woodleywonderworks-class-warmupsThe Precious First Few Minutes Of Class

by Suzy Pepper Rollins

Students file into class.

“Your warm-up is on the board,” we announce.  Two students fish for pencils in backpacks, one begs to get water, another needs to see the nurse, and attendance needs to be entered into the computer.  “Ok, so let’s go over the warm-up now,” we call, “and then we’ll look at last night’s homework.”

More minutes pass, as students dump out backpacks and empty pockets in a panicked search for a scrap of paper they swear was secured last night. Others, who quickly knocked out the homework on the bus ride home, wait patiently for classmates to catch up. It is perhaps time to rethink our expectations for the opening minutes of class. Warm-ups or bell-ringers largely serve a classroom management purpose during hectic opening minutes. By getting students quickly occupied and in their seats, administrative tasks can be handled.

But the opening minutes are also the time when students’ brains are their freshest and they tend to remember more of what’s been taught during this period than any other time of the learning episode. In addition, student motivation can increase if they realize that the concept being taught today connects to their lives and has value.

These precious minutes can quickly establish a prior knowledge connection, vital to maximizing learning. Even the “best” lesson is worthless if students aren’t engaged, or don’t believe they will be able to complete the work. At the beginning of each lesson, students need some kind of foothold.

Rather than begin class with a passive warm-up, success starters have the power to get every student motivated about the lesson and successful right from the bell.  Starting off on the right academic foot in the opening minutes can pay dividends throughout the lesson by sparking intellectual curiosity about today’s concept. Students get the message early that, “Hey, I think I can do this!”

We’ve shared 12 Interesting Ways To Start Class Tomorrow before. Here are a few more strategies that get students involved in new learning right away.

skokienorthshoresculpturepark4 Easy Teaching Warm-Ups To Start Class Tomorrow

1. Facts and Fibs

Create facts and fibs about the upcoming topic on strips of paper.  In groups, students discuss each of these and separate into piles. For example, if students will be learning about the desert, one strip might say, “Deserts are always hot.” Another: “Desert animals often have long periods of dormancy to survive.” As students learn about deserts, they rethink their facts and fibs, repositioning the strips. Were the group’s answers correct?

In math, fact and fib strips might say, “.61 is greater than 0.064” or “There is not a number between 5.4 and 5.5.”  Facts and fibs facilitate talking about math.

2. Survey

It’s hard to beat surveys to answer the question, “What’s this got to do with me?” About to embark on a government unit? A short survey in which students respond to questions about driver’s licenses, voting, marriage requirements, etc. can get every student involved.

Tackling a piece of text about a character in a tough predicament? Survey questions inquire about ways in which students might handle these situations. Students are more likely to be motivated to read when there is a personal connection to the text. They are now wondering, “Hmmm, I wonder how the character will get out of this mess?”  (Before the survey, students were likely thinking about lunch.)

3. Question Cards

Pass out index cards to groups with “What? Who? When? How? and Where?” written on the cards. Students “play” their cards by creating questions about the topic.For example, if the upcoming lesson is on snails, a student might inquire, “Why are snails so slimy?”

The next student’s query might be, “Where do snails live?” During the lesson or reading, students answer the questions they have created during the opener. Question cards facilitate questioning by every student, not just the few in the front.  Plus, it’s much for engaging to seek answers to questions students have developed themselves rather than those from a publisher.

4. Alpha Brainstorming

On a chart from A-Z, groups brainstorm everything they know about a topic. For example, “Write everything you know about electricity.” This process taps into prior knowledge and gets everyone on topic in just a few minutes.  After the lesson, students can revisit their list, “Now, what can be added to what you know about electricity?”  (A math example might be, “List everything with a perimeter from A-Z.”)

A Quick Checklist for Successful Warmup Activities

Success starters have the power to get students intellectually engaged and successful right at the bell. By tweaking our instruction in those critical minutes, teachers can set-up today’s learning goals beautifully in just a few minutes.  With these strategies, students become authentically engaged right away, and teachers can still quickly handle critical administrative tasks.

A checklist for success starters:

  • Is intellectual curiosity about today’s learning goals piqued?
  • Does the activity tap into real-world or personal connections?
  • Does the task foster success in ALL students for today’s learning goal?

The opening minutes can be so valuable in getting student excited about today’s lesson.  Success starters have the power to get every student open to new learning right at the bell, not many minutes later.

For more information on success starters and other next-day implementation strategies, see Suzy’s book, Learning in the Fast Lane: 8 Ways to Put ALL Students on the Road to Academic Success (ASCD, 2014). You can also find more ASCD resources for Creating Inclusive Learning Experiences.

Suzy Pepper is a passionate life-long educator whose mission is to create academic success in all learners by instilling instructional practices that provide widespread accessibility to academic rigor.  She consults and trains in districts across the country. She can be reached via her website www.mathinfastlane.com or [email protected]; image attribution flickr users woodleywonderworks and skokinorthshoresculpturepark; The Precious First Few Minutes: 4 Easy Teaching Warm-Ups To Start Class Tomorrow;