The Secondary Classroom Procedure You Can't Live Without

Classroom management is critical for creating and maintaining a positive learning environment.  Students of all ages - even middle school and high school - thrive on structure.  Read this post to read about the foundation for my classroom culture and the #1 tool I use for formative assessment!

So often in teaching when we try something new we wonder, “Why haven’t I done this all along??”  Maybe it’s a grading technique or a behavior management strategy that you’ve implemented that you look back and can’t believe you ever taught without.  This is how I feel about my classroom before I started doing Prime Times.

Prime Times are my fancy words for bell ringers, but I really see them more as daily quizzes.  They have become the foundation of my classroom routine and my #1 tool for formatively assessing students.  If you haven’t tried daily bell ringers yet or you haven’t enjoyed doing them, keep reading as I tell you 3 reasons why they are so effective AND 5 strategies for making them reduce your workload and not add to it. 

First, I love Prime Times because I truly believe that the most important time of the class period, the “Prime Time”, is the first 5 minutes. If you can get your students settled down, focused, thinking about your subject, and ready to learn within the first 5 minutes, you are set up to have a successful 55- or 90-minute class period with them.  My students appreciate having an established routine each and every day. They know when they walk in what is expected of them. They know what to do and how to do it. There is no lolly gagging in the halls or sitting on each other’s desks chatting before the bell rings. They get in, sit down and start working. I treasure the silence I hear when the bell rings and I close the classroom door, only to be interrupted by the sound of pencils scratching on paper. 

Second, I love Prime Times because it is an opportunity for me to daily check in and see how my students are keeping up with the content. I don’t have time to collect assignments and grade them for accuracy daily. If I tried, I wouldn’t give them as good of feedback as they deserve and I wouldn’t be able to get feedback back to them quickly (I am firmly committed to a 24 hour return policy.)  Instead, I grade a lot of homework and classwork practices for completion so that we can immediately go over them in class. Then I use the Prime Times to grade something quickly for accuracy to see if they actually get it. I only give the student 5 questions maximum a day because I only give them 5 minutes to complete them, so it isn’t much to grade at all.  Because I am checking in on each kid daily in this way, I always have a gauge on where my students are, how I need to adjust instruction, and who I need to chase down to come to after school tutoring. It is a more effective and efficient use of my time to grade this small 5-question assignment daily than it is to try to grade mountains of practice handouts at the end of the week when it is already too late to track students down to correct their misunderstandings.

Third, I love Prime Times because they motivate students to think about my class daily. Even if the students don’t have homework for me every night, they know that they will have a Prime Time the next day and that they need to spend 15-20 minutes each night reading through their notes to be prepared for it. Implementing Prime Times has gotten my students to start reviewing and studying the content sooner than the day before the test. It also is an opportunity to benefit students who are studying and taking notes. The questions aren’t in-depth, higher order thinking questions. They cover basic concepts from the content taught the day before. It also motivates absent students to stay caught up with their work because I require students with unexcused absences to do the Prime Time the day they return. Both the students and I benefit in the end!

So now hopefully you see WHY this is such a useful tool the classroom.  Hopefully you see that it is worth sacrificing the first 5 minutes of your class period, and 5 other minutes of your day to grade them.  Here are some helpful hints for HOW to best implement them so both you and your students get the most out of using this resource.

1. Make it a priority to do this daily!!! 
Students of ALL ages do so well with structure and routine. I have never had a student in 5+ years of teaching that doesn’t appreciate knowing the teacher’s expectations and the structure of the class.  Even if you have a full class period, such as a lab, where you will need every minute of class, don’t waste this time! Even if you want to create a Prime Time of having the students read the lab through and answer pre-questions, it is worth it to stick with routine in order to have a consistent classroom culture.  Better yet, you can have the students read through the lab for homework and then give them Prime Time questions to see if they actually did it! 

2. Have students use the same piece of paper for the whole week.
Every Monday my students pull out a fresh piece of paper when they get to class to use for the entire week’s Prime Times.  I have them pass them backwards (in order) so that I can grade them easily and return them to their desks within 30 seconds of the previous class leaving.  This saves paper for students and makes it easy for you to not have to keep up with as many papers.  I paper clip them after I grade them and keep them in a folder on my front demo table.  Speaking of grading…

3. Collect and grade daily.
I honestly try to grade these within the class period that I have the students, if at all possible, so on the same day as they did the Prime Time I can grab kids and talk to them about what they don’t understand or get them to come to tutoring.  When do I find time to do this you may ask? You would be amazed how many little moments you have in a 50-minute class period to check these. If we are lecturing through a PowerPoint, I will grade a few while kids are writing down notes after I’ve explained each slide. If I assign a practice handout, I grade a few while kids are getting started before I start walking around and checking in on them. On a lab day, I grade them while kids are gathering materials or working on analysis questions. I am not always able to get it done within class, but when I am it is so helpful for me and the students to touch base on their understanding!  I just provide feedback and put in the margin how many points they missed (they are worth 5 points a day!)  At the end of the week I tally up their points and give them a score in the gradebook out of 25.

4. Don’t make kids who are absent re-do them – it will be a headache for you and them.
For kids that are absent, I just mark on their paper when I am grading them for the day that they were absent.  Then when I calculate for the week, I just calculate out of how many days they were present and convert it to the total for the rest of the class.  (Example: If a student missed a day and earns a 15/20 for the 4 days they were at school, I calculate the percent which = 75% and then multiply .75 by 25 to get their score out of 25 for the week = 19/25)

5. Accommodate for your students.
If you are reading this you are probably teacher, so I know accommodation is your middle name because your job is pretty much making accommodations for different learning needs – All. The. Time.  Like I mentioned before, some students need to use notes and that’s okay. Some resource students may need to be given the questions in advance. Do what is best for your kids while still maintaining the purpose and integrity of the assignment.  I usually allow students to use their notes on their Prime Times because (1) it encourages students to take good notes, even when they miss a class; (2) I’m not expecting them to have everything memorized within 24 hours of learning it, but I do want them familiar enough with content to be able to reference their notes and answer the questions in 5 minutes; (3) Kids never forget their science binders for me anymore because they know they want their binders to help them with their Prime Times!

I know this was long but I am SO PASSIONATE ABOUT PRIME TIMES!!! I sincerely hope you will consider using them in your classroom and see that you can now have a stress-free first 5-minutes to start every class AND you can decrease the amount of assignments you collect and grade.

If you are a science teacher looking for Prime Times, I’ve made Prime Times for every day of the entire year for Biology and Physical Science classes!  You can check them out by clicking on the pictures below.  You can purchase them by topic or 20% off for the bundle of the entire school year.


Classroom management is critical for creating and maintaining a positive learning environment.  Students of all ages - even middle school and high school - thrive on structure.  Read this post to read about the foundation for my classroom culture and the #1 tool I use for formative assessment!

Classroom management is critical for creating and maintaining a positive learning environment.  Students of all ages - even middle school and high school - thrive on structure.  Read this post to read about the foundation for my classroom culture and the #1 tool I use for formative assessment!

40 comments

  1. Just started using these and after two days it is working well. What do you do about students who were absent the day before and do not yet know (or do not yet have the notes for) the information being assessed in the prime time?

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    1. So glad it is working well for you! If they are absent I just write on their paper when I collect them "absent" with the date. Then when I calculate the weekly score at the end of the week, I find what percentage they got correct of the ones they were present for, and then convert that. So for example, if a student misses one day of Prime Times and has a 17/20 on what they were able to do, that is an 85%. So if the grade in the gradebook is out of 25, I take 85% of that (which would be about 21) and give them a score of 21/25. This just makes it easier for me so they don't have to make up the Prime Times! Now if it is a preplanned absence for a sporting event or something, I do expect them to get the notes and participate in the Prime Time when they return, and now that my students know that, when they do have preplanned absences they are much better about coming back prepared!

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  2. Why can't you teach Middle School Math? You would be my new best friend! :) Love your stuff!

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    1. You are wayyyyyyyyyy too kind! I would be the worst middle school math teacher!!! You full time middle school teachers are absolute ANGELS FROM HEAVEN!! I teach two middle school (8th grade) classes right now and they are doing me in!! Haha! So happy to have a virtual bff!

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    2. Agreed...that and/or high school math!!

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  3. I think I'm going to adapt this to my French classroom using Schoology assessment tools, as next year we will be 1:1 laptops. It will be very easy to grade (and automatically entered in the gradebook!) and give me a good idea of their proficiency along the way. I could even do voice recordings as their laptops have microphones...

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    1. That's AMAZING!!! It is my dream to be in a 1:1 school one day!

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    2. Amanda, that is what I use in my 6th grade science classroom and it works wonderfully!

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  4. Do you count these as a class grade?

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    1. I do! I count them as a 5 pts a day, and add them up as a weekly score, which goes in as a "minor" or "informal" grade. You can read more about my grading policy here if this helps!!

      http://www.itsnotrocketscienceclassroom.com/2016/07/grading-policy-for-secondary-teachers.html

      So I collect them daily and do a quick grade for accuracy on them. I keep the questions simple so I can grade them really quickly - usually even during class while I kids are jotting down notes or reading a lab overview. That way I can try to check in with each person I need to before class even ends about coming to tutoring!

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  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  6. Can you give an example questions you have used? What do you do for kids that lose their paper?

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    1. Hi! I use very simple questions that would only be worth 5 points. Here is a sample from my Matter Unit:

      Label each example as an element, compound, homogeneous mixture or heterogeneous mixture.
      1. Saltwater
      2. Hydrogen
      3. Air
      4. Water
      5. Salad dressing

      Students don't lose the paper, because I collect it every day right after they do it. I grade it, and place it on their desk when they come in so it is the ONLY thing on their desk when they come in to class. If a student has ever lost it, it is only because they stuck in their binder and it always turns up later. I have them start a new sheet and if they find it I just staple them together. If they can't find it they don't receive credit as I no longer have a record of their answers, so it definitely prevents students losing it!

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  7. Do you have a prime time bundle for chemistry?

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    1. I do not as I do not currently teach chemistry and since I am full time teaching too, I am only able to make resources at this time that I can use in my classroom as well. I hope to one day be able to branch out into other subjects though!

      Since I teach physical science, I do have a few chemistry-based sets for that subject: Matter, Atomic Structure and Periodic Table, Bonding, and Reactions. I sell a bundle of just the chemistry half. Link is below!

      https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Physical-Science-Daily-Bell-RingersExit-Slips-Chemistry-BUNDLE-2467292

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  8. Last question I promise! Do you put the questions up on the board? How do you stop kids from cheating or telling other kids from class to class?

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    1. Hi! So sorry for the delay in getting back to you. I've been out of town for a week with no internet access or technology! I have the questions on Powerpoint slides, organized by unit, so they are projected on my board. I've never had a serious problem with kids cheating. They don't usually feel like they need to since I allow them to use their notes! Also this is at the very beginning of class, so by the end of class most kids aren't thinking about the bell ringer questions to pass on to their friends. Hope this helps!!

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  9. My question is in your directions you give in step 2. I don't understand....do you collect them right after completion, then discuss as a class, then return to them right away? Next day? Thanks

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    1. Hi! I collect them right after they complete and we go over. I grade them as soon as I can. I try to do it during class (like if students are jotting down notes, I will do a few at a time) just so I can touch base with students who totally bombed it before they leave. Often times though I don't get to them until lunch or after school. The students get them back the NEXT day. When they come in I have them waiting for them on their desks! Hope that helps clarify!!

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  10. Hi Rebecca! I loved reading this article. You have totally verified exactly what I do in my 6th grade science classroom. Our students were issued Chromebooks last year so I have started doing them on Schoology like the other reader above mentioned. I have to say that it works great. You don't even have to grade them! The program does it for you and you can even type in comments to those students that you need to make contact with. There is one difference in the way I do it though. I give them the same questions every day and add a few more. This way the kids are reviewing each day as well as adding on new information. Sometimes I will alter the questions slightly to keep the kids on their toes and thinking. By the end of the week they are answering at least 20 questions. I count this as a weekly quiz grade. I look forward to checking out your question packets!

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    1. Oooo that's very interesting about adding on questions. I LOVE that idea! I WISH MY KIDS HAD CHROMEBOOKS SO BADLY!! I'm dying to use Schoology - it sounds like an amazing tool. Hopeful that my school will (someday) become 1 to 1!!

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  11. Hi! I LOVE this idea!! Quick question - If students were absent the day before, what are they required to do while their classmates are completing their prime times? Are they still given the questions even though they were absent?

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    1. Hi!! So I make students with preplanned absences (trips, sports, plays, etc.) do the Prime Time because I expect absent students to always (at the bare minimum) get notes from a friend, my website, or my YouTube channel. Sick students I am more gracious with. I make everyone try the Prime Time, even if absent, just so I can see if they have any innate knowledge either. Plus it motivates my absent students to keep up with the notes (if they can) because it will help them be successful on the Prime Time when they return!! Hope this helps!

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  12. I wish you had this for math! I'm literally starting this as of Monday since it's the start of a new quarter. This will be so helpful in getting them to get right on task when they come into the classroom. The "wise" ones understand that if they start before the class bell, they're actually getting more time than those who wait to start when class officially starts. And for my students, attaching a daily score to it will make all the difference. Along with being able to use their notes. Thanks again for a great idea!!

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  13. I love this idea! I am currently in an LTO and am going to start this the Monday my kids get back. I would love to buy your premade questions but I am teaching grade 8 french immersion fluides and so I would not only need fluids content only, but I would also need them in French! Do you have any tips for making questions in order to ensure they are simple and easy to answer for those of us who are going to now be creating them?

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    1. Hi! You should totally do it! I try to think up questions that are simple enough for them to either A. find in their notes or B. answer with the help of their notes. I like to also do minimal writing so I know they can get it written down within 5 minutes, so try to write questions with 1-3 word answers. This will also make it really fast for you to grade as well! Since I am a science teacher I often have them draw diagrams and such but that may not be as helpful for you. I hope this helps!! Good luck!

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  14. Hello Rebecca,
    I am preparing to become a Business CTE teacher and I love this idea. I am wondering if you do it for every class and if there's every a day that you don't. Also, how many minutes do you give the students to be ready to start the quiz? 2-3 minutes? Do you think this strategy can me applied to any class?
    This is the first article of yours that I read and love it, can't wait to read more.
    Thank you so much.

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    1. Ops!
      if there's ever* a day...
      can be* applied to any class...

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    2. Hi! I do this in every class but I don't do it on days when we have a quiz or test, since I am already assessing the students that way. I give 5 minutes at the start of each class to complete the Prime Time, so students know they need to begin right away in order to complete it. I definitely think it can be applied to any class!!

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  15. Another quick question.. I tried to read about "Prime Time" searching on google, is it something of yours or that's around? I am not really finding other articles on this subject.
    Thanks!
    Lori

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    1. Prime Time is my term that I made up and use for this which is why you haven't found any literature on it!

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  16. Last question.. promise! I am just really thinking about it here and it came up... What about Friday-Monday? Or 4 day weekends? Do you just review what was taught on Friday but don't have quiz on Mondays?

    Thank you!

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    1. Nope! I still would have a quiz on Monday based on what we covered Friday, or Tuesday if it was a long weekend. I allow my students to use their notes so it encourages them to take good ones and keep up with reviewing them so that they are ready to use them to complete the Prime Time. Of course it is totally your choice if you want them to use their notes or not! Hope this helps!!

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  17. Thank you so much for all of your responses, Rebecca! I think it's a great idea, and yeah, if they are allowed to read their notes, after a weekend it's a great way for them to review what was taught on Friday and do the test, and move on with the next subject. Thank you, again!

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  18. I do the same, but i don't collect until the end of the week. I stamp them every day. Our school has to allow students to make up all assignments. As a Spanish teacher, I have the absent student do the same warm up and translate it. That way, they are not copying the assignment.

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    1. Interesting!! I like the translation idea for Spanish! When are you stamping them during class? That would be the only hard part for me since I do want to grade for accuracy every day - finding a way to get around and grade them all during class without collecting them!

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  19. I stamp for completion write after the warm up. I collect the paper each week and then check more closely what they wrote. IF it was wrong, they are graded accordingly.

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