How to Implement Writing Bell-Ringers in ELA

By: Presto Plans

It’s no secret that the more students write, the better they become at writing. However, it's also easy to get bogged down in the sheer number of writing standards to “cover” over the course of the year.  This is why writing bell-ringers are a total game-changer. By spreading out the work of teaching writing over an entire school year, the task seems much less daunting. Students get a low-stakes, predictable, and structured routine that helps them hone in on essential skills related to descriptive, argumentative, expository, and narrative writing. On the teaching side, this also means more opportunities to gauge student progress, fewer late nights of marking, and less time dedicated to planning.

Here's how I like to use the paragraph of the week writing bell-ringers in middle and high school ELA.

Day 1: Musings Monday

As students make their way into the classroom on Monday, I like to provide them with a thought-provoking prompt, inspiring them to craft a powerful paragraph. Personally, I like to change things up, switching the focus between argumentative, narrative, expository, and descriptive writing prompts each week. With ten weeks devoted to each of the four writing types, you have the freedom and flexibility to focus on specific skills in any order you choose!

It’s important to remind students that the purpose of Musings Monday is to generate ideas. Writing freely, without judgment or worry about being graded, is the best way to get the creative juices flowing! I also like to set a timer for this task. It’s essential that writing instruction doesn’t “take over” - then you’re right back to getting bogged down in writing at the expense of the other important learning that needs to happen in ELA! Once students have a basic paragraph to work with, it’s time to set it aside until tomorrow.

Day 2: Transform Tuesday

Now that students have a paragraph draft to work with, it’s time to really see the magic of writing bell-ringers at work. Transform Tuesday is an opportunity for students to look back on their writing and begin to make improvements to it. For example, if your focus is descriptive writing, you might start this mini-lesson by reminding students that good writers show, rather than tell. 

You can use your slides to guide this lesson, providing examples to illustrate how students can spot areas to improve in their writing. For instance, “showing” might look like this:

  • I found myself in a lush jungle. It was very hot.

By contrast, a “telling” example might look more like this:

  • The air was thick and heavy, carrying the scent of damp earth and lush foliage. Beads of sweat formed instantly on my brow and trickled down my face.

With this new learning in mind, students can look back over their paragraph and identify at least one sentence where they are “telling” and revise it so they are “showing” instead. Again, you may wish to set a timer for this task to keep everyone on track!

Day 3: Wordsmith Wednesday

With fresh eyes, students can revisit their paragraph on Wordsmith Wednesday. This time, their focus is on elevating their writing through rich and vivid word choices. At this stage of your writing bell-ringers routine, you may wish to teach a brief mini-lesson on different literary techniques, including figurative language terms. Using the provided slides, I like to show examples of simile, metaphor, or other figures of speech and how they could be applied to the weekly paragraph. 

Here, it’s important not to overwhelm students - there are 40 weeks of school in a year, after all! I usually choose to just focus on one targeted area of improvement per prompt. Students can wrap up this lesson by tweaking the language in their paragraph.

Day 4: Technical Thursday

Daily writing bell-ringers serve two really important purposes. Firstly, they provide daily low-stakes opportunities to focus on writing skills, and secondly, they reinforce the importance of the editing and revision process. With this in mind, it’s time for Technical Thursday!

Today’s class begins by focusing on an element of writing mechanics, grammar, or sentence structure. For example, you might use the provided slides to prompt students to look at the variety of sentence lengths in their paragraph, or at subject-verb agreement. Middle and high school ELA students can use Technical Thursdays to help identify and overcome common writing issues, such as syntax errors, or repetition of words or phrases. 

Day 5: Finalizing Friday

It’s the last day of the week, and the paragraphs are nearly ready to go! As students work on their good copy of their writing, I like to provide them with a quick final checklist of what they should focus on to ensure they are producing their best work. 

To wrap up this writing bell-ringers program, there are a few different options for assessment and reflection. My personal favorite is to have students file all their weekly paragraphs in a personal portfolio, and then select one to be graded at regular intervals (perhaps once a month, or once a quarter, depending on your schedule). 

Alternatively, students can complete a brief periodic reflection of their growth as a writer, or conference with you individually or in small groups to discuss their writing progress. Or you could collect paragraphs by writing category (descriptive, persuasive, narrative, or expository) all year long, tracking growth in each style of writing. 

As you can see, the beauty of the writing bell-ringers is the structure, predictability, and flexibility they can offer in middle and high school ELA classrooms! 

Ready to try out writing bell-ringers in your ELA classroom? Learn more about the full-year program by clicking here!

Looking for more writing activities and routines for ELA? Check out some of the other Coffee Shop blogger resources below:

Sentence Combining Bell-Ringers by The Daring English Teacher
Bell-Ringer Journal Writing Prompts by The Classroom Sparrow

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