Bell Ringers For Middle School Reading

Instructor: David Raudenbush

David has been an educator for over 20 years. He holds a bachelor's degree in communications and journalism as well as a master's degree in education. He has taught English, language arts, and social studies to students from both middle and high school.

The bell has rung, but class isn't quite ready to start. How do you keep children occupied until you are are ready to begin the lesson? The answer is short activities called bell ringers.

When the bell rings, does your reading class really start? Probably not. Chances are, you have clerical matters to deal with: taking attendance, checking passes, gathering notes, collecting homework. You probably don't want a group of middle school students waiting idly during that time. That's a recipe for behavior problems. The longer they are off task, the harder you will find it to get them focused on a reading lesson.

Bell ringers are short, learning activities used to fill the space between the opening bell and the start of the lesson. They can review previous lessons or set the stage for the day's lesson. Bell ringers only take a few minutes to complete. In five minutes, or perhaps a little more, you and you your students should be ready to start your lesson.

Vocabulary Bell Ringers

Starting class with some word work will get your students thinking about the vocabulary skills they will need later in the lesson.

Word of the Day

Expanding word knowledge is valuable to every middle schooler. The simplest bell ringer is to have students copy down a new word in a vocabulary notebook. They can record the definition, part of speech and pronunciation. To extend thinking, have students write a sentence of their own.

Sentence Completions

If you have a list of vocabulary words for the class to study, you can list some sentences with missing words on the board and have students fill in the blanks with vocabulary.

Context Clues

Middle school students should be able to define words from the context clues in a sentence. For practice, provide them with some sentences containing an underlined unfamiliar word and enough clues to figure out the meaning of the word.


Ask students to match words from recent vocabulary lists with their definitions. This is a quick way to review word meaning.

Comprehension Bell Ringers

Improving reading comprehension should be the main goal of a middle school reading class. Students can review some skills with regular bell ringers. These bell ringers can direct student thinking toward comprehension skills:

Comprehension questions

A few questions about the latest reading selection will lead to a discussion and deeper questioning later on.

Question creating

You can also ask students to create questions about what they have recently read. This will also lead lively conversations later as students ask each other questions and debate responses.

Skill Review

There is a large subset of skills that comprise reading comprehension: making inferences, drawing conclusions, cause and effect, compare and contrast. Worksheets practicing these skills make effective bell ringers. You can use publisher made materials, or simply ask students skill questions about their latest reading. For example, compare and contrast the way two characters approached the conflict.

Literary elements

Students need to be reminded how various literary elements work together to make a story function. As a bell ringer, students can do a short worksheet reviewing common literary devices like plot, setting, theme, or conflict. If you use a reading series, the book probably comes with these. If not, materials aren't hard to find.

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