Barbara has taught English and history and has a master's degree in special education.
Social Studies Bell Ringers
In an average school day, students will move between 5 to 7 different classrooms, teachers, and subjects. Usually there is about a five minute time gap for students to travel from one room to the other. Some students arrive almost immediately, while others seem to just barely make it before the bell (or after, in some cases).
To get students ready to begin thinking and working on a fresh subject, and to provide students with an immediate task once they walk into the room (whenever that is), it is good practice to provide a brief 5 minute activity. These short activities are called bell ringers. They are called this because they usually occur around the time the bell will ring to signal the start of class. You may have also heard them called warm-ups as they function as activities to help 'warm-up' the brain. In this lesson you will be introduced to five different bell ringer activities that function as review/study practice, possible pre-assessment, and standardized test practice.
Just as toddlers learn best by doing and finding out for themselves, students in school can learn well by acquiring the knowledge on their own. Reading Investigations are reading activities that allow students to find out the information for themselves. This type of activity gives the students a sense of ownership over the newly discovered information.
To use a reading investigation to introduce a new topic, in a social studies class, give each of your students the main ideas for what the class is about to study (2-4 main ideas). Assign each student a brief text that covers the new information. This is a good place to differentiate the types of text based on a student's individual reading ability. Allow students 5-10 minutes to read and find as much as they can for each topic and record their findings. Use the information that they found to kick off a discussion about the new topic.
Social studies provides a great opportunity to use graphic organizers that are often used in the English classroom. The events in history are non-fiction stories and can be analyzed in that way. In class, use flow charts, cause and effect graphic organizers, or plot diagrams (as seen in the image illustrating the prohibition era).
As a bell ringer, have an almost-completed version of the graphic organizer you have used in class and have your students fill in the blank portions. For example, in the image portraying prohibition place a couple question marks in the place of the last piece of information about the 21st Amendment. Students would need to remember which amendment ended prohibition and fill in the blank space.
Category Sorts are cards with information on them that students have to place in the correct categories. The teacher can create the sort for the students as a pre-assessment to determine how much they know or as a way to study before a test. It can also be used as a student-made activity where the students create a sort for a topic that is of particular difficulty for them. As a bell ringer, you can give your students 5 minutes to practice their sorts before you post the correct answers on the board for them to check. You can use a current topic you are working on or use it as a review for any previous skill covered. For example, if you have studied the Spanish-American War, World War I, and World War II, you can have students sort the specific leaders, causes, and significant events based on which war they apply to.
Part of teaching social studies is studying maps and teaching students to label and identify areas of significance. To create a bell ringer activity about maps, laminate copies of maps of the part of the world you are studying and post on the board the instructions for students to identify and label a specific region and its significance. You can also post a map on the board and have students analyze it and explain the events that occurred there. For example, when studying the events of World War II, label the coast of France and ask students to describe the events that took place there.
There is no way around the fact that, as teachers, we will have to teach our students how to take standardized tests well. Standardized tests are evolving from simple multiple choice questions to more complex questions such as fill in the blank, drag and drop (cut and paste), open ended, true and false, matching, etc. For standardized test preparation bell ringers, provide your students with practice answering each type of question by creating well written questions about the topic you are studying. Vary the questions each time you offer this type of bell ringer so that the students are exposed to the variety of different questions types. The more practice students have in this area, the better prepared they will be when they sit down at the end of the school year to take their big test.
In this lesson you have been provided with five different activities and strategies to use when providing effective and interesting bell ringer activities for your students. Using a reading investigation and category sorts provides students with ownership over their own learning. Integrating graphic organizers from other subject areas and opportunities to analyze maps allows for higher level thinking skills to develop. Preparing your students for their end of the year assessments is good practice as a teacher anyway, so why not include it as a part of your regular classroom bell ringer routine. Bell ringers can be thought provoking and interesting ways for your students to warm up their brains and get ready for what you are about to teach.
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