When it comes to entry routines—whether we call them starters, bell ringers, or do nows—I have tried every system you can think of. Now that my students have iPads, there are even more options. Over the past year, I’ve experimented quite a bit with different digital tools for formative assessment and engagement. This blog will describe my four favorites.
Before I go into the digital tools, I have to admit the best starter does not involve any digital technology. On Mondays and Fridays my students start the class period with independent reading for 12 to 15 minutes. One of my colleagues coined this time “book ends” because it starts and ends our week.
I wish I could start every class period with reading time, but since our class periods are 45 to 52 minutes, I don’t always have that much time to spare. Sometimes we just have to get started. In that case, I want the entire starter activity to take 5 minutes or less. That is enough time for me to take attendance and get organized after the previous class.
The main goal for any starter (or exit ticket) is to elicit quick, actionable responses from students. Teachers can use any of these ideas to assess understanding, increase student engagement, or prompt discussion and collaboration.
1. Reusable Starters with Google Forms
At the end of each day or week, change the question(s). This makes it so you only have to post the form one time. The questions change, not the link.
My reusable Google Form has 4 questions:
Choose today’s date (multiple choice)
First Name (short answer)
Today’s Question (short answer text or dropdown)
Write your answer (long answer text)
Click HERE to see an English 7 example from last December.
Bonus: After students answer the question for the day, they can press “See previous responses” on the form. This allows them to read each other’s work. To enable this feature, press the cog or settings icon. Make sure to check the box under “Respondents can” for “See summary charts and text responses.”
After most students are done writing, I say, “Be ready to read your own or someone else’s response when I call on you.” It is fun for students to hear someone else read their own answer. It validates their work when someone else likes it enough to read it to the class. Also, it allows students to be anonymous if they want to read their own.
2. Exit Tickets with Socrative
Like Google Forms, Socrative is great for any type of formative assessment. It is both a site and an app. If using the app, you download the teacher version and students download the student app. If you want more information about getting started with Socrative, click HERE.
I recommend trying the Exit Ticket function. When you choose Exit ticket, Socrative generates 3 questions for students:
- How well did you understand today’s materials? (A = I totally got it, B = Pretty well, C = Not very well, D = Not at all)
- What did you learn in today’s class? (short answer)
- Teacher Question
All you have to do is write the “teacher question” somewhere students can see it. I usually put it on a Google Slide but the whiteboard works just as well.
If you have time, project the results (without names) for class discussion. Socrative will also send the report to your Google Drive so you can look at the data later.
EXAMPLE Socrative Exit Ticket (Gr. 7)
3. Google Classroom “Question”
If you are using Google Classroom, the “Question” assignment type is easy and quick to setup. If you’ve never used this feature, click HERE to read about how to create a question on Google Classroom.
Notice that you have several options:
- Short answer or multiple choice
- All students or a selected group
- Students can reply to each other (if you have comments turned on)
- Students can edit answer
What’s Great About Google Classroom Question:
- Questions are easy to write and to change on the fly.
- Student names are ALWAYS written correctly and in the correct format.
- Students are used to Google Classroom and they can find the question easily.
- Students can press “See classmates’ answers” to read each other’s work and to reply to each other. Note: You need to have the Classroom settings on “allow students to comment” for this to work.
- You can attach materials such as Slides, Docs, Images, or links to websites.
Problems with Google Classroom Question:
- Not everyone uses Google Classroom.
- You can only post one question at a time.
- If you want students to reply to each other, it is hard to track the conversations. You can’t see how many times a student replied to someone else.
- Some students accidentally write in “Class comments” instead of the answer field for the question.
EXAMPLE Starter with Google Classroom Question
4. Collaborative Slides
“I do not use Google Slides to give information, I use it to GET information.” Alice Keeler, teacher & Google Certified Innovator
Disclaimer: This activity takes a bit longer to complete than the other three and the learning curve for students is higher. Even so, don’t skip it! With practice, students get faster and better at it.
Here’s how to use a collaborative, editable slide deck for quick, formative assessments:
- Create a blank Google Slides presentation.
- Share the blank Slides with students. You can either—
- Change the sharing settings to “Anyone with the link can edit” and post it to your LMS or with a short URL, or
- Add the Slides to a Google Classroom assignment and choose “Students can edit.”
- Post student directions:
Open the Slides.
Add a new slide.
Type your name in the speaker notes.
Respond to the following questions: Type your questions.
What’s Great About Collaborative Slides:
- Unlike with Forms, the teacher can see the students working on the slides in real time. Everyone is on the same presentation.
- Students can add images or videos to explain their ideas.
- Students can comment on each other’s work in real time.
Problems with Collaborative Slides:
- This technique works best with Google Classroom because it is very easy to give individual students editing rights (and to make sure they are signed in to their Google accounts).
- Students need practice with working on a collaborative file. Initially, they will accidentally change the background of all the slides or they may change someone else’s work. However, that is not a big deal. Just teach them to press “Undo” when they make a mistake.
EXAMPLE Instructions for Poetry Collaborative Slides
Click HERE to open Slides in a new tab.
As a long-time junior high school teacher, I’ve internally struggled with whether or not students need a starter or warm-up every day. Often I’d prefer to just get started with the main part of the lesson. However, no matter how much I try to ignore it, there is always a list of tasks I need to finish in the beginning of class—these range from taking attendance, giving individual reminders to students, and getting organized from the previous class period. Most young adolescents do well with a daily routine because they don’t have to worry about what to do when they walk into your class. They already know. Plus, if students are quiet and engaged, I can get through attendance and other administrative tasks without wasting learning time.
Don’t forget any of these options can be used equally well for exit tickets or for quick, mid-lesson checks. I tend to mix it up. After a few weeks, my students become accustomed to the different digital tools and routines, so there is very little fuss.
Final Final Thought: I know I just gave you four digital options, BUT if you have the time, simply start with independent reading. That is truly the best way to start any class. Use the digital tools for other quick check points throughout the class period.