Teaching Yearbook: 60 Bell Ringers

Student in class reflecting on advice he received to start yearbook class.

How different would your yearbook class or club be if you had ten minutes at the start to focus your team on the day’s objectives and transition them from hallway to classroom mode? Working with middle and high school yearbook advisers, we created 60 Bell Ringers to do just this. Use the prompts below to teach and strengthen skills by dropping them in Google Classroom, displaying them in a slide deck, or writing them on the board.

Why Do You Need Bell Ringers for Yearbook?

While we often pump the intro to design and copywriting lessons the first few weeks of the school year, the overwhelming nature of organizing photo shoots, liaising with club sponsors or athletic coaches and scheduling picture day take precedence. (Validation: those things are vital for the success of your yearbook–keep doing them!) 

If you’re submitting documentation for WASC or your admin, bell ringers activate learning by giving students a quick thought-provoking question, problem-solving exercise, or yearbook critique activity. Some bell ringers encourage critical thinking, and others serve as an anticipatory activity because they stimulate students’ curiosity.

TLDR? Use bell ringers to set the tone.


Yes, you’ll have your group games, yearbook weddings, and human knots. And no, that’s not all you’ll need to forge connections and build trust. These prompts help students share and learn about each other’s interests, preferences, and experiences and teach empathy for those they’ll interview in the weeks ahead.

  1. “Emoji Introduction”: Share three emojis that represent different aspects of your life. (Afterward, students share their emojis with the class and explain their choices, providing insights into their personalities and experiences.)
  2. “Time Capsule”: Describe five things you would put in a time capsule for yearbook students 10 years from now.
  3. “Do-Over”: What is one thing you wish you had done differently this year and why?
  4. “Influencer”: Share a book, movie, or song that profoundly impacted you and explain why it resonated with you. (If appropriate, you may want to create a yearbook team playlist for motivation, or when it’s time to celebrate good times… come on!)
  5. “Self-Promotion”: What role does the yearbook play in fostering a sense of community and collective identity within the school? How are you contributing?
  6. “Dear Younger Me”: Reflect on your overall personal growth and development throughout your time on the yearbook staff and how it has shaped you as an individual. What did you wish you knew at the start of the year? 
  7. “Mind Shift”: Describe a class or subject that you initially didn’t enjoy but ended up loving and why your perspective changed.
  8. “Second Life”: What is something you are proud of accomplishing outside of academics this year?

Bell Ringers to Teach Writing

Quick math lesson: one five-minute writing bell ringer debrief a week will give your students an additional 200 minutes of writing practice. With these short writing tasks, advisers can also provide more immediate feedback to students when they share their work. Don’t think of it as an informal assessment that requires a line item in the grade book, but rather as facilitating continuous growth.

Ledes and Captions

  1. What is the importance of a compelling lede in a piece of writing? Share an example of a lead that successfully captures your attention and explain why it stands out to you.
  2. Think about a memorable article or story you’ve read recently. Analyze the lede and discuss how it effectively hooks the reader and sets the tone for the rest of the piece.
  3. Choose a recent photo from your phone and write three possible ledes: one pun, one using your theme, and one three-word attention-grabber.
  4. Reflect on a nearly finished spread and revise at least one lede. Share how it improved the overall impact of your writing.

Feature Stories

  1. Think about a significant moment or event from your school year that you believe would make a great yearbook story. Outline the key elements of the story, including the people involved, the emotions experienced, and the impact it had on the school community.
  2. List potential angles, interview questions, and storytelling techniques you would employ for a personality profile for a student you do not know.
  3. Interview another yearbook student about a personal experience or accomplishment from this school year. Write a brief summary of the story, including the central theme, key moments, and the message or lesson it conveys.
  4. Brainstorm ideas for a yearbook story that celebrates the diversity and inclusivity of your school community. Share potential story angles or interview questions that would help capture the richness of your school’s diversity.
  5. Have students gather in small groups and share one memorable experience or event from the school year. Each group should choose one story to develop further as a potential yearbook feature. Encourage them to discuss the key moments, people (directly and indirectly involved), emotions, and impact of the story.
  6. Provide students with a collection of unused photographs from a specific school activity. In pairs or individually, students should select one photo that catches their attention and write a brief story idea based on the image. Encourage them to consider the context, characters, and potential narrative elements.
  7. Organize a “Story Pitch” session where students can present their yearbook story ideas to the class. Each student should prepare a short pitch, explaining the central theme, key moments, and the significance of their chosen story. Encourage constructive feedback and discussion among the students.

What’s Happening Here?

These yearbook caption bell ringers work best when paired with a photo of a prominent event on campus or one from history or pop culture. The goal is to unpack the action and the story within the image. For consistent practice, make a weekly event, such as “Photo Friday,” to cycle through these prompts.

  1. List the who, what, when, where, why, and how of this photo.
  2. List 10 or more verbs to describe the subject’s action or state of being in this photo.
  3. List 10 or more emotions to describe the subject’s action or state of being in this photo.
  4. Create a caption using only emojis.
  5. Caption this in five words.

Do you need photo inspiration? We love the New York Times

Brainstorming Bell Ringers

Sometimes a five-minute brain dump is all you need to break out of a slump.

  1. Looking at the school events calendar for the week, list different approaches you could take to cover each event in a table labeled before, during, and after.
  2. Design a unique “map” page showcasing the school campus and highlighting key locations, such as classrooms, the cafeteria, and outdoor spaces.
  3. Create a visual timeline of major school events throughout the year, using icons or symbols to represent each event. 
  4. List 10 “hacks” that make school easier for you.
  5. Create a mini infographic showcasing interesting statistics or facts about an aspect of the school year.
  6. Design a series of icons or symbols to represent different academic subjects, extracurricular activities, clubs and organizations, and sports teams in the yearbook.
  7. Sketch a “Behind the Scenes” spread showcasing the yearbook team’s work so far.
  8. List teachers, labs, projects, field trips, and assignments that challenged you to think creatively or outside the box.
  9. [Display unused yearbook photos of note in a “Yearbook Story Idea” station.] Consider uncovered aspects of the school year and brainstorm three ways to get them in the yearbook.

Use These Bell Ringers to Model a Yearbook Critique

Every student (and adviser) who helps produce the yearbook puts their work on display. No other group of students’ homework is hanging around 10, 20, or 50 years later like a yearbook. Boom. That said, use these critique prompts to reinforce positive comments. 

  1. [Display a spread] Sketch the layout and identify each component (e.g. gutter and caption). 
  2. List the elements we used to create a sense of unity and flow throughout the yearbook. What are there recurring visual motifs or elements that tie the pages together?
  3. [Display three spreads from your yearbook] Give five specific examples of how these spreads carry out our theme.
  4. Using an in-progress spread, give five examples of how your design connects to the remainder of the yearbook. 
  5. [Display a spread] Sketch the layout. Identify the primary and secondary design elements and explain whether the hierarchy of information is clear.
  6. Reflect on a memorable moment from a previous yearbook. Analyze the elements that made the module, spread, or story engaging.

Two things:

  • Start with examples of strong design from your students to highlight the wins. 
  • Keep it technical. When students use terms like eyeline, dominance, and alignment, there is a specific element to which we can attend versus “I don’t like it.” 

Writing Prompts for Reflection

Sometimes, students need time and space to be introspective. These bell ringers are less about the how of yearbook and more about the why. After answering them in class, try using them for interview topics for other students to use in personality profiles or sidebars.

  1. If you could give one piece of advice to future students, what would it be and why?
  2. What is one thing you learned about yourself this year that you didn’t know before?
  3. Describe a moment when you felt proud of yourself and explain why it was significant to you.
  4. If you could choose one word to summarize your overall experience in this school, what would it be and why?
  5. Share a story about a time when you overcame a challenge or obstacle and what you learned from it.
  6. Describe a teacher or staff member with action words and explain how they influenced you.
  7. Share a funny or embarrassing moment that happened to you during the school year.
  8. Share a piece of advice you received from someone that changed your mind.
  9. If you could create a new school tradition, what would it be and why?
  10. Describe a time when you felt like you made a positive difference in someone else’s life.
  11. What is one thing you wish you had known as a freshman/sophomore/junior that you know now as a senior?
  12. Describe a moment when you felt like you truly belonged and were part of a community.
  13. If you could interview any historical figure, who would it be, and what five questions would you ask them?
  14. Share a piece of advice you would give to incoming freshmen and explain why you think it’s important.
  15. Reflect on a moment when you felt inspired or motivated by someone else’s actions or achievements.
  16. Share a quote or motto that has guided you throughout this school year and explain its significance to you.
  17. If you could go back and change one decision you made this year, what would it be and why?
  18. Describe a meaningful friendship.
  19. Reflect on a time when you had to step out of your comfort zone and how it contributed to your personal growth.
  20. What would you want to ask or know about your future self?
  21. Describe a memorable moment from a school event or celebration and why it was special to you.

By choosing to incorporate bell ringers, you’re optimizing instructional time by utilizing the initial minutes of class effectively. By engaging students immediately, you’ll minimize transitional periods and idle time, ensuring that yearbooking (and learning) begin promptly.

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