Authentic Lessons for 21st Century Learning

Supporting Literacy With Bell Ringers

K20 Center, Aimee Myers | Published: September 16th, 2020 by K20 Center

Essential Questions

  • How can literacy be used to engage students?

  • In what ways can bell ringers support authentic learning?

Learning Goals

  • Explore bell ringers as a way to engage students at the beginning of class.

  • Identify levels of scaffolding to support higher levels of literacy.

  • Apply instructional strategies that encourage authentic learning.

Materials List

  • Ring That Bell! Presentation Slides (attached)

  • Instructional Strategy Note Sheet handout (attached)

  • Myanmar Sidecar Article (linked)

  • Scratch paper


Welcome participants, and introduce yourself and the session using the attached Presentation Slides.

Display slide 2. Inform participants that several new instructional strategies will be introduced to them throughout the session. These strategies are tools meant to support literacy and bell ringers in an authentic way. Pass out the attached Instructional Strategy Note Sheet, and encourage participants to use it to jot down their ideas for personalizing a strategy to be used as an instructional tool in their classrooms. Before breaks and after the strategies have been modeled, the presentation will allow time for participants to reflect on how to use these strategies.

Go to slide 3 to highlight the session objectives briefly. This will provide a roadmap of where you will go together during the session and will let participants know what to expect from the session.

Go to slide 4. Explain the Chain Notes strategy to participants. Ask participants to get in groups of four. Give them scratch paper to write on, and inform them their task is to finish the statement on the slide. Give participants 1–2 minutes to complete the statement. These statements should be only one sentence per participant.

After participants have completed their statements, ask them to pass their papers to the person on their right. Participants will read the statement on the paper. Then, they must add a new statement to the paper in front of them. The new statement cannot be a repeat of what they wrote previously, nor can it repeat anything that is already on the paper. The new statement should be a stance that agrees or disagrees with the statement already on the paper. Give them 1–2 minutes to complete the new statement.

Once participants have written a new statement about bell ringers on the paper, they will again pass it to the right. At this point, the paper in front of them should have two statements about bell ringers written by their peers. Once again, they should add a new statement, but it cannot be one they have previously written. It can be completely unique or add to the conversation already on paper. Give them 1–2 minutes to complete the statement.

Once participants have written a new statement about bell ringers on the paper, they will again pass the paper for the last round of statements. Just like before, they should read all previous statements made about bell ringers, and then they should add a new statement. Participants should be able to grasp the concept of adding a new statement, but that doesn’t make it easier. They must dig deeper into the concept of bell ringers to keep adding to the conversation. Give them 1–2 minutes to complete the statement.

Since there are four people in a group, there should be only one pass left. Ask participants to pass it for the last time to the right. The paper should be with its original owner. Ask the original owner to briefly read the statements made. Ask participants to share any significant statements made on the paper that they found helpful. They can also share statements that gave them a new idea or a statement that is unclear and needs some clarification.


Go to slide 5. Show participants the slide with the triangle visual of Bloom’s Taxonomy. Briefly, discuss with them the importance of students using higher-order thinking, rather than lower-order thinking. Inform them that the bell ringer activities shown in this PD session will show how students can start at the bottom of Bloom’s Taxonomy but work toward the top with each day of bell ringers.

After briefly discussing, move to the Thinking Notes activity on slide 6. The Thinking Notes strategy is a way for students to actively engage with reading. Most students passively read, but the strategy encourages students to interact with the text, thus encouraging reading that is more active.

Inform participants that this is the type of activity that would take place on Monday (Day 1) for bell ringers. Point out the Bloom’s Taxonomy chart at the bottom of the slide and show them that, on Day 1, students would start at the bottom with "remember" and "understand."

Pass out copies of this linked article about sidecars in Myanmar to participants (you will be required to sign up or sign in to the site to access it, but creating an account is free and once in, the resource can be printed for use in your session).

Inform participants that they will have 5 minutes to read the article. Ask participants to use the Thinking Notes strategy during their reading. Briefly discuss Thinking Notes as a way to interact with the text. Inform them that they will use their Thinking Notes to share with their groups.


Go to slide 7. Explain to participants that Commit and Toss is a strategy that students can use to share questions or statements anonymously, so they do not have to fear rejection or ridicule from their peers. It encourages inquiry and discourse.

Point out the Bloom’s Taxonomy triangle at the bottom and discuss briefly that, in Day 2 of bell ringers, students will move up a step further toward higher-order thinking. With the Commit and Toss strategy, students are encouraged to apply what they read to develop questions.

Ask participants to find a partner and discuss their Thinking Notes for just a minute or two. Then, they should look over the question marks. Between the two of them, each pair should choose one question to propose to the class. On a shared piece of scratch paper, each pair should write the chosen question.

After all pairs have written their questions, ask them to crumple up the papers into a ball. Have participants toss their paper to another group. Then, participants should toss the paper balls they caught again (a second toss helps keep questions more anonymous).

Make sure every group has a balled-up piece of paper. Ask them to open the paper and read the question together, giving them a minute or two to discuss. Then, ask the whole group for volunteers to read the question aloud. After the question has been read, give the whole group the opportunity to answer. If this was done with students and no students knew the answer, the teacher could intervene and answer the question for the group.


Go to slide 8. Explain that many testing scenarios require students to understand an argument or be able to formulate their own argument. To assist with this critical thinking skill, the Claim, Evidence, Reasoning (CER) strategy can be used. The CER strategy can be used to either break down an argument into its components or organize a new argument from the student’s standpoint.

Again, point out the Bloom’s Taxonomy pyramid at the bottom of the slide. Point out that, in Day 3, students would be moving further up the taxonomy to analyzing. Allow participants to stay with their partners or work in groups of four. Give participants 5 minutes to discuss what they think is the main claim of the article. Once they have established the main claim made in the article, they should list at least two points of evidence. After the evidence has been listed, participants should give a sentence or two to offer reasoning or commentary about the claim and the evidence. If time allows, ask for volunteers to share their CER paragraphs.

Go to slide 9. Explain that the I Think/We Think strategy is a useful formative assessment because it allows a teacher to check individual student understanding, while also giving students the opportunity to socially construct deeper understanding.

Once again, point out the Bloom’s Taxonomy at the bottom of the slide. This activity would be Day 4 in the scaffolding of literacy through bell ringers. Point out to participants that, by Day 4, students would be almost to the top of higher-order thinking. Ask participants to take a few minutes to think about the question, “Which component of the evidence was the most significant or influential?” Give them one to two minutes to jot down their responses.

After everyone has a response, ask participants to get into groups of three to four. Groups will have approximately 5 minutes to share their "I Think" column answer. Once everyone has shared, they must choose the best one from the group or synthesize all their answers into one clear answer. This would go in their “We Think” column. After the groups have completed the “We Think” component, ask if anyone would like to share out.

Go to slide 10. Point out to participants the triangle visual of Bloom’s Taxonomy at the bottom of this slide, too. Discuss with them that not only have the instructional strategies provided ideas for bell ringers, but also they have helped to scaffold students toward higher levels of literacy. Day 5 of bell ringers would require the students to create. Show participants the suggested ideas for Day 5. The suggested prompts are all based on genres of writing; however, these are not the only activities for creation. If time allows, give participants time to brainstorm ideas for Day 5 in their own classrooms.


Go to slide 11. Ask participants to take a few minutes to reflect on the strategies presented in the session and write down some ideas for how those strategies can be used in their own classes.

After a few minutes, show slide 12 with the instructional strategies page on the K20 LEARN website. Share with participants that at the URL on the screen, they can access any of the strategies they used in this session, and many more.

Go to slide 13 to showcase some of the lessons on the K20 LEARN website. Inform participants that the LEARN site has many lessons that support literacy and that utilize some of the instructional strategies demonstrated in this session.

Research Rationale

Embedded literacy components in all content areas can assist students in achieving higher academics at the secondary level and can also assist in their preparation for higher education. Literacy has shown a significant and positive correlation with higher levels of discipline-specific mastery and overall academic achievement (Israel & Williamson, 2013; Wendt, 2013; Shanahan & Shanahan, 2012). One way of embedding literacy into the curriculum in a meaningful way is through bell ringers. Rather than passively entering the classroom, students are engaged immediately with opportunities to construct knowledge (Ueckert & Gess-Newsome, 2008). Bell ringers can scaffold authentic strategies that empower students to work toward higher-order thinking. Through bell ringers, teachers can create a stable environment that supports critical literacy skills in any discipline or content area.