Bell Ringer Activity Ideas for Science Classes

Instructor: Rachel Tustin

Dr. Rachel Tustin has a PhD in Education focusing on Educational Technology, a Masters in English, and a BS in Marine Science. She has taught in K-12 for more than 15 years, and higher education for ten years.

Expand your idea of a bell ringer in the science classroom. Although you can use traditional, individual seatwork, there are other options that will make your bell ringer activities more interactive and productive in the learning process.

Why Use a Bell Ringer Activity?

For some teachers, the bell ringer is simply a method to preserve sanity: five to ten minutes to ignore the children and catch a breath between classes. However, if used appropriately, it can be a productive time for students.

Term-of-the-Day Bell Ringers

Bell ringer activities are chances for students to review material from the previous class or practice skills they need to be successful in the content area. When you design bell ringers, try to use them to their utmost potential. Pick a specific piece of content that you want students to grapple with for that ten minutes as a review that builds on previous material.

One example to consider is a vocabulary four-square. Have the students draw a square on the page, and write the 'term of the day' you want them to review in the center of the square. Then, assign them specific tasks to complete on each side of the square. For example, students could write a synonym or antonym, use the term in the sentence, write a sentence that gives an example, or a create sentence that explains how this term relates to another scientific word.

Another quick and simple task students can do with a vocabulary term is to draw a picture that shows what the word means. As is appropriate, students may also write a few sentences explaining how their picture relates to the term of the day.

Students can also create a term-of-the-day tree. At the roots of the tree, students should identify any stems or roots that are used in the term. Roots and stems are everywhere in science terminology. For instance, the word 'photosynthesis' can be divided into 'photo,' 'syn',' and 'thesis.' Students can fill the trunk with examples to illustrate the term. Then they can 'branch out' in the leaves to include any related terms, which can help students form connections among the science terms.

Example of a tree bell ringer

Bell Ringers for Your Movers and Shakers

Every teacher has led a group of students who, shall we say, are busy bodies - it's hard to get them to sit still for ten minutes. In such cases, consider designing bell ringers that require your students to get up and move.

If you are approaching the end of a section or entire unit of study, you can use your bell ringer as a review of key terms. Take large pieces of paper and post them around your room. On each, write a sub-topic of your unit of study. When your students come in, have them grab a marker and add a term (vocabulary or otherwise) that they would need to use to explain the topic to another person. Don't allow any repeats, so your students will have to tap their creativity to add to the lists.

You can also use a bulletin board and sticky notes for this activity - display a keyword on the board, then have students write related terms and their meanings on sticky notes to be placed on the board. By the end of the activity, you might have something that looks like the example below.

The result of a bell ringer activity using sticky notes and a bulletin board
Bell Ringer Movers and Shakers

Another version of this is the rotating graphic organizer. Start a graphic organizer on a large piece of paper for each group of tables in your classroom, using a basic framework of the concepts they want you to include. If you have several periods per day, each class can add content to the organizer as the day progresses. If you only have 1-2 periods a day, you might have students rotate during the bell ringer time and add to the graphic organizer.

Design a Bell Ringer with Immediate Feedback

You may know teachers who spend hours a week grading bell ringers, and odds are neither they nor the student gets any productive feedback out of that experience. Technology can change all of that.

If you are fortunate enough to have devices for students to use, try creating a bell ringer students complete online. There are many websites that allow you to build quick activities for students, and the website provides instant feedback. You might make a short practice or game students can complete for the ten or so minutes of bell ringer time.

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