointless.
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How to Implement Focus Activities
The key to implementing effective focus activities is to create objectives that tie into your curriculum.For example, my students answer a question (usually a level 2 or 3 question) about what we are reading in class. The questions can focus on the subject matter of the literature, or ask them to apply a literary skill, using the text we are studying. A sample question might look like this: “Choose three tone words that best describe ‘The Tell-Tale Heart’, and provide examples of Poe’s diction that help establish the tone."
Math teachers could have them answer a word problem over subject matter they are covering, or science teachers could have students explain a definition of a vocabulary word they studied in a previous lesson. Putting thought into your focus activities will pay off, in that students will be gaining knowledge in small, manageable chunks.
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Regular Assessment is Vital!
Accountability and regular assessment of focus activities is key to keeping students on track and serious about completing their bell starters each day. Students quickly pick up on the fact that their bell starters are never graded or assessed. They will not do the focus activities if you do not grade them!
A great way to keep bell starters organized and in one place is to have your students complete them in composition notebooks. They never tear out the pages and you grade each week’s worth of focus activities in their notebooks. I usually have my students leave their notebooks in a plastic tub designated for their period so I have easy access to them when I take grades.
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Everyone Benefits from Bell Starters
Organization, planning, and accountability are all components needed to make your daily focus activities beneficial and successful in your classroom. Taking the time to implement bell starters will change the instructional dynamic in your classroom. You will find that it will improve classroom behavior, complement instruction, and ultimately benefit both student and teacher.