Start the year off right with bell work: Get to know your students

It’s a new school year, which means plenty of new faces in your classes. While connecting with each student individually might seem like a challenge at the onset of the semester, you know that you’ll be building rapport and making connections as the year goes on.

How can you jump-start that process and start making meaningful connections between your students’ own experiences and your lessons? It’s easier than you think, and you can start from the first time your new students walk into your classroom!

We’ll explore some bell work activities that will capture students’ attention, prepare their brains for active learning, and offer you some clear insight into their thoughts and feelings.

bell work ideas

Why do you need to get to know your students at the beginning of the school year?

Each student comes with their own hopes, dreams, fears, and expectations. When you understand the inner workings of your students, you’re better able to design lessons and present material in a way that speaks to each of them on a deeper level.

In the process of getting to know your students, you’re also giving them time to reflect on their own feelings, beliefs, and cognitive processes. This introspection — especially right before the presentation of new material — is a great way to encourage metacognition and boost active learning.

So, the benefit of getting to know your students goes both ways. Students get to meet the teacher and develop strong rapport throughout the school year. At the same time, you get insights into your students’ thoughts, attitudes, and thinking processes that allow you to build better lessons in the future. As a result, you can expect improved and sustained engagement from classes that feel seen, heard, and known.

How can you use bell work to get to know your students?

You can use bell work to get to know your students if you use it intentionally and if you look beyond the surface. Often, students do bell work while you’re taking attendance or completing other administrative tasks. But that doesn’t mean you can’t get great information while engaging your students during those precious few minutes at the beginning of the class. 

3 bell work activities to get to know your students during the first week of school:

Stuff in a Bag

This bellwork activity is an excellent way for students to meet the teacher and each other on the first day of school. 

Simply fill a backpack with several everyday objects; it doesn’t have to be fancy stuff, just things you’d typically see around your house or classroom. Then, choose a couple of these items to represent you. For example, you might choose a stuffed animal if you really love your pet or a news magazine if you think it’s important to stay informed.

Encourage students to come to the front of the class and choose two items that they feel best represent themselves. Then, have them explain their choices to a partner or the class. Their choices will probably surprise you and will certainly help you get to know them better!

Creative Journal Prompts

You can use this bell work activity on the first day of school and keep it going through the whole academic year.

Journaling (or answering open-ended questions) is a popular bellwork activity. Choosing creative prompts that extend beyond the class materials is an excellent way to get to know your students. I’m sure you’ve already read hundreds of pages about your students’ hobbies and goals from years of bell work journals. 

But what if you asked a different question to get the same information about your students’ attitudes and beliefs? Try an out-of-the-box writing prompt instead of asking a straightforward question every day. In their bellwork journal, have students write a short story or explain a new solution to an old problem.

This way, you can get a glimpse into the inner workings of your students’ minds. The key here is to focus on the individual: ask questions that point to their understanding of the material in class or their opinions on topics beyond the classroom. 

Legibility Test

This one is a fun bell work activity that both recalls and reinforces the material from previous years’ lessons while also strengthening the bonds between the students and teacher. 

First, ask students to recall everything they know about your subject from previous years’ lessons. For example, you can ask them to list equations, important historical events, or vocabulary they remember from last year.

Then, they simply have to write down this list. But here’s the catch: they have to do it with a handicap, such as being blindfolded, writing with their non-dominant hand, or using only pictures. Once they’ve made a list, have them swap with another student and see how much their partner can understand. Finally, find the most popular answers class-wide. 

This bellwork exercise will give you a clear snapshot of what the class is already familiar with and help you to accurately predict your students’ goal orientation for the upcoming year. It’s also a great way to break the ice and promote a focused (yet at-ease) learning environment on the first day of school.

Create online digital bell work assignments with TeacherMade

TeacherMade makes it easy to digitize your bellwork. You can take any traditional paper assignment and upload it to our app. The assignment becomes the background, and you can overlay a variety of question types onto the digital worksheets. You will also have access to our auto-grade features which means you can have immediate feedback from your bell work to inform your teaching for the day.