What Can Students Do When They Finish Early? Ideas For Teachers

What Can Students Do When They Finish Early? Ideas For Teachers
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When Work Is Completed

What can you do to occupy an early finisher? The answer depends on class size, the age of the students and the subject matter.

Here are a few points to consider before handing out any additional work to students.

  • Did the student actually complete his or her work?
  • Are the answers correct?

If the answer is no to either of these questions, tell the student that he must finish before going on to other work.

  • Does this child have exceptional abilities?

If the answer is yes, then speak to the Gifted and Talented coordinator in your school for ideas that will keep the student engaged.

  • Is the child having difficulty?

Do some one-on-one with the student to see if you can assess what the needs are. Often students mask their lack of understand with good, quiet behavior (If you don’t see me, then you won’t know I don’t understand.) or humor. Teachers often don’t realize the child does not understand until viewing important test results, later.

  • Finally, is the work on hand academic–will the child learn something?

This is important, especially for older students. This does not mean, however, that it cannot be enjoyable.


The purpose for extra work for early finishers is to provide the student with an activity that teaches as well as challenges. Handouts that require little thinking on the students' part are boring. This causes additional issues, since a bored student is often disruptive. To keep the class focused on work, provide extra work that the students perceive as a treat. If possible, give extra credit for additional completed work.

Ground Rules

Set up the rules for extra work at the beginning of the school year. Post them near the centers or on a wall where students can see them clearly. Expect students to:

  • Finish all work before proceeding to the extra work
  • Show teacher finished work
  • Work quietly and independently unless otherwise arranged
  • Clean up area if need be
  • Stop and return to their seats when teacher indicates time is up

Ringing a bell or turning on some music a few minutes before the teacher calls the class back, helps students know time is up without the teacher needing to say anything.

Extra Work Ideas

Here is a variety of ideas to challenge the early finishers.

For younger students (Grades K-5)

  • Activity baskets - create several baskets each filled with a different type of activity - word puzzles, math puzzles, jigsaw puzzles, picture books, art supplies (For the art supplies, tell students to look out a window and draw what they observe or draw something that pertains to the theme being studied in class.)
  • Silent reading - alone or with a buddy - allow students to find a book from the class library or out of a basket for this activity to read
  • Revolving Discovery Corners - set up four corners or stations at which the students will find a challenge, such as brain teasers, riddles or math puzzles - once they get a correct answer, they can go to another corner - give extra credit for correct answers
  • Write a Book - give the student a folder for the pages - when done, laminate, cover and add to class library

For older students (Grades 6-12)

  • Reflective Journal Writing - students reflectively journal their thoughts on the lesson, on life, or ideas they have about a subject - this can be used across subject matter
  • Silent Reading - have a Reading Challenge Wall where students pick a novel listed, read it and report on it for extra credit - have Reading Logs available to fill out
  • Age-Appropriate Brain Teasers - copy questions on sheets that students place their answers upon - students work independently to answer the questions - credit is given for correct answers
  • Educational Games on the Computer - if the class has a computer, students play educational games; tracking their scores - (Free Rice is an excellent site. It offers vocabulary building, math, art and foreign language challenges. Each correct answer adds to the rice bowl the student has. One-hundred grains of rice equate to a donation of food to impoverished people.)
  • On Assignment - have the student write an article or review for the school/class newspaper


With a little preparation, the problem of, “What can my students do when they finish early?” becomes a thing of the past. Activities that engage, motivate, challenge and teach as well as occupy as student’s attention are the best way to keep order in the classroom.



Princeton Incredible Art Department: Art Free Time Activities - https://www.princetonol.com/groups/iad/lessons/middle/freetime.htm