Have the day’s bellwork activity up on a projector when the students come to class each day. I have my students do the assignment on quarter-sheets of paper (I cut them up and have a stack available each day—that way I can make second use of any one-sided sheets that have been used and discarded by other teachers).
Students should spend the first five minutes working silently (use that time to take roll and then circulate around the room to keep kids on task.) After the five minutes of work time, spend the next five minutes going over the answers.
The interactive PowerPoint file has answers and explanations built in—just click on a question, and a clearly explained answer will pop up. Click on the answer to make it disappear so you can move on to another question. Use the correction session each day to explain new concepts, clarify ideas, and correct misconceptions. For each question, I like to have my students turn to the person next to them and share their answer; and more importantly, I encourage them to explain their answers. We want them to be conscientious about their editing and revision decisions. Rather than “I changed this sentence…” we want them to say “I changed this sentence because…” This discussion period and the focus on “why” is crucial to the success of this program. Make sure you don’t just click through the answers on the PowerPoint to get it over with.
Then I ask a student to volunteer an answer. If a student answers incorrectly, find someone else who can give the correct answer. Help the class understand the concept a little better and then ask the first student a question like, “Explain why your first answer was wrong.” I’ve never had a student feel offended by this—if anything, it gives kids a chance to redeem themselves after what might have been an embarrassing moment of being wrong in front of everyone. The PowerPoint answers should be used as a way to check students’ responses for correctness.
How you grade the daily bellwork questions is up to you. I used to give my students full credit as long as they attempted each question and then participated in the answer session. But after a while, I actually stopped grading the daily practice altogether—so students are graded solely on the unit quiz and any writing I evaluate with that unit’s grading rubric. This has worked great. The only issue with doing it like this is that you have to make sure you don’t let kids get away with not doing the bell-ringer—I sometimes hold them during lunch if they were slacking off and didn’t do it.
The Wordplay at the end of each day’s questions can be a way to earn extra credit if you choose. As incentive to work quickly, I tell my students they can’t begin on the Wordplay until they’re finished with the other questions, and I always offer a piece of candy to the first student to get the answer right or the student with the best answer or most answers. (You’d be surprised what junior-high students will do for a Starburst or a Jolly Rancher!