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Why Middle School Choir Teachers MUST Use Bell Ringers in their Middle School Choir Classroom

Bell ringers provide the single most important thing in the hectic middle school choir classroom: structure. When a consistent structure is in place, then middle school students thrive and you don’t have to feel like you’re simply trying to survive, choir teacher friend.

What Are Bell Ringers?

Bell ringers or bell work or daily work or whatever synonym you’re used to are:

1.) Short

2.) Daily

3.) Consistent

You can throw in the buzz words like “formative assessment” in your lesson plans too when you include bell ringers. Score!

Bell ringers at the start of your class every single day establishes structure in your middle school choir class. When I taught middle school choir, this was my #1 secret tool to maintain control. By establishing that my expectation was look at the board, read the announcements, and answer the bell ringer, my students knew exactly what to do when they entered and I hardly ever got asked the dreaded question, “What are we doing today?”

What Do Bell Ringers Look Like for Middle School Choir Classes?

My go-to is Power Point. I projected the day’s announcements and there would be a question on the board for students to answer after they put their back packs down and sat in their assigned seat.

When designing bell ringers, I wanted a frictionless experience for my students. So, I had answer sheets with five boxes and the dates for that week. They kept their answer sheet in their choral folder with their choir music and turned it in on Fridays for a grade.

Half page answer sheet for students to record their bell ringer answers throughout the week.

How Can I Start Using Bell Ringers in my Middle School Choir Class?

Start. Start now. It’s not about the content but the structure and routine that there will be a bell ringer at the start of class and that it is an expectation to answer the bell ringer. Now, a consistent format for bell ringers is a good practice because it gives an extra layer of routine to the students and limits the unknown.

If you wait until you have developed every single bell ringer for the week/month/ year, then you’ll never start with that mindset. I like to call this the perfectionist pot hole.

You’ll get yourself stuck in this pot hole on the road to getting things done. The best way is to do, so start creating that structure by allotting the time at the start of class for bell ringers.

In my first year of teaching, I knew I wanted bell ringers at the start of class. But, I had no idea what to use. Minute music theory? Student workbooks? Give up and not do bell ringers? I pulled random things at the start, but creating a consistent bell ringer format was a priority to me.

I thought to myself, “If I could have a simple template to use over and over again, then I would save so much time.”

How I Developed My Daily Downbeat Bell Ringer System

My middle school choir students knew I loved alliteration and vocabulary. One day, it hit me. Bell ringers are done every single day at the start of class. Every day… Daily. Start … Downbeat. Oh my gosh. I have it. Daily Downbeat. I get to reinforce my love of alliteration to my students (because, you know, literary devices are fun and relevant to their ELA classes anyways) and reinforce the word “downbeat” which eluded my beginners at first.

The first iteration of my bell ringers actually didn’t have the questions projected on the screen. I still had a slide with the day’s date and agenda for each class period (mostly for me to keep track of my different preps, honestly). But the bell ringers were given to students on a sheet of paper. I designed the worksheet in Publisher with five boxes for each day of the week. Depending on what was relevant to the repertoire or music theory skills we were working on in class, I created questions in Publisher for that week.

At the start, this was a lot of work. I developed an effective template that was easy for my students to use, but it was still time consuming for me and didn’t fit the vision I had yet.

As time went on, I continued to print the questions on the student sheets and began differentiating the bell ringer questions. I started making different copies of the week’s bell work for my advanced choir classes. I felt accomplished because this really helped all of my students grow more. But it was still so time consuming.

And then a new problem crept in, my rock star students doing questions AHEAD of time. I wasn’t prepared to deal with my goofing off students who responded, “I already finished my bell work”. I would check and they did answer everything. Heckin’ heck. My consistent structure started to crumble. Not that I was mad at the students. It was oddly flattering to have students do all of the work and then goof off. Much better than the students only goofing off, of course.

I had to change course. Then the next epiphany hit me - develop bell ringers that couldn't be done ahead of time. I started with ear training questions. I put “Identify the interval you hear” with different answer choices like P5, M3, P8. Then as they came in and sat down, I played the interval on the piano. Yes, this hindered students from working ahead. No, this wasn’t effective. Playing live was taking away from my attendance time! (One of the teacher benefits of using bell ringers!)

So, I was onto something with the listening questions but if I wanted my time back to take attendance, then I would need to record listening examples prior and loop them. Ugh. More time consuming. I just wanted something consistent and easy to use every day.

That’s when I started to put more questions in my PowerPoint with the announcements for the day. Over time, my student answer sheet became more and more blank. Now, my students had to look to the board to answer the bell ringer at the start of each class.

Finally. My Daily Downbeat matched the vision that I had for this system. When my questions were slides in PowerPoint, I inadvertently created a bank of questions that I could mix and match for my different music classes. Hallelujah.

Why Should Middle School Choir Teachers Use Bell Ringers?

Attendance. Okay, that’s an oversimplification but truth time - I needed to take attendance at the start of class. And I was terrible at taking attendance. (Cue all of the nasty gram emails...) The start of class can be a chaotic time without structure and I wasn’t squeezing it in without a bell ringer.

Now, you could always have a student lead stretches before rehearsing so you can take attendance or put a short video, but bell ringers carry so much more versatility and value than other beginning-of-class routines.

#1 - Formative assessments. It’s a great way to squeeze a review for yesterday’s lesson on key signatures or reinforcing what staccato means.

#2 - Student ownership and personal responsibility. Bell ringers are done by the individual student, so it is up to them to complete it at the start of class, every class. The routine builds responsibility and expectation. In fact, you’ll know when your bell ringer routine had set in because students WILL ask where the bell ringer is if you forget to put it up.

#3 - It’s active. Watching a video at the start of class will get stale even if you show different videos. Plus, a video is passive. Instead, completing a short bell ringer engages the students and puts them in the frame of mind that this is choir and this is what I need to think about during choir class.

***To address the other alternative mentioned earlier, stretches are active. Stretches are great. I have used student-lead stretches to take attendance and build leadership. It was a great tool for my advanced classes who knew the expectations for choir stretches like the back of their hand. For my beginner classes, it was awkward and didn’t foster the same positive environment. So, use student-led stretches wisely based on your class community because the last thing you want is to start off class on the awkward foot.

Do You Use Bell Ringers in Your Middle School Choir Class Already? Will You Start Using Bell Ringers?

Getting an established routine at the start of class is key for a well-managed choir class. Choosing daily bell ringers as the routine was my secret weapon for my choir classes because it worked as a great formative assessment tool (check that off for evaluations, by the way) and students came to expect it. The key is consistency and setting whatever you choose to do as soon as possible. It doesn’t have to be neatly at the start of the month or grading period. Start and keep it consistent to see positive results with your students.

Do you already use bell ringers? What do you use? Post it to your story on Instagram and tag me @cathyschoirclass to share your home run bell ringers or your routine at the start of class!

If you’re looking for a bell ringer resource to save you time, then check out my bell ringer bundle on Teachers Pay Teachers.

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