How long should a starter be?

I think the four-step lesson plan is a bit old hat now, but I think most teachers still believe in using starters, even if it is only for observed lessons.   And how long should a starter be?  I’ve been criticised in the past for having a starter that was too long, and heard one teacher say, ‘A starter lasts as long as it has to’.  David Didau recommends in ‘The Secret of Literacy’ (65) that ‘bell work’ should be five or ten minutes long.
I’m with the latter.  If you design a starter task that is made purely as a ‘settler’, i.e., something with little learning value but likely to get everyone sat down and silent, students will realise that it has little learning value and not do it.  They will come in, write the title, and then ignore the starter while they wait for the lesson proper to start.  I’m thinking particularly about year eleven here.  For a while this annoyed me and I worked on making them do the starter, but then I relented because I felt they were right: if it has little value, why are they doing it?  Simples.
This is what I think teachers should do instead: plan a lesson, and put the first task on the board when students come in.  It might be an easy five-minute task or a difficult 30-minute essay.  But teachers should not waste time with something like ‘what can you see in this picture?’ or a wordsearch or something if its only purpose is behavioural

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