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Keep Students On-Task: Using Bell Work

written by: Margie • edited by: Donna Cosmato • updated: 1/4/2012

Keeping students on task is a challenge teachers face daily. If students know that they are expected to begin meaningful work the minute they enter class, this challenge becomes easier to manage. Read about an easy way to make sure that not one minute of your instructional time is wasted.

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    Effective Bell Work

    In a perfect world, the start of class would be characterized by students primly sitting at their desks with sharp pencils, open textbooks, and clean notebook paper at the ready. In the real world, the start of class is all too often characterized by students slouched against desks gossiping about Friday night’s party while throwing annoyed glances at their teacher who is trying her best to direct their attention to the latest scene from Romeo and Juliet.

    This is an exasperating problem for many educators, but one that can be overcome by establishing firm guidelines in the beginning. Students should have meaningful work to do the moment they enter class. In my room, I use the term “Bell Work,” but the name can be adapted to suit your class and style. Bell Work is a short assignment that must be started before the bell rings. Students know that as soon as they enter the classroom, they have important work to do.

    To be successful, Bell Work must be meaningful and teachers must be consistent when assigning it. This is not busy work; it should be directly related to your subject. There is no reason it must always pertain directly to the day’s lesson, but students should always be able to see the connection with your class. If they can see bell work's relationship to your class, they are more likely to take it seriously, making it much easier to keep students on-task.

    For example, if you are an English teacher, you might use Bell Work to have your students make predictions about the story you are going to be reading that day. You might put the title of the story and a few short sentences about it on an overhead and have them list three things they think will happen.

    Bell Work is an excellent way to sneak in standardized testing practice. Many times, if you spend an entire hour teaching something students consider “boring,” they become bored and lose focus. They are better able to handle a less exciting subject if it is broken up into small chunks throughout the year.

    While Bell Work is a good way to review and prepare students for your class, it is also an excellent classroom management tool. If they know that they are expected to work from the minute they enter the classroom and are never given an opportunity to get off task, it is much easier to keep students on task. This greatly reduces discipline problems, making your classroom an environment that is conducive to learning.

    Students should know the consequences of incomplete bell work. This is up to the individual teacher, but could be a phone call home or a bad grade in the grade book. The prospect of daily grading bell is overwhelming to many teachers, but can be accomplished by simply not telling your students on which day bell work will be graded. This way students should complete their work daily, since they are never sure when it will be graded.

    Classroom management help, test review, and class readiness are three positive outcomes of using Bell Work in your classroom. With simple consistency and practice, this tool can help ensure that work is accomplished steadily throughout the entire school day.