"Mrs. E, I'm done! What can I do now?" You've all heard it... thousands of times, right?
If there's one thing that wastes valuable instructional time, it's unnecessary interruptions. Fortunately, there are a lot of things you can do to limit that and keep your fast workers busy doing something productive. Here are a few ideas:
I keep a special pocket chart in my room just for unfinished work. Whenever a student runs out of time during class, the work goes in his or her pocket. This is a super easy way for me and the kids to see who owes work. It also keeps it from getting lost. My fast-finishers are required to check their pockets to see if there's any word to be finished before doing anything else.
The advantage of a pocket chart is that the work doesn't get lost and I can easily add things to it if needed (work that needs to be corrected, assignments missed due to absence, etc.). Every other method I've tried results in missing or forgotten papers.
This is the most coveted job in my classroom. Like most other teachers, I have a small obsession with colored pens and the "teacher's helper" gets to use my special pens.
When a student finishes his work early and doesn't have anything in their above-mentioned pocket, he can become my helper. This means sitting at a special desk with my special pens and other helpful tools like a dictionary, whiteboard, hundred chart... things that can be used for checking over others' work. If another student gets stuck and needs help, she can come see the teacher's helper.
We use technology regularly in our classroom, so my students are pretty independent when using the computers or tablets. That makes this a no-brainer for my fast finishers.
One of their favorite websites/apps is Prodigy Game. I've mentioned this in previous posts but it's worth mentioning again. This game looks very similar to other role-playing fantasy games except it's base on math. To progress through the game, you have to solve math problems. My kids LOVE LOVE LOVE it.
Another one I use a lot is Frontrow. It has math and reading but I like to use the word work activities the most. It really helps build phonics and spelling skills and the kids progress at their own rate. I keep a chart in the room that shows the different levels. Each time they pass to a new level, they get to visit the candy jar.
There are tons of other great educational websites, but those are the two I use the most.
Kids love whiteboards, right? In my classroom, I have a special spot for fast finishers who want to practice their math facts. There are whiteboards, markers, and erasers along with flashcards and other math aids. The kids love to go to the "math corner" and just work on learning their math facts. I have everything there for self-checking (even a calculator) so no one needs to interrupt me at teacher table.
There is also a basket for the student to leave a math problem for the class. Once a week or so, I go through the basket and pick out several really good math questions to present to the class. The students LOVE coming up with their own problems. One requirement: If they leave a question in the basket, they must show their own solution on the back.
Third Grade Genius
I teach third but this can be adapted for any grade level. This is an on-going activity that students can work on whenever they have extra time and it's very simple. Just come up with a checklist of interesting things for students to learn on their own that are outside of the regular curriculum. My list includes things like:
Learn to count to 20 in another language.
Label a map with the names of the continents and oceans.
Research a planet you would like to visit. Create a travel brochure about it.
Find out about the world's most dangerous animal. Make a poster about it that includes a diagram.
My students keep the list in their daily binders. They check off items as they are completed and keep any related work (writing, posters, etc.) in the binder behind the list. It ends up being a little portfolio that they can show their parents.
There are many other things you can have your fast-finishers do. But whatever you choose, make sure there is a clear expectation that only quality work earns one of these fun learning activities.