Routines help us accomplish our goals. Usually around this time of the year, we often start new routines with the hope of making good on our New Year’s Resolutions. This year, I’m resolving to start and revamp two of the most significant classroom routines: bellringers and exit tickets. I’ve been using both of these strategies since I first starting teaching, but the way I facilitate and assess them has improved with research and experimentation. The best part about bellringers and exit tickets is that there are a number of ways to adapt them to make them work for your classroom and your students. Today, I’m going to share how and why I started and revamped these strategies in my classroom, so you can consider my experience that may just work for you too!
What are bellringers and exit tickets?
A bellringer is any beginning-of-the-class activity designed to engage students with a learning task as soon as they walk in the door. These tasks are sometimes called “do now,” “warm up,” or “bell work.” Conversely, an exit ticket, sometimes called “exit slip” or “ticket out the door,” is learning task given at the conclusion of the lesson before the exit bell.
1. Classroom management
I consider bellingers and exit tickets to be proactive classroom management because for me, they minimize, if not eliminate, any problems before they start. Generally speaking, actively engaged students don’t have time or reason to act unruly. It’s not a sure fix to every problem, but for me, I believe it’s prevented many problems. To begin, bellringers minimize downtime while I’m completing attendance or other required duties. My students walk into the classroom and immediately get started on their bellringers. This gives me time to get my routines accomplished without any interruptions.
Similarly, an exit ticket is completed at the end period. Have you ever had a problem with students lining up at the door before the bell? As far as classroom management goes, this strategy is a great way to eliminate this effect. Now, students will always have a task to complete at the end of the lesson, making my lesson truly bell to bell. These routines also add a predictable structure to my class that helps my students focus and lessen nerves that may come with unpredictable environments.
2. Formative assessment
These two routines are valuable formative assessments, assessments conducted during the learning process to help you develop and modify your instruction. For me, bellringers are a great way to monitor students’ thinking with slightly longer tasks usually around 5 to 8 minutes. Exit tickets are generally shorter (less than 5 minutes) and consist of a specific metacognitive task, a task designed to get them thinking about their own thinking, or reflective task. Often students do not voice their struggles or boredom; these strategies give students a mode for which their voices (usually written) will be heard and valued. Therefore, you are likely to get honest and valuable feedback, not necessarily about you or your class (that is another topic altogether) but rather for your students’ comfort with the learning process.
3. Higher-order thinking
Bellringers and exit tickets can be very meaningful critical thinking activities, not to mention how valuable daily thinking and writing tasks can be. These tasks are great ways to make connections with the content as a refresher from the day before, reflect on how they feel about the learning process, and extend to other content areas and experiences. As a bonus, they are a great way to facilitate engaging discussion. When students have had time to think about a prompt or complete a task individually first, they are far more likely to discuss with confidence in small groups or with the whole class.
Although I’ve been using these strategies for a while, it was high time I revamped my facilitation of them. What better time than the New Year to start new routines? I always start by projecting the task or prompt on my SmartTV. I use a simple PowerPoint slide to type out the task. Alternatively, you could write it on a board or even dictate it to them. This part hasn’t changed. However, I updated with two changes that have been really successful: going digital and using a template.
1. Going digital
My school is 1:1 with Chromebooks, so this may not be possible for you. However, if your students have daily access to technology, I suggest you consider making the switch from print packets and notebooks. When my students come to class, they open their bellringer template, and I project the task on the board. They answer the question while I’m taking attendance, and then we have a discussion. This is a great anticipatory set before the next lesson. Exit tickets work the same way except at the end of the period. My students open their exit ticket template, and I give them a metacognitive or reflective task.
2. Using a template
In addition, while pre-written daily bellringer topics and tasks certainly can be effective and engaging, I found that my students are more engaged and interested when the tasks directly relate to the lesson and topic of the day. As a planner and organizer, I was nervous about writing tasks the day before or in some cases for exit tickets, minutes before the end of the lesson. Nonetheless, I soon found how easy it is to create authentic tasks for both bellringers and exit tickets when they specifically relate to the content at hand. Therefore, I created a digital template for both bellringers and exit tickets that make it easy for me to facilitate a targeted task.
Here’s an example: My students read the dinner scene from Macbeth Act 3, Scene 4 the day before, so here was their bellringer for the next day: Create an invented group message with at least three texts from three different people as if you and two friends were present at Macbeth’s dinner and secretly texting about his bizarre behavior behind his back. For their exit tickets, I asked them to find a meme that represents how well they understood the reading, paste it into their exit ticket template, and write a short explanation of why they picked this meme. These example were easy to come up with because it directly related to their content.
How do I grade them?
For me, the main purpose for reading the bellringers and exit tickets is to collect data so I can modify my planning and instruction to best serve my students. However, with all of this writing, grading can be taxing. In the past, I collected print journals at intervals and would spend hours grading them and leaving written feedback. Truly, this was not efficient, and when I had kids of my own at home, I couldn’t spend an entire weekend grading.
Now, I spend more time in class engaging with students while they write. With a quick walk around the classroom, I eliminate hours of grading. Not only do I monitor their work while walking around the room, but I also have one-on-one, small group, and whole class discussions that give me informal feedback on how well my students are displaying extended thinking and grasping the content. Last, I specifically check the bellringers and exit tickets any time there is an area of concern, such as with challenging texts, like Macbeth.
Still, many students need motivation and accountability in order complete the tasks with quality; therefore, I always grade the bellringers and exit tickets at least once during a nine weeks. I grade holistically, considering the quality of the work as a whole. This means I can read over the students’ work without obsessing over the small parts (e.g. grammar, structure, length, etc.). Since the goal of the assignment is for me to gain formative feedback, I find this grading method to be very effective.
I hope my experience can provide you with some inspiration for your own classroom. If you’re interested in my complete classroom management system, check out my Secondary Management Toolkit. This toolkit includes my bellrigner and exit ticket templates and my highly-rated class slides with embedded timers.