"Teacher, 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. Students who finish their work early and can't find something else to do are bound to interrupt you or other around them.
Fortunately, there are a lot of things you can do to limit this and keep your fast finishers engaged and busy doing something productive.
In this blog post, I'll share a few activities for fast finishers that I use in my classroom on a daily basis.
Fast Finisher Activities To Keep Students Learning
A great way to keep your quick workers working is by giving them the opportunity to catch up on other things like test corrections and unfinished projects.
I keep a special pocket chart in my room just for this type of unfinished work. Whenever a student runs out of time during one subject, the incomplete work goes into his or her pocket. I also put quizzes and tests that need corrections in there and missing assignments due to absences. This is a super easy way for me and the kids to see who owes work. It also keeps it from getting lost in their desk (or on mine). My early finishers are required to check their pockets to see if there's any work in there before moving on to anything else.
This is the most coveted job in my classroom. Students of all ages, first graders up through fifth, LOVE being the teacher's helper, so I save that role for my early finishers.
Here's how it works with my class: Like most other teachers, I have a small obsession with colored pens. When a student finishes his work early and doesn't have anything in their above-mentioned pocket, he or she can become my helper. This means sitting at a special desk with my special pens and other helpful tools. If other students get stuck on their assignment and need help, they can come see the teacher's helper. Things that I keep at my Teacher's Helper Table include:
white board, marker, and eraser
hundred chart or number line
anchor chart (for the skill students are working on)
answer key (sometimes, if appropriate)
extra pencils and/or pencil sharpener
All of these things are related to tasks that would normally result in a student interrupting me during my small groups. The "teacher's helper" can help with spelling a word, check answers, staple papers, provide pencils, and help others work out a problem. It's a fantastic fast finisher activity that keeps everyone on task and learning.
Most teachers use technology regularly in their classrooms, so even younger students are pretty independent with the computers or tablets. That makes this fast-finisher activity a good choice for most elementary classrooms.
Student choice is a big deal when it comes to keeping kids on task. So, hanging on the wall right next to my computer station, is a list of websites that my students can access during their free time. They are free to choose whichever one they like. I have kids that strongly prefer math over reading. So when they finish their reading assignment early, they may choose to work on a math website - and that's okay!
One of my students' favorite websites 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 based on math. To progress through the game, you have to solve math problems. My kids are OBSESSED with it. I have used Prodigy with second graders through fifth graders and they all love it.
Another one I use a lot is GetEpic. This site has over 40,000 different books for kids to read online. What I really love about it is that there are also audio books and videos. That means even my lowest readers can find books that interest them. I keep a chart in the room where students can keep track of the books they've read (and I can see reports in my teacher account to verify). Each time students read a certain number of books, they earn a coveted reward coupon from me. Last, I highly recommend the Wonderopolis website! Just about anything your students might wonder about can be found there. It's even super interesting for adults! I particularly like that all of the "Wonders" are sorted into categories. So if a student is really interested in science or music, it's really easy to find questions on those topics. Another great feature is that students can submit their own wonder if it hasn't already been answered. It really gets kids' creative minds going.
There are tons of other great educational websites, but those are the three my students use the most.
In my classroom, I have a special spot for fast finishers who want to improve their math skills. It might not seem like a lot of fun, but my class tends to be very competitive in math (because we have a Math Challenge every Friday). So I give them the opportunity to get in some extra math fact practice whenever they finish their other work. They can work along or in partners (if both students have finished their work early).
In one corner of my room, I have a "Math Masters" station with the following materials:
individual whiteboards (Kids love whiteboards, right?)
markers and erasers
flash cards for the various math facts they need to know
multiplication and addition charts
calculator (because that's really exciting)
There is also a basket for students to submit 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. There is a lot of flexibility here, so the task can involve science, social studies, writing - nearly any content area. The list I keep on my bulletin board includes things like:
Learn to count to 20 in another language.
Create a map showing fun places for tourists to visit in your city
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
Take a virtual field trip (for a great list see: Free Virtual Field Trips for Elementary Students)
Write a news article about your favorite sports team's most recent game
Watch a sign language video and learn how to finger spell your name
Write a book review and leave it inside the book in our classroom library
My students can also add their own ideas to the list. It might be something simple or it could be a large passion project that they'll work on for weeks. I just require that they get my approval before starting.
My students keep their 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 during conferences. Some of the passion projects my students have come up with in the past include:
Writing and illustrating a comic book
Designing a line of clothing
Designing board games
Planning a dog walking business
Writing a letter to the principal asking for a longer lunch period (She actually gave the class "double lunch time" one day in response!)
This is such a great early finisher activity because it involves student choice instead of just telling students what to do. You'll be surprised by the amount of creativity that can come out of it. An added bonus is it builds critical thinking and research skills which is something that all students need.
MORE ACTIVITIES FOR FAST FINISHERS
There are many other things you can have your students do when they're done with their work. Here are a few more meaningful fast-finisher activities to try:
Cootie Catchers - Kids love to make these! (Here are some easy instructions: How to Make a Cootie Catcher). All they need is a plain sheet of paper. You can let your students make any kind they want or give them some parameters like requiring each flap to have a math problem or a question about a topic they're learning. Then, they can use their Cootie Catches to quiz each other.
I really like this activity because it requires students to teach themselves something (how to make the Cootie Catcher) and also generate their own questions and answers to go inside of it. Never-Ending Story - For this one, all you need to do is provide a composition book with just a starting line or paragraph written on page one. (Look up a list of story starters for ideas). Students can add to and continue the story you started during their free time.
This is a very fun, collaborative writing activity in which each person gets to tell part of the story. It usually ends up being a hilarious read-aloud for the class.
My rule for this activity is that one person can't just sit and fill the entire book. They are limited to adding just one paragraph at a time. For younger students, you can provide a rough outline of the story so they have something to build on. Craft Corner - This is a good one if you teach kindergarten or first grade. Leave out a basket of scissors, glue, and construction paper. Let them cut, cut, cut and then glue all of those little pieces into a work of art. They'll just think they're having fun, but you'll be helping your students build their fine motor skills. You can also print and laminate tracing cards with all kinds of fun things like animals and vehicles. Library of Fun - Put together a basket of joke books, comic books, kids magazines, crossword puzzle books, and other "just for fun" reading materials. This is a great way to get your students to do some independent reading even if they don't usually enjoy it. (Remember, all reading is good reading!)
I hope this list of early finisher activities will help your school year run more smoothly. Whatever tasks you choose for your students, make sure there is a clear expectation that only quality work earns one of these fun learning activities. A student who repeatedly rushes through their assignments just to get to a free choice activity would quickly lose that privilege in my room. Do you have another early finisher idea that you'd like to share? Leave it in in the comments below. I love hearing new ideas from other teachers!
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