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29 August 2023

A guide to designing impactful class starters…

Alesha Tatum-Howe

Head of Theatre, Digital Theatre+

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Class starters, starters for lessons, bellringers, bell work or 'do-now' activities. Whatever you choose to call them, here is a guide to creating impact to the first 5 minutes of your lessons…

The students are in, your classroom is full, the bell has rung…now what? Transitioning students from the personal chitchat and hallway gossip during passing time between classes to focused learning time can be a challenge. One simple solution is to make class starters part of your daily routine so your students know what to expect when the bell rings and class begins. And once your students are familiar with the routine, they’ll know exactly what they need to do, giving you the time to complete any administrative tasks such as taking attendance, speaking with students who were absent last class, and anything else you can accomplish in those first 5 minutes. 

What is a class starter? 

Simply put, a class starter (also called a bellringer, bell work, or do now activity) is a brief task that students complete in the first five minutes of class to get them engaged and focused for the day’s lesson. You can use it to review material from previous lessons, introduce new material, or help students warm up their brains and bodies for the day's work. I’ve seen class starters grouped by topic or skill tied to whatever unit is being taught, for example: Musical Theatre, Shakespeare, Technical Theatre, etc. And I’ve also seen them set up thematically day by day, with each day of the week focused on a different theme, such as: Musical Monday, Tech Tuesday, etc. However you choose to use them, they're an essential part of the daily class routine.  

Student writing on board

How to design a class starter (and use it): 

You want your daily class starter activity to be short and manageable. It should be something your students can complete with minimal to no teacher facilitation. The great thing about class starters is they give you the opportunity to be creative and experiment with different activity types. You can tailor them to your student’s needs and interests, and modify them to challenge your more advanced learners and support any struggling learners. Choose activities that are easy to set up and quickly transition to the day’s lesson. For example, if you’re teaching tableaux or non-verbal storytelling, you could use a class starter like this: 

  • Working in small groups of 3-4 people per group, create one tableau of a key plot point from a well-known fairy tale of your choosing. 
  • Share your tableau with the class and see if they can guess the story. 
  • Tableau(x): a scene in which actors are carefully posed, stationary, and silent, as though they’re frozen in a picture.
    - From Class Starters: Acting by Alesha Tatum-Howe

You can also use the class starter as a form of assessment to inform your instruction, check prior learning, and assess student understanding of the topic. Based on the information you receive from your students, you can adjust your lesson plan to focus on what your students need and ensure that they all meet the learning objectives. For example, if you were beginning a unit on William Shakespeare and wanted to find out what your students already know about him, you could use the following as a class starter: 

  • What do you know about William Shakespeare?
    1. Draw a plain stick figure on a piece of paper.
    2. Decorate it with Shakespearean clothes and props. 
    3. Write any words and other prior knowledge you have about William Shakespeare around the stick figure.
    - From Class Starters: Shakespeare by Kate Wilkinson

Looking for more class starters?

Digital Theatre+'s new video series Class Starters includes 6 videos, each containing 15 class starter activities, focused on a key skill or topic. There are a variety of activity types to choose from including responding to video clips, responding to images, creative writing, drawing and designing, and more!  Topics include:

  • Class Starters: Acting
  • Class Starters: Design and Technical Theatre
  • Class Starters: Directing
  • Class Starters: Musical Theatre
  • Class Starters: Shakespeare
  • Class Starters: Theatre History

Class starter activities are a perfect way to kick off your daily classroom routine. They’re an important tool to help improve student engagement and focus, assess prior knowledge, and introduce new topics. Have fun with them, and watch your students look forward to the beginning of class every day! 

If you would like to hear more about the resources Digital Theatre+ has available, talk to a member of our dedicated team today