One of my favorite questions to ask for bellwork is, “Write everything you know about [insert today’s topic here].” It’s quick, it’s easy, and it activates the students’ prior knowledge about whatever the day’s topic is. (See how I remembered all that PD I did as a first-year teacher? Go me.)
A possible disadvantage to this strategy is that a few students will always write, “I don’t know anything about [insert today’s topic here].” This may be legitimate, but I don’t really want that to be an option.
My strategy is to write this in my bellwork: “(If you don’t think you know anything about [insert topic here], then make up something that sounds good.)”