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Bell-Ringer Activities to Combat the Summer Slide

When summer is over and it’s time to return to school, many students struggle to get reacclimated. That’s where bell-ringer activities can help.

We all know the value of bell-ringers—they’re activities that help students reorient for the school day. But they’re doubly important when it comes to recovering the knowledge drained by the lazy days of summer vacation.

Let’s discuss the benefits of bell-ringers to combat the summer slide, plus some activities you can add to your teacher toolbox.

Bell-Ringer Classroom Activities to Combat the Summer Slide

Consistency is key when it comes to bell-ringers. Make it a routine that students know to expect and even look forward to. But you can still add some variety and fun into your bell-ringer activities. Here are a few ideas that you can incorporate in your classroom:

  • Writing prompts: Offer students a prompt and give them 5 minutes to freewrite. You can ask them to write about their favorite part of the summer, describe a painting that you display, or come up with advice that they could imagine receiving from a cat. Check out our blog from last year for more writing prompt ideas.
  • The Periodic Table of Candy: Place pieces of candy on students’ desks or at the center of the room. Students can then take 10 minutes to organize and class the candies based on their different properties. At the end of the bell-ringer, explain the similarity between this exercise and the creation of the Periodic Table of Elements.
  • How Fireworks Work: Kids will love learning the science behind what causes the loud BOOM and explosion of colors. Go over the steps or watch a video to offer a visual representation.
  • Math puzzles: Math puzzles are a great way to get your students’ minds jogging at the start of the day. Try writing a logic puzzle on the board at the start of the day and giving students a few minutes to solve it.
  • Speech bubbles: Pass out a copy of a famous painting, like the Mona Lisa or Washington Crossing the Delaware, but with speech bubbles inserted near the heads of the subjects. Let students fill in the speech bubbles based on their interpretation of the painting.
  • Question of the day: Ask students a question of the day and then give them 5 to 8 minutes to reflect and answer, either through freewriting or sketching. Some questions might include: “If you were stuck on a deserted island, what two items would you have with you?” or “Would you rather travel to the past or future?”

Understanding the Summer Slide

Summer break takes up almost a whole quarter of a student’s year. It’s understandable, then, that most students will experience some learning loss before the beginning of the school year comes around.

“This phenomenon is known as summer learning loss, or the summer slide,” says an article from Waterford. “A student’s exposure to educational activities isn’t usually as rigorous during the summer as it is in the classroom, and some students may need a refresher at the beginning of the new year.”

Some amount of summer slide is to be expected. However, the learning loss can hit some students harder than others. Waterford goes on to show that children from under-resourced families are much more likely to struggle with significant learning loss compared to their wealthier classmates.

Learning disabilities can also play a role, increasing the risk of summer learning loss. When left unattended, the summer slide only increases the achievement gap among student demographics. In order to have a classroom where every student has a real chance of succeeding, teachers must address and counteract the summer slide.

Making Bell-Ringers a Classroom Staple

Bell-ringers are so called because they’re an activity that students participate in at the beginning of the day, soon after the bell rings. Bell-ringers, when they become a routine classroom activity, can be an excellent way to combat the summer slide. It gets students into the habit of learning, even in small and fun ways, at the beginning of the day. With repetition, it can help to boost retention.

In a past article, we discussed how to set up bell-ringers for your classroom:

  1. Make bell-ringers a routine. Start using them on day one and set clear expectations in the first weeks of school for what students should do every day once the bell rings.
  2. Keep your bell-ringers tied to a learning objective. The bell-ringer should either help prepare students for a lesson or refresh their memory about a past lesson.
  3. Display the instructions for the bell-ringer so students can see it as soon as they walk into the classroom. Write it on the board in front of the classroom or hang a poster.
  4. Make sure students have access to all the materials they will need to engage with the bell-ringer.
  5. Keep bell-ringers short and sweet so they don’t disrupt your lesson plans. Five to 8 minutes is a good metric. Keep a timer where students can see it. When the activity ends, quickly review and conclude the bell-ringer and then move on.
  6. Treat bell-ringers like a pop quiz. Every once in a while, grade the bell-ringer. This way, students will learn to take bell-ringers as seriously as the rest of the class.

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