Bell Work

I love this post from Mathy McMatherson about bell work.

We are required to do bell work at my school, and we are encouraged to make it as easy as possible – drilling previously taught skills.  And that’s okay, although I’d like to utilize some sort of A-B-C leveling on it to get to all skill levels.

What I like about this post is the way he scores the work.  “I take attendance, then I walk around and stamp students who have begun the bell work. If a student hasn’t done anything more than write their name on the bell work, no stamp… This is important because of how I grade bell work: each bell work is always worth 3 points. They get 1 point for the stamp – a motivation to not waste time and get started on time.”

He actually goes over the Bell work, which is frowned upon in my school.  But I may be willing to buck tradition if I find it works…

After I posted this, I went back to a post I had read last year from Square Root of Negative One that detailed her bell work procedure.  This avoids the going over the bell work by making that the responsibility of the early finishers.

So I’m going to combine the two concepts.  Here’s what I’ve got.

  1. Student picks up the bell work when she walks in the room. It’s right by the door.
  2. Walk around and stamp students who have begun the bell work. If a student hasn’t done anything more than write their name on the bell work, no stamp.
  3. Student works out bell work and raises a hand to check.
  4. I check the bell work and give out a green star. Student receives a green pen (with a green plastic fork or spoon taped to it!) of her own.
  5. Student checks in with partner to assist as needed and gives the partner a green star.
  6. Student checks in with people sitting nearby to see if green stars/assistance are needed.
  7. I continue passing out green stars and green pens until pretty soon, the green pens and green stars have branched out through the whole room and bell work is done.
  8. Direct students toward the review/extension problems. Could be guided questions to start thinking about the day’s lesson, or some ACT practice questions, or review, or extension/ challenge problems.


  • Make bell work a small percentage of the overall grade (in past years I’ve done 10%)
  • Worth 3 points per day
    • 1 point for turning it in (Seriously.  This is an issue with my students.)
    • 1 point for stamp
    • 1 point for attempting each problem (in pen or pencil)
  • The bell work is not handed back, since they have reviewed it with another student and the green pen.

Let’s see how it works.  It does mean that I have to photocopy bell work every day.  Previously I have used Kuta to put 4 questions on the overhead. I do have first period prep this year so if I forget to make them ahead of time I do have time before the day’s teaching gets started.

Also, they are supposed to start bell work as soon as they come in, so timing when I do the stamp could be problematic.  I could just give them each a 20 second “grace” period before the stamp.  But that’s a lot to keep track of for 25+ students.  It is possible that if I put in the effort early in the year, they will be trained and I can relax by November – maybe.

Another issue with bell work is finding the right number of problems – since they are supposed to start as soon as they get in to class, the earliest arriving students (usually the most conscientious students) have a seven-minute head start on the students that arrive just as the bell rings (usually the most disengaged students).  But I’m really not supposed to spend more than the first five minutes of class time on bell work, so bell work has to be something that takes the highest functioning students twelve minutes (7 + 5) but the lowest functioning students can do in five minutes.  (I don’t usually envy English teachers, but this is one that they have made in the shade, since their bell work is silent reading.)  I’m hoping that the peer correction with green pens will help with this problem.

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