Bell-ringers are my nemesis. Many things could be termed as such– taking attendance, keeping track of late/missing work, maybe– but my para empezar history might take the cake. I have lots of different preps, and coming up with something specialized to each class was overwhelming… so they were often not well-done.
Also, I usually made them grammar-based. While I think there’s a time for focusing on accuracy, the first few minutes of class are precious. Students typically retain information best from the beginning and end of class. And what helps students acquire language the most is comprehensible input, and so CI, exercises, probably belong in those precious minutes.
I was beginning with grammar exercises as my Para empezar— conjugate this verb, translate this sentence, correct the mistakes, etc. The students who “got” grammar easily flew through it. The middle students may have improved their accuracy. The students who struggled with Spanish grammar struggled with it. They walked into class and were immediately frustrated by their novice errors, which set the tone for the rest of class.
The message to all my students? The *most* important thing is to not make mistakes. Because when they walked in, I was immediately asking for them to work on their accuracy.
After spending time going over the answers (where we often got stuck), we moved onto a sort of “warm-up”– a fun review song or movement-based review game, some TPR maybe. Nothing wrong with this, except that again I was using the vital first part of class for something that was more of a brain break, low-pressure activity. One of my goals this year, then, is to completely restructure my lessons. I want to immediately begin with input, and front-load the lesson with rich, compelling content, like a good song or story, or a novel we’re reading.
To combat the stress of lots of preps and my own disorganization, I came up with these editable Choice Boards. Essentially, I can simply copy and paste any song, text, or story onto the board. The students choose a option with which to respond. Everything is very short, as the point is really that they’re taking the content in. I have the prompts and blank squares ready in their notebooks so that I can check at the end of the week. (Or, let’s be honest… whenever I’m able to get to them!)
When we start off the year, for example, I plan to do Persona especial interviews. The next day, the para empezar could be one of those typed interviews. It could be the chorus to a song we’ve listened to that week, or a short story we wrote the day before. I think it ought to be highly comprehensible, whatever it is.
Hopefully, as they begin class this year, the message is different. Hopefully they walk in and see all they know: that the compelling content itself hooks them, and the confidence carries over into the rest of class.
If I want to, I can choose a specific square and have all the student respond with the same prompt, so we can immediately go over the responses. I don’t plan to use this as my bell-ringer every day, but I think I’ll rely on it pretty heavily.
After attending Camp Musicuentos I’m considering moving my bellringer– administrivia, as Sara-Elizabeth Cottrell calls it– 15 or 20 minutes into class, to maximize the beginning. We’ll see. I think these can work either way.
I’d love to know what you think. Let me know if you have any suggestions to make it better!