Best Bellwork Strategy For History Class

Tips for Making Bellwork Effective & Set Up a Great Lesson

great bellwork activities

Bellwork is the daily opportunity to boost students' confidence, spark their curiosity, and kickstart critical thinking. When done right, this three-minute task can work wonders in transforming your classroom culture.

For many years, I was doing bellwork all wrong, unaware of how it was subtly undermining the classroom environment I was working so hard to create.

I used it primarily as a transitional tool to get students settled and focused but didn’t realize I was missing a golden opportunity to set students up for success for the rest of lesson. 

After a took a sabbatical visiting classrooms all over the country, I developed a recipe for bellwork that had a massive impact on student performance in my room. 

So, what was I doing wrong?

Too often, the warm-up tasks I assigned proved too complex or challenging. I wanted to dive into deep thinking right away, but it was akin to a track coach starting practice with a grueling mile run instead of a warm-up. Some students could manage, but many became frustrated, disengaged, or even disruptive. This was far from the ideal class kickoff.

I would also ask questions like, "What were three key takeaways from last class or your homework?" But if students were absent or just are struggling learners and can’t remember what they learned last class, they start class with a goose egg and frustration. The bell just rang and they’re already feeling lost and behind. Think they’re excited for the next 45 minutes?

tips for bellwork

This realization led me to develop a new framework for bellwork, one where every task had at least one of three crucial objectives and ideally, all three!


  • 1. Ensure Every Student Wins: Make sure the task is doable for every student and that they can succeed so long as they try. Now, imagine if each class, 100% of your students start off with a win and all the wheels are moving in the right direction!

  • 2. Ignite Curiosity: Pique students' interest and excitement about the day's topic. Compare this to a mundane bellwork exercise that leaves half the class already tuning out. Make it fun, make it silly, make it interesting, or controversial- but make them think! 

  • 3. Get skin the game: If students are invested in the lesson and outcome, they’re more likely to engage with the lesson!
If you are routinely getting all students a win right off the bat, getting them thinking and curious, it will have a subtle but powerful impact on the culture in your room.
I share many of my favorite bellwork tasks in my online course, “Make History Engaging, Exciting, and Empowering.” If you’re interested in learning more, check out
Keep making magic in your classroom,
Dan Lewer
History For Humans
2020 Hawai'i History Teacher of the Year

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