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Classroom Management: Keeping Early Finishers on Task

Janelle Cox

We know all children learn and complete their assignments at their own pace, which means it is inevitable that some students are going to complete their assignments earlier than others. In the past, a teacher’s go-to classroom management methods to deal with this would be to tell the student to go read a book and wait patiently for their classmates to be finished.

In today’s world (where we have Pinterest), we are lucky enough to be able to give our students more options than to just go read a book. Here are a few independent, self-managed, classroom management ideas for your early finishers that won’t interrupt the other students.

Classroom Management: The “I’m Done” Jar

You may have seen these on Pinterest or on a teacher’s blog. These popular, raffle-like jars are a sure hit with students. All you have to do is come up with a variety of different activities and write them on jumbo craft sticks, then place them into the jar. When students are done with their work, all they have to do is go to the jar and pick out an activity stick. Activities can be anything from practicing their spelling words to writing a letter to a friend. It’s a simple solution that doesn’t tell a child to just go read a book every time they are done early.

Task Cards

Task cards are similar to the “I’m Done” jar. These cards can hang from a curtain rod, be placed on a bulletin board, or even filed in a tote. Most cards present one activity or question. If it’s a question it can be multiple choice, short answer, or even an open-ended response. If the task card is an activity, it may require extra materials in order for it to be completed. Task cards are a great option for early finishers because there is only one task per card and it can be completely quickly. They are also versatile and can be used over and over again once you laminate them.

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Early Bird Bulletin Board

Another common solution that teachers use for their early finishers is to place a variety of activities for students to choose from onto their bulletin board. You can label the bulletin board “I’m Done, Now What?” or “Fast Finishers.” Then you can place about ten activities onto the board for students to choose from. An easy way to make this bulletin board interactive is to use library pockets and place the activity into the pocket. When the student has completed their work early, all they have to do is go to the bulletin board and choose a slip of paper out of one of the ten pockets to complete. The website Teaching in the early years has a variety of bulletin board examples that you can use in your classroom.

Activity Tote

The great thing about an activity tote is that you can place any extra worksheet, puzzle, or activity in the tote and it’s all in one place for you. To make it even easier, you can separate activities by subject. For example, for the students that love math, they can go to the activity tote when they are finished early and choose anything that they wish to do. You can have math puzzles, riddles, games, challenges, extra worksheets, etc. You can have a section in the tote for science lovers, history, music, technology, art, etc. It’s an easy way to compile a variety of activities.

Learning Center

If you have a lot of early finishers, then you can designate a learning center just for them. In the center you can place any of the ideas listed above: Activity sticks, task cards, an activity tote, etc. When students have completed their task and they are sure that they checked it over, then they can quietly go the learning center to choose an activity.

Top Ten List

If you find that all of these ideas seems like they would not be a good fit in your classroom, then you should try this simple top ten list. Create a list, like the example below, and post it somewhere in your classroom where all students can see it. When students are finished then they must start from the top and go down the list. It’s that simple!

Top Ten Things to Do When You are Finished Early

  1. Work on any unfinished assignment.
  2. Choose a task card from the task card box.
  3. Write your spelling words three times each.
  4. Complete a job card.
  5. Make a card using all of this week’s spelling words for a loved one.
  6. Do a file folder game.
  7. Write in your journal.
  8. Write a comic about the next holiday coming up.
  9. Study your math facts using the computer program.
  10. Clean out your desk.

What do you have your students do when they are finished early with a task? Do you have any unique ideas to share? Please share them in the comment section below.

Janelle Cox is an education writer who uses her experience and knowledge to provide creative and original writing in the field of education. Janelle holds a Master's of Science in Education from the State University of New York College at Buffalo. She is also the Elementary Education Expert for About.com, as well as a contributing writer to TeachHUB.com and TeachHUB Magazine. You can follow her at Twitter @Empoweringk6ed, or on Facebook at Empowering K6 Educators.