Are you a new teacher trying to make your lessons more efficient and productive? Then you should not underestimate the power of a good lesson starter! In this article I’ll discuss the top 5 reasons you should use lesson starter activities in your classroom. I’ll also cover how you can use them, and I’ll give you some ideas for outstanding lesson starters.
But first, what is a lesson starter?
- What is a lesson starter activity?
- What is a good lesson starter?
- Top 5 reasons you should use class starters
- 1. Using a lesson starter gives you a few extra minutes to get organised
- 2. Using lesson starters helps get your students settled
- 3. Using a lesson starter will help students to recall previously taught content
- 4. Lesson starters are a great tool to use as a diagnostic or to check for misconceptions
- 5. Class starters can be used as a hook to engage students
- Ideas for outstanding lesson starters
What is a lesson starter activity?
A starter activity is also sometimes referred to as a bell ringer or do now activity. It is a simple and quick task that students can complete as soon as they get to class. The intention of a good starter activity is to settle the students, get them prepared for the class (e.g., pens and books out) and coax them into the right frame of mind for your lesson or subject.
What is a good lesson starter?
A good lesson starter needs to be quick to complete – around 10 minutes or less. A quick starter will ensure students still have the bulk of the lesson to complete new work. Remember, their intention is to settle students.
A good lesson starter will also be easily achievable for all students. A starter activity isn’t the place for higher order thinking (save those great questions for the bulk of your lesson!). Your students should be able to complete the task without help from you. If students can easily complete the task, it will boost their confidence early on, which can increase their resilience when facing more difficult tasks later in the lesson.
The starter activity shouldn’t be complicated or take a lot of explaining. I’m all for delivering activities in unique ways, like coming up with fun new games to teach content, but again, save these for later in the lesson.
Finally, a good starter will link to previously taught content. For example, simple questions about the content covered in your previous lesson. This will ensure students think back to what has been covered which will hopefully refresh their memories and put them in the right headspace for your new lesson. Alternatively, if a new topic is being covered ,starter activities can be used as a diagnostic to gauge what students already know about a particular topic.
Now, let’s get on to the list!
Top 5 reasons you should use class starters
1. Using a lesson starter gives you a few extra minutes to get organised
If you get into a good routine with your lesson starters you will get to the point where your students know exactly what is expected when they enter your room. Sit down – pens and books out – start the activity. It’s the dream!
Of course, it takes time and training to get things running this smoothly, but once you set the routine up you will find yourself with a few extra glorious minutes to get organised. This time is perfect for doing the roll, checking in with students who may need some extra support, setting up the projector, writing your notes on the board or having a quick chat with individual students to win them over. Having a little time to get settled at the beginning of the lesson will help you feel more organised and in turn your lessons will run smoother. For more organisation tips you can check out my post: how to become a more organised teacher.
2. Using lesson starters helps get your students settled
Starter activities help get you settled and organised, but they’re also fantastic at settling students. Once students know the routine and they begin the task as soon as they enter the room, you’ll notice how great they are at calming students.
This is particularly useful for lessons following lunch, where students may have just been running around playing footy, having an argument with their friends, practicing a Tiktok dance or (unfortunately) witnessing a fight, etc. They may have lots of energy, be in a silly mood or even be agitated. These few minutes to sit and focus on a simple task can help clam them and ready them for the lesson to come.
Incorporating routine into your lessons can also help support students with particular learning needs. For example, lack of routine can cause anxiety and frustration in students with autism spectrum disorder. Incorporating starter activities in your lesson, so that each student knows exactly what happens when they get to your room, can help provide that needed structure and support.
Personally, I think starter activities also help with classroom management in my own classroom. My students know exactly what is expected of them when they arrive at my class so it’s easy to identify the few students who are off-task and deal with them.
3. Using a lesson starter will help students to recall previously taught content
I’m sure we’ve all been there in our university days – we’ve rocked up to a class and been asked a question about the previous lesson. If you’re anything like me, your mind goes totally blank at this point. Why should we expect any different from out students?
Using a lesson starter that relates to previously taught content can help students recall material. It can give them a few minutes to focus and think back, so they’re not put on the spot.
If students can recall previous content, then they’re in a better position to build on that knowledge with new content and will be more capable of making links between these and therefore retaining information.
4. Lesson starters are a great tool to use as a diagnostic or to check for misconceptions
Lesson starters can be useful when starting new content, to gauge how much your students already know about the topic. When I’m starting a new topic I like to use a brainstorm starter. I keep them broad, for example, when starting the Earth and Space topic with my year 7’s I have them write down “everything they know about space”. I keep it board so almost all students can contribute something – some students will only be able to recall the names of some planets while others can give heaps of complicated space facts! Once their 10 minutes is up, we can then have a class discussion about the things they already know, and I can gauge where to pitch future lessons.
Starter activities are also a great way to pick up student misconceptions or gaps in knowledge. If a starter activity relates to previously taught content and I can see that most students are struggling to complete the task, I can see that I need to go back over the concept. This is a useful way to reflect on my own practice.
5. Class starters can be used as a hook to engage students
I’m all about engagement in science, so I like to make my starter activities engaging! Students who are engaged in a lesson are more likely to learn and less likely to misbehave. It makes my job much easier if they’re engaged from the start.
I make my starter activities engaging by making the activity interesting – for example using “would you rather?” questions to begin the lesson or by making the starter activity into a competition, both of which strategies I will discuss in more detail below.
Linking the starter activity to students’ everyday lives also helps ‘hook’ the student. For example, I will use a starter question like: “list 3 things you did this morning that used energy”. Students will link the concept to their everyday life. I sometimes even give prizes for creative answers – but am prepared for answers like “I was abducted by aliens – they beamed me up which gave me gravitational potential energy”.
So those are my top 5 reasons to use lesson starter activities in your class! Let me give you some ideas for outstanding lesson starters.
Ideas for outstanding lesson starters
Ideas for 5 minute starter activities
5 minute starter activities are perfect for when you want to quickly settle students but have a lot of content to get through. Short but sweet lesson starters I commonly use are:
Make new words
I give students a word or phrase related to the content and ask them to see how many new words they can make using those letters. I normally make this into a competition and give a reward to the student who can make the most new words!
This starter activity is great because it takes zero prep! Just write the word on the board and let students go. It also helps strengthen literacy skills. If you use this activity you will just have to be prepared to clarify rules – I guarantee you will have students ask things like “can I use the letter more than once?”.
Definition match up
Another quick and easy one! I write around 3 new words on the board and their definitions, but I jumble them up. I ask students to write the word and its correct definition together. Again, this one takes almost no prep, it will keep students busy for 5 minutes and by the end they will have their books and pens out – Win!
Spot the difference
Do not underestimate the power of a spot the difference! My students love these. You can print them out and have students circle the differences at their desks. But to save on printing the image can be projected on the board and students write the differences in their books. At the end of the 10mins I usually hand out whiteboard markers to a few students and have them come up to circle the differences. They love coming up and writing on the board!
Ideas for fun starter activities for lessons
Again, I love engaging starter activities to hook my students in! These ones take a little more preparation, but it’s well worth it.
Would you rather?
‘Would you rather’ is hands down my favourite starter activity, and my students’ too! Students get a sheet of ‘would you rather’ questions that are related to the topic we are covering. Some questions are just silly, and others are more serious. I ask students to make their choice and give a reason for their choice. If students finish early I also give them the opportunity to write their own would you rather question.
We have a class discussion after, I ask for a show of hands for each response and ask a few students about their choice. This usually leads to a lot of laughter, but also some good discussion about the concepts covered. I also ask a few students to share their own ‘would you rather’ questions at the end.
My students absolutely love this activity! You can find more of my ‘would you rather’ activities in my Teachers Pay Teachers store.
Image of the day
Image of the day is another activity my students love. For this activity I project an image related to a new scientific discovery on the board. LiveScience News is a good place to go to find these images. Students look at the image as they enter the room and I ask them to write what they think it’s about in their books. Once they are done, we have a class discussion where they share their ideas, before I move on and tell them about the actual science behind the picture.
This activity is great as the students really get into it. It’s also a way to share real life and current scientific discoveries being made with students.
Ideas for literacy-based starter activities
Finally, starter activities are a great place to strengthen literacy skills. This is a big focus for me personally, as I teach a couple lower-ability classes where building literacy skills is particularly important. Here are some literacy activities I frequently use.
I know, word searches are very basic! But do not underestimate them when it comes to students who need extra support with literacy. Word searches can help students learn the sequence of letters for vocabulary words.
I also like to extend my word searches by asking students do something more with the word list. For example, if I give my students a word search about forms of energy, I then have them go through the word list and classify the forms into two groups – kinetic energy and potential energy.
I also like to make word searches more challenging by chopping off the word list. Now students need to think about the words we have covered in class in order to find them and construct their own word list.
For this activity I give students jumbles up vocabulary words, which they need to unscramble. This one is great as it also helps students become familiar with spelling of vocabulary words.
This starter activity is also easy to differentiate. My higher-ability students get lowercase jumbled letters to unscramble with no word bank. My general-ability students may get the first letter capitalised, so they have a starting point, but no word bank. And my lower ability students have a word bank so they need to match the letters to identify the word.
This is a great literacy starter activity that also helps strengthen student understanding of concepts covered. Here students are given a single vocabulary word and they are tasked with writing a definition and coming up with examples of that word and non-examples of the word. For my lower-ability students I also give them the opportunity to draw a diagram relating to the word to show what they know.
There you have my top 5 reasons to use lesson starter activities in your class and some ideas for outstanding lesson starters. Some places you can go for more great ideas and class starter resources are:
If you’re looking for more strategies you can implement into your classroom check out my other tips for teachers.
Do you have any questions about these lesson starter activity ideas or tips? Do you use different lesson starters in your own classroom?