A Novel Way to Engage Students

Listen to educators almost anywhere and at any grade level, including college, and you will hear questions on how to keep students engaged throughout the entire lesson. Students enter class with a wide variety of experiences, stressors, and distractions that teachers know nothing about—and that is just in one day. So, is there a way to help every student focus for an entire lesson?

Enter the Primacy/Recency Effect which states that in the span of a 40-minute lesson, the first ten minutes and the last ten minutes are the times when their brains are the most engaged with the material. The objective is to present new information in the first 10-15 minutes, followed by 10 minutes to practice the new information, and concluding with reinforcing the information in the final remaining time.

Some teachers use “Bell Ringer” activities to bring the learning objective into focus as soon as students enter the classroom. According to weareteachers.com, “They create a routine, set clear expectations, and get students plugged in and focused during the first minutes of your lesson.”

Here are ten Bell Ringer strategies:

  1. Have students find and label in 3 minutes as many examples of figurative language in the current novel the class is reading. They then pair up with a partner to choose the 5 best to share.
  2. Provide a poem and have the students identify the theme with evidence underlined.
  3. Have a short quiz ready. Skill: recall of information from previous instruction
  4. Provide a math problem that must be worked within a specified time.
  5. Describe an odd object using at least 5 adjectives.
  6. Solve this riddle.
  7. Find the mistake.
  8. Watch a brief news report and write a 3 sentence summary.
  9. Analyze a photo and make 3 observations, 3 inferences, and 3 predictions.
  10. Solve a quick mystery.

One of the other common problems in the classroom is too much time wasted on non-instructional activities—taking roll, collecting homework, etc. And, typically, we underestimate how long that is.  Shirley Hord of Southwest Educational Development Laboratory in Texas discovered that “3 to 17 minutes are wasted at the beginning of each class period each school year.” This means that depending on the length of the class, almost one-third of the time is wasted time that could be used for instruction and application of concepts.

Part of the appeal of Bell Ringer strategies is that students get to work quickly because they are accustomed to the expectations as soon as they enter class. Harry and Rosemary Wong state that it’s all in how you start.

Effective teachers know how to start the class immediately:

  1. You greet the students at the door.
  2. They go through their start of class routine.
  3. They sit in their assigned seats.
  4. They look at the agenda.
  5. They begin the opening assignment.

Combining the Primacy/Recency Effect of prime learning times with Bell Ringer Activities could help many teachers maximize the instructional time, as well as reinforce previous concepts through Bell Ringers.




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