Make the Most of Extra Time!

Make the Most of Extra Time!

Activities for When Students or Classes Finish Early

It’s a funny thing. As teachers, we are often lamenting that we don’t have enough class time to pack in all the learning that we want to. But at the same time, when students finish an activity early or one of our lessons wraps up sooner than we had expected, that sudden extra time can feel like a real burden. Most of us have experienced the mild dismay of knowing that a class period wasn’t used to its fullest potential, or the stress of dealing with the behavior problems that ensue when a student or class has been left with nothing stimulating or productive to do.

Thankfully, this doesn’t have to happen anymore! We have come up with a whole list of ideas for filling potential voids with productive, engaging learning and practice. All of these ideas will help develop students’ learning, and none of them will make students feel punished with work for ending a task before the rest of the class. To keep it simple, this list is divided into two categories: activities for individuals who finish a class activity before their peers do, and activities for the whole class when a lesson is concluded earlier than you had planned. 

Individual Activities

Before implementing any of these individual activities, make sure to teach students the procedure you want them to use. Do they call you over to check their work before you assign them one of these activities? Do they quietly grab what they need and sit at their desk to do it? Do you want to have stations in the classroom, so students have choice in the activity they do? Going over procedures and creating a routine will help everything run smoothly. 

Puzzles: Puzzles are a fun, stimulating way for students to pass the time when they have extra of it. They also encourage problem solving and creative thinking. Consider keeping a folder in the room with various puzzles (rebus puzzles, crossword puzzles, brain teasers, 5-minute mysteries, etc.), for students to choose from. You can also grab a booklet of ELA puzzles and riddles that are sure to challenge students and keep their attention. 

Poetry: Another fun, productive activity is writing poetry. We know, not all your students love writing poetry. However, you can hook them by giving them choices. There are lots of kinds out there other than the acrostics, haikus, and sonnets they have probably seen before. Consider found poetry or blackout poetry from the text students are currently reading, or challenge them to create different formats like limericks, cinquains, concrete poems, villanelles, etc. Consider having a book with examples on hand, like A Kick in the Head: An Everyday Guide to Poetic Forms, by Paul Janecszko. 

Clay play: Playing with clay has many learning benefits, even for adolescents. This activity boosts creativity, relieves tension, and helps students to express themselves. Consider having students create something with modeling clay that relates to the current class text, like a character, scene, or symbol. Have students take a picture of their creation and write a caption for their picture, explaining what they have created and why.

Fun articles: Keep some captivating articles on hand, of different lengths and topics. Some great subjects include weird history, wacky laws, the origins of holiday traditions, the stories behind inventions and discoveries, and biographies of little-known but influential people. You can have students annotate an article, write a very brief summary after reading, or forego an assignment and just let them read.

Peer help: They say that teaching is one of the best ways to learn, so when a student finishes early, you may want to pair them with a student who could use some extra help. Students who have finished early can also peer revise another student’s written work and offer feedback.

Write a review: People love to share their opinions, and adolescents are no different. This one will take a little teaching beforehand, but once students understand the genre of review writing, they can give their opinions on a range of topics, like movies, video games, books, new technology . . . the sky’s the limit!

Independent reading: This option doesn’t work for all classrooms, but independent reading can be a great use of extra time. This is a chance for students to read the books they enjoy most, expanding their world view, reading skills, vocabulary, and love of reading. If you don’t have a classroom library, a monthly class trip to the school’s library can be very helpful.

Whole Class Activities

Sometimes our lessons wrap up more quickly than we had planned. When you have materials on hand to keep the learning going, this can be a blessing and not a curse!

Games: Educational games are a fun, productive way to soak up time you hadn’t expected to have. Many of our EB teachers keep language arts games on hand for such an occasion, addressing all kinds of topics, like  theme, figurative language, grammar, narrative writing . . . you can find or create a game for pretty much any topic imaginable!

Independent reading: Just as you can use independent reading with individual students, you can create a whole-class routine of reading after lessons wrap up. This time could be used for student-chosen literature, or you could have students read from their current class novel. Giving students time to read the text in class can help you to ensure they are keeping up on their reading while also alleviating some of the burden of homework.

Read-alouds: There’s a reason that audiobooks are so popular these days. Who doesn’t like to be read to? You can have a class book set aside to read when there is extra class time, or you can read the first chapter of a different book each time, to showcase different books and encourage students to pick up new titles to read on their own. Read the books out loud or play audiobooks with engaging narration.

How Does Grading Work With Extra Activities?

Except perhaps for a whole-class activity that lends itself logically to grading, we don’t recommend assigning a grade for “extra” activities. For one thing, this can seem unfair to students when not everyone will be doing the individual extra activities. It also takes the enjoyment out of them. Finally, and importantly, grading assignments puts more on your plate! Here are some possible alternatives to grading individual activities:

  • Assign participation points instead of grading each activity. Whether students are working on the class’s current lesson or an activity after they have finished, all students will be accountable for putting effort into their work.
  • Create a display. When students have gone the extra mile to do an extra activity, reward their efforts by displaying their work on a wall or bulletin board. Praise and recognition are huge motivators!

So, if you are worried about your classes drowning in a sea of extra time, create some lifeboats by trying one or more of these ideas. Do you have another idea for productively soaking up time? Please share in a comment below!


  • I appreciate the thought put into this article because it is not a part of the lesson planning, yet it is important. Thank You.


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Then, pick the date you’re going to teach it in your classroom, and sit back while you watch as your students show up to your classroom pumped about what the day holds…and gush about your class to their parents on the car ride home!

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