Plugged Into Learning

Five tips for maximizing the first five minutes of class:

Picture students piling into your classroom and diving straight into their work. This might sound like a crazy daydream, but it doesn't have to be. With a solid routine and some engaging activities, you can get your students plugged into learning within the first five minutes of each class period.

1. Implement Bellringers or Entry Tasks

Setting up a routine is easy. The key is consistency. Middle school students need to develop habits and have clear expectations or the conversation they were having in the hallway will HAVE to be finished at their desks (Is Sarah SERIOUSLY dating Adam AGAIN?!).

At the beginning of the school year, get your routine into place so students know exactly what to do. Keep it the same for at least a few weeks, then you can start spicing things up a bit. For the most part, I recommend consistency. When kids know your expectations for the first five minutes of class (grab your binder, open to your bellringer journal or entry task, get started, be ready to review when the timer goes off in five minutes), your chances of them actually following through on the routine are pretty good.

2. Connect to Real Learning

One of my favorite blog posts is from Cult of Pedagogy: "Is Your Lesson a Grecian Urn?" In the blog post, Jennifer Gonzalez describes a teacher she was coaching who had a really fun activity that kids notoriously loved, crafting a Grecian Urn, but the lesson was not directly tied to any real learning. It was really more of a craft.

Students complete bellringers at the start of each class to help them plug into learning.

Bellringers can be the same way: well intentioned but really just busy work. I strongly believe that entry tasks and bellringers need to be directly connected to meaningful learning and standards. Think of the skills and standards you are targeting in the lesson for that day, and tie your bellringer directly to that skill or standard.

I used to have my students write learning targets in a journal, but I found simply copying a standard didn't connect to much meaningful learning (although I did really like the growth of academic vocabulary that resulted). Instead, I found that students needed a quick five minute or less warm-up question or activity that worked as an appetizer for the main learning course. I want my students to get their feet wet, test out what they know, show what they need help with, and then our entire lesson that follows will be more meaningful.

"Plugged in" means my kids know that today we will focus on citing text evidence, for

example. This is what it looks like on a small scale. This is what we know. This is what we need to know. A good bellringer will give students and teachers all of that information.

3. Make Bellringers Engaging

Last school year, I set a goal to get kids on their feet and moving as much as possible. It was more fun for the kids and more fun for me, too. Kids were involved and engaged when they had a task that involved getting out of their seats and moving through their work.

Bellringer time is a great chance to get kids on their feet. Here are a few ideas for helping kids learn and stretch their legs:

Sticky note bellringers in action!
  • Sticky note bellringers: To get kids on their feet, have them write their bellringer responses on a sticky note and post it to the SmartBoard or another location at the front of the

classroom. It is so simple to adapt any bellringer to a sticky note task, and kids love it! Once students have posted, read through answers and discuss as a class. Answers will be anonymous, so students who might normally be hesitant to share in class will be a part of the conversation through their sticky note. Sticky note bellringers have led to some of my best class discussions. They allow me to see exactly where my students' understanding lies before we dive into a lesson.

  • Musical Shares: After answering bellringers, play music. Students will walk around and maybe even dance their way through the room (think of your classroom as the intro to The Ellen Show). When the music stops, they find the closest partner and share their answer to the bellringer. Not only does this set a fun tone, the focus is still on participating in the learning. I highly recommend participating in this activity with your students--they will love to see you share your best moves!

4. Build Metacognitive Skills

The highest level thinking skill on the Bloom's Taxonomy framework is evaluation. There is also a growing wealth of information about the importance of metacognitive skills (students being aware and thinking about their own learning--see an article on the topic h