Vanquish the Time Vampires: Bell Ringers and Do Nows

Vanquish the Time Vampires: Bell Ringers and Do Nows

by Christopher Lehman, Founding Director of The Educator Collaborative. Chris is leading a yearlong, online cohort with Kate Roberts on Close Reading, K-5 and is presenting two sessions in our Study Series. He consults and speaks in classrooms and with districts around the world.

This Halloween season a vampire is creeping through the hallways of many of our schools. Sure, it is alluring, captivating, is promises you things you want to hear. Beware! Like all vampires, this one feeds on your life force.

Not blood. Time.

The most precious resource we need in our classrooms and never seem to have enough of.

Early in my middle school teaching career we were taught to begin our teaching period with a “Do Now.” The words were to be written—at that time in chalk—on the board in great big letters followed by some specific activity students were to do as they entered the room.

“Write the definition for 5 of these words.”

“Correct the grammar of this sentence.”

“Write 3 reasons why…”

on my not-so-hot-days I just wrote: “Homework out.”

The story of the Do Now (or “Bell Ringer” or “Warm Up” or whatever fancy version your Count Timesuckula goes by) is that promises to get the class started without you, it helps students review, it get their minds primed for learning, or countless other sweet-nothings whispered in your ear.

At their worst, Do Nows become lessons or activities unto themselves. Time spirals out of control “checking” the definitions you assigned or partnering up to “share” what was supposed to be quick, mostly self-directed work. You blink and it has taken over your class.

At their best, and there is very little best, Do Nows could be quick. Sure, they could even be somewhat aligned to your lesson. However, they also do a few dangerous things:

  • They eat up time. Even the 3-5 minutes that some suggest is ideal is still 3-5 minutes out of typically only 40 in most secondary classrooms. 10% of your period is already gone on this side work.
  • They defer focus from your main goals. For teachers, Do Nows are extra planning for your lesson that otherwise could be spent on the lesson itself. For students, they are too often thought of as a secondary (or even tangential) focus from the actual goals of the period.
  • They suggest to students that you do not trust them. A management crutch is a crutch. The longer you use a crutch the more the hurt limb can atrophy. If you never give your students a purpose or reason to get down to real business then they will get better and better at not getting down to said business. Demonstrate you trust their growing and maturing minds and bodies by giving them the opportunity to show you they really can get started without hand-holding.

Do Now Vampires will feed on the time you give them.

The more you give them, the more powerful they grow.

Time Vampire Garlic: A Culture of Learning

To fend off these Vampires, use the best talisman you can: a culture of respect underpinned by authentic practice.

So many classrooms never touch Do Nows. Classrooms in suburbs, in cities, in “high performing” and “low performing” schools, in states that start with consonants and ones that start with vowels. Basically, everywhere. Which means you can do without them, too.

What these classrooms do instead is develop a culture of learning built around the expectation that you come to work (or read or write). In some classrooms students know to always get out a book and read right away, for example.

Here is one simple routine that you can adjust for your needs. The key is to be consistent:

Drop, Look , Go

Here are just a few examples, choose one from each column to meet your needs or invent your own.

Keep it simple.




Your stuff at the board for announcements grab a book and read
Your homework in the inbox at my feedback on your writing grab a pencil (or open your laptop) and write
Your book to return in the bin at your notes to the meeting area/chair circle and read until we start


Time Vampire Garlic: Just Start when it Starts

Another even more simple approach that I eventually adopted in my teaching was this:

“Punctuality matters, we respect those who made it on time and understand that some days you won’t. Our lesson will start at the bell. If you’re late, find a way to catch up.”

Basically: start when the period starts. Why put off beginning? This means you need systems in place to deal with administrivia like attendance or collecting work. Though are the easy part.

Vanquish the Time Vampires!


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1 Comment

  1. Megan Munnelly O'Donnell

    Will this work well with 3rd graders?

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