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Downtime between assignments


Junior Member
I have been teaching for 5 years now, but I am still not good with my transition time between assignments. I have a bunch of children who speed through and finish early, and then I have those who will take FOREVER! I have always told those who finish early to read a book silently or draw a picture at their seat. This isn't always the best option, as they don't always sit as quietly as I want them to. Any ideas?


Junior Member

Depending on what subject area your students are working on, there are centers books for various areas. They are WONDERFUL! You will need some folders with pockets to accomodate the directions and activities. You could also give each student a list of journal topics they could write to, and they would have to keep these in a spiral-bound notebook. Whatever it is, collect it, so that they take it seriously. Otherwise, they will doodle and disrupt your class until your next assignment

Chicago Teacher

Full Member
Lots of options

This is one thing that I really focused on improving after my first couple of years teaching (1st-3rd grades) because it drove me crazy! (and the kids who finished faster would get bored, etc.)

First, let me say that I do try to differentiate between students who finish an assignment early because they know the material and tend to work quickly versus students who are trying to finish the assignment to "be done". The ones who I feel are rushing themselves usually have to have their work checked by me (or a parent volunteer or teacher's asst. if I have one in depending on the subject).

I like to give my students lots of options for their "free time" between subjects, but I try to make them all educational.
1) I have a "math bucket" with a variety of flashcards (math facts, telling time, money, etc.), those cards with preprinted problems and open boxes to write in answers, coin manipulatives, geometric boards, blocks, etc. These are things that I have either collected over the years or that come with the math curriculum.
2) Reading is always an option. Depending on how things are going, I will occasionally let students read in pairs during this time. At my first teaching job, my classroom had carpet squares, so the kids could get carpet squares and sit on the floor to read during this kind of time.
3) Individual dry erase boards. The uses for this can be varied - practicing handwriting/cursive, making up math problems, etc.
4) Talking globe. I got this as part of a Christmas wish list 2 years ago. I love it and the kids use it to practice finding states. (We do a postcard exchange so they get some US geography even though knowing states' names is not part of our curriculum yet.)
5) Listening center. I leave the tape of whatever story we last read or are reading so kids can listen to it if they like. (It's good for the story to be one they have already read so that if students join in later, they know what they have missed.)
6) I keep a crate with crossword puzzles, geometric coloring sheets, trivia games, and other "file folder" activities (covering our academic topics) available. I actually bought 2 books with file folder activities that were grade specific that the students really like. I suppliment it with sheets related to seasons or holidays when appropriate. When I taught 1st and 2nd grade, I would have students turn these in and would check them and give the student a sticker. In 3rd grade, I actually keep them in folders for each student and require them to do at least 5 activities from the crate each month. (Most do WAY more than that.)
7) I allow the students to check with me on whether I need help with anything. Most of the students don't do this but it seems like every year there are a few girls who always finish quickly and like nothing better than to help me. They know that there will be times I do not have anything for them to help me with, but I do try to set aside small things for them to do (cutting things out, stapling papers together, erasing the board, etc.) and also occasionally ask them to help specific students who might need a little help with an assignment (after telling them what kind of "help" is appropriate so that they don't just give the answers away).

These are just things I can think of off the top of my head. Hope this helps!


Senior Member
I'm done

Last year I made a chart that I posted in the room for kids to refer to. We talked together and listed several activities for early finishers. I led them through. For example when they said draw a picture I added and write about it. Here are the ones I can remember:
1. Read
2. Write a story.
3. Draw a picture and write about it or label it.
4. Practice writing spelling words.
5. Make up math problems and solve.
6. Read the room.

This year my class is very self directed. I haven't seen the need to post such a sign in the room. They know that when they finish their morning work they are to read and take AR tests. If they finish math they can get one of the math take it to your seat centers. If they are finished in a center they are to redo it but differently, (ex: write a different story) or they can read.


an idea

I recently saw an idea I plan to try in the new year. It suggested printing lines on the back of worksheets when you're photocopying, so those finished early can write, do spellling, math or vocab practice on the back of their same sheets.


Senior Member
Early Finishers

This is a difficult problem. I do have students who rush through their work without doing it correctly, and those students I monitor closely. When they finish, I look at their work to make sure they followed directions and completed the entire thing. I also make them double-check their work.

Students who take forever have to complete an assignment as homework or during class when they finish another subject.

I have "Finished" section on my wall. It lists things they can do when they're finished. It often changes daily, depending on what we're working on, but it usually has these:
- Read
- Complete assignments (I list them specifically)
- Logic puzzles (I run off copies out of a logic book I have)
- Study spelling (or another subject)
- Draw (last choice...all others must be done first)


Full Member
independent work

All of my students have independent work folders for the week. The work usually consists of daily language reviews, daily math practice, and one or two other sheets that tie in with whatever we're doing. They also have a "to do list" in their folder that lists the expectations and explains the centers that are available for the week. They usually have three math centers to choose from, two or three reading centers, and a vocabulary center. The work is modified for slower or lower students. I modify by highlighting what I want them to do. Of course some of the higher kids finish their regular classwork and this stuff early in the week, so then they have the choice to read, write, do another center, or work on a special book project called a "fancy folder." I will admit that with the centers my classroom's noise level gets a little high, but I don't mind some noise as long as the kids are actively engaged in something constructive. If you would like a sample of their to do list, let me know. jcgy7@yahoo.com


Senior Member
Everyone has great ideas!

Do you have access to computers? If your students are old enough, maybe you can utilize them. Here's what I've seen:

In a 5th grade class I worked in, if the students completed their work early (many did because half the class was GATE)they worked in the "computer center." In the corner was a pocket chart with directions and any worksheets the teacher had created. The first one I saw related to the social studies curriculum of American History. Students used appropriate websites, such as www.firstgov.org, to learn about our government. He also would have them type their writing assignments for publishing. He taught them how to use Power Point for language arts related activities. When they were working on a weather unit in science, he had them record the weather and temperatures (highs and lows) for different cities around the world. They made charts and graphs through Microsoft Excel to illustrate how climates vary.