3 Great Bell Warmers for Social Studies Essay

Done properly, a good bell warmer focuses students’ attention, stimulates their imagination, and gives you momentum as you move into you lesson. It can make the difference between a good and great lesson. Early on in my career, I viewed a bell warmer as an optional activity, but now I always make sure I choose just the right one to fit the lesson.

Here are three of the best bell warmers for social studies that I come back to again and again. I like them because they are engaging, effective, and take minimal time to prepare.

1.) With a picture

There is no end of awe-inspiring, awesome, and amazing pictures related to social studies. A good picture will generate questions, and start leading students towards your lesson objectives. Here are a few I’ve used.

Plague Doctor

The plague doctor is an excellent start to any lesson about the Black Death. Who is this creepy guy? Why does he look like a bird? A discussion of the plague doctor’s outfit is a great way to teach students about what people believed about the Black Death.

Roman Aqueduct

Nothing represents  the  grandeur of the Roman Empire better than their massive aqueducts that still stand today. Roman engineering prowess amazes me still. I start by having students guess what this structure’s purpose is, and from there we discuss what it tells us about the Romans.

The World at Night

What doesn’t this picture tell us? Here is the story of  population distribution, nations wealthy and poor, of great deserts, great jungles, and the mystery of why South Korea is so bright and North Korea so dark. I use this map a few times throughout the year.

There are thousands of interesting maps out there, as well. A constant source of fascinating visual material comes from Seth Dixon, who curates  Geography Education for Scoop It.

2.) With a challenge

Many people use questions as their bell warmers, but I prefer to use challenges. They are a great way to review prior information. Consider what you’ve just taught them, and come up with a creative way, challenging way for them to present the material to start your class.

Not only will they have fun, it also provides a quick, informal assessment to see what content stuck, and gives you an opportunity to do some quick reteaching.

All of these examples can be done individually or in groups:

Latitude-Longitude Challenge: I listing a few cities, and students race to see who can accurately record their latitude and longitude with an atlas.

Drawing Games: Draw a continent with all of its major geographical features. Sketch a manorial estate. Draw triangle trade.
Have students present or share. Choose a winner (or two) and explain to the class what the winner(s) got right.

Skits: Create a skit showing the feudal relationship. Replay the major church-state interactions from Charlemagne to Gregory the Great. Show the causes of the American Revolution.
Have students present or share. Choose a winner (or two) and explain to the class what the winners group(s) got right.

Again, those are just a few ideas. The possibilities are only limited by your imagination!

3.) With a vocabulary game

As I wrote about earlier, vocabulary can actually be one of the most exciting parts of your class. All students benefit from pre-teaching vocabulary, but it’s especially crucial for second language learners and those who struggle with reading.  Starting class with a vocabulary game or two is fun, and familiarizes them with the academic vocabulary they’ll be using in your class.

High School
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