In "The First Days of School," author Harry K. Wong writes, "The teacher's job is not to get students to settle down." Getting students to settle down and get to work is accomplished by warm-up activities, also called bell-work or bell-ringers. With effective warm-up activities, students come into the classroom and immediately begin their job for the day--learning.
Often, a teacher spends the first part of a class day or class period tending to necessary tasks such as attendance or passing out make-up work. Warm-up activities allow the teacher to do her job while creating positive learning time for students.
An expectation for bell-work time must be established. Students must know that they will be held accountable for completing their assigned activity. This can be accomplished in various ways and should not be an added burden on the teacher. Have students complete their warm-ups in spiral notebooks that are then left in the classroom so that the teacher can access the work to grade it, diagnose a student's weaknesses and strengths, and even just check it for completion.
Clear expectations must always be given for bell-work assignments. Post the length of time students will have to work and a specific assignment that must be completed and hold them to it.
When preparing warm-ups for your students, always begin with your objective for the work. Are you trying to connect to students' prior learning? Review a lesson from the previous day or week? Assess skill level so that you can re-teach the lesson if necessary? Bell-work can achieve any or all of these purposes with careful planning.
For example, if students were supposed to read a particular passage of literature as homework the night before, you may require them to reflect on their reading in writing as soon as they come into the classroom. This allows you to assess whether or not each student completed the reading assignment with satisfactory comprehension.
Perhaps you're going to begin an elementary school geometry lesson on circles. In this case, you may ask students to make a list of everything they see in the room that is circular so that they connect to what they've previously learned about the shape. Activities like these immediately get students into the activity of learning, and "settle them down" for the bulk of the day's lesson.
Warm-ups don't have to be written activities. You may ask students to share with two classmates their favorite part from the last reading assignment or the most difficult problem on last night's science homework. Then, you can complete your paperwork tasks while listening to students speak candidly to one another. This is an excellent way to learn about problem areas where re-teaching is necessary, the things that excite your students the most, and even personal anecdotes about your students that will help you in forming relationships with them. Even when your bell-work isn't written, require a project (such as sharing out responses) and make sure the expectation for the project is posted in the room.