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Career and Technical Education (CTE) | High School | Student Engagement | Teaching Strategies

5 Best Bell Ringer Activities for High School

June 29th, 2023 | 6 min. read

Brad Hummel

Brad Hummel

Coming from a family of educators, Brad knows both the joys and challenges of teaching well. Through his own teaching background, he’s experienced both firsthand. As a writer for iCEV, Brad’s goal is to help teachers empower their students by listening to educators’ concerns and creating content that answers their most pressing questions about career and technical education.

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As a high school CTE teacher, chances are you’ve struggled with getting and keeping your students’ attention at the beginning of class. After all, with so many distractions available to students, it can be hard for them to focus on the critical material you’re teaching.

You may have heard other teachers use bell ringer activities to secure students’ attention and transition into a successful class period. But what exactly are “bell ringers,” and how can you use them to boost student engagement while saving valuable instructional time?

A bell ringer is a short assessment, activity, or assignment that students complete when they enter class. These warm-up exercises can come in various forms and benefit a diverse population of learners. 

In this article, you’ll find five time-tested bell ringer activities for high school students:

  1. Question of the Day
  2. Current Event Activities
  3. Warm-Up Surveys
  4. Problem-Solving Activities
  5. Student Check-Ins

Depending on the CTE courses you teach, some activities may be more effective than others.

After reading, you should be able to identify bell ringers that will help keep your students alert and get them into a daily learning routine in your classroom.

1. Question of the Day

A popular version of a bell ringer is asking a Question of the Day. The Question of the Day is a warm-up query designed to get students thinking, typically about content from the previous day’s class. Some teachers also offer questions that preview the content they’ll cover during the upcoming class period.

When implementing this bell ringer, it’s key that your questions are compelling. A successful Question of the Day shouldn’t be so easy that learners can respond with just a few words. Instead, you want to introduce questions that inspire critical thinking or invite a variety of well-considered replies.

Some examples of stimulating question formats include:

  • Evaluate two responses to a problem. Describe which answer is more effective and why.
  • Consider a real-life scenario where you would use information used in yesterday’s class.
  • Today’s class will cover a new concept. Write what you already know about this topic and your most pressing questions about it.

When students finish answering the daily question, discuss their responses as a class. This conversation will be a great transition to the rest of your lesson.

2. Current Event Activities

Regardless of which CTE Career Cluster they are pursuing, keeping students aware of current events will help them make insightful connections between your course and the world around them.

For an easy current events bell ringer, you can provide your learners with a recent article to read at the start of class. You can also hand the resource to students as they enter your classroom, so they can focus on reading even before the class period begins.

As students finish their reading, ask them to write reflections on how the article connects with a topic you are currently covering. Then, lead your class in a conversation based on their responses. Since every student has reviewed the article, individuals should be able to develop their own perspectives to share with the entire class. You’ll also make your material feel relevant and timely.

Current event activities are repeatable and relatable and are a perfect contextual touchpoint to help learners understand the value of your CTE classes.

3. Warm-Up Surveys

Collecting baseline data in your classroom is a great step toward instructional success. When you know beforehand what your students do or don’t understand, you’ll be better equipped to scaffold your instruction to their individual needs.

A simple way to collect baseline information is to give students a brief survey as a bell ringer exercise. You can do this at the beginning of the school year or when starting a new unit.

For the survey, have students answer questions about a topic. Be sure they know this isn’t a graded test; you are just checking to see what they already know. Their answers will give you a reasonable understanding of your learners’ knowledge of the subject. When you analyze the survey, you’ll be better equipped to evaluate your instructional plans and cover any weak spots.

As a bonus, you can also use warm-up surveys to monitor progress in the middle of a unit. When students can’t recall what you have already taught, you can adjust your instruction to review and reteach critical content.

By offering bell ringer surveys, you’ll better understand where your CTE students are and ensure you maximize your instructional time.

4. Problem-Solving Activities

Another easy-to-use bell ringer activity for high school is introducing problem-solving sessions to use at the beginning of class. Students are often inclined to talk and work in groups, but assigning learners a problem to solve as a group can work to minimize distractions at the beginning of class and focus your students on the subject you’re teaching.

To use this bell ringer, give your students an assignment at the beginning of class and offer five to ten minutes to come up with a solution.

There are many different ways you could structure your activity, including:

  • Provide a worksheet with a problem and questions to answer in the allotted time.
  • Create a puzzle related to your subject that requires teamwork to solve.
  • Have students solve a problem based on homework or content from a previous day’s class.
  • Complete a vocabulary exercise to help students memorize critical terms.

As an alternative, you can have students work with partners or as individuals. Simply adjust the parameters of your assignments to suit.

Regardless of the problem or puzzle your students will solve, you’ll be able to center their attention on the course content as well as hone their analytical thinking and collaboration skills.

5. Student Check-Ins

One more way to prepare students for your class is by privately asking them simple questions about their well-being. You can do this through paper notes or, if your students are in front of a computer, using a digital resource such as Google Forms.

Jacqueline Prester is a CTE teacher at Mansfield High School in Massachusetts. She uses Google Forms to encourage her students to communicate how they are doing and understand any potential learning obstacles they may be facing outside of class.

Before class, Prester asks students to complete a Google Form asking how they have slept, about their breakfast or lunch, and how they are doing outside of school on a scale of one to five. Her students also have the chance to share anything they’d like Mrs. Prester to be aware of. Over time, she uses the results of the surveys to analyze student performance in her classes.

Prester sees great value in using these surveys in her classroom:

“Building relationships and earning the trust of my students is an important part of my teaching. I want to deliver my subject material in an effective manner, but if my students aren’t in the proper mindset to receive the new content in my classroom, then no amount of good teaching will reach them.”

Jacqueline Prester

For Prester, student check-ins are a simple but powerful way to show her students how much she cares about them.

Student check-ins are easy to adapt and implement. This makes these surveys a straightforward way to collect feedback from your students. When you use them regularly, these check-ins can build community within your classroom.

Help Students Stay Engaged in Your CTE Classes

Regardless of which activities you choose, bell ringers are a simple yet powerful tool you can use to help students focus and learn. If you use them at the beginning of class, each exercise offers a smooth transition to the content you’re covering. When you use bell ringer activities effectively, you’ll be able to learn more about your students and better plan for future classes.

But warm-up exercises aren’t the only way to promote engagement in your classroom. You’ll need multiple instructional methods and techniques to keep students focused long-term.

Are you looking for more ways to keep your students motivated in CTE? Download your free student engagement guide to discover even more strategies to boost engagement in your classes:

Get Your eBook: Boost Engagement in Your Classroom