Every teacher knows that without thoughtful planning, those awkward few minutes between scheduled activities just seem to get frittered away. So what kind of classroom time fillers can a teacher use to keep students engaged without pushing the pause button on learning?
Teacher Emily G. wrote into the WeAreTeachers HELPLINE! with just such a question:
“Our school day starts at 8:00, with students trickling in from 8:00-8:15. At 8:15 we leave for specials. What kinds of things can I have my fifth graders do during that time, while we are waiting for the rest of the class to arrive?”
Once again, our community of teachers spoke up. Here are 24 awesome ideas to make sure your students are engaged and learning, even when you only have a few minutes.
I tell my students we don’t waste anytime in our class, so if we have any downtime we grab a book and start reading. In the morning they do their routine and I play one song. They have that amount of time to get things put away and have a book out by the time the song is over. —Brittany M.
I think morning journaling is great. My students have to write about at least one good thing and one bad thing from the day before. It helps them practice their writing skills and keeps them focused as their classmates trickle in. —Alissa S.
I make journal calendars for my kids with a writing prompt listed for each day (there are lots of suggestions on Pinterest), which not only gives them something unique to write about every day of the year, but helps me keep track of who is missing what! It helps me with grading, and it keeps them accountable for their missing work. —Alyssa K.
I let my students alternate in their journals between writing, creating diagrams, illustrating cartoon strip, etc. —Phil W.
Catch up on current affairs.
Watch Channel One News. My fourth graders come in, make their lunch choice, grab breakfast if they choose to, sit and watch Channel One while they eat. We throw breakfast trash out as they leave to go to specials.—Robin K.
I teach fourth grade and we watch CNN Student News during that time. Some of it is above their heads, but in general they all look forward to it each day. It’s exactly 10 minutes every morning.—Danielle C.
Focus on community building.
Sounds like the perfect opportunity for some intentional circle time, sharing, reflections, goals, character ed and social emotional topics. Scaffold the communication skills you wish to see, and student who arrive later should know how to quietly join the circle. You may even find students arriving early so they have a chance to share. —Amy M.
Look into Responsive Classroom or Developmental Designs. They have great circle activities, team building and social skills development activities. I’ve used them for years, and it has made a big difference in our homeroom time. Our whole school ended up taking it on and now homeroom is called Circle of Power and Respect.—Amanda K.
Why not play improv games or campfire games? There are so many resources out there. Games are great for team building and they also help build critical thinking skills. —Erik. C
Look up 24 game. It’s the greatest brain teaser in the morning. I have the kids complete the problem. and place it in a big jar. Before we start our day, I’ll choose one of the solutions and that student will be the winner of an eraser or something small. It’s amazing how excited my fifth graders are when they win a colored pen or scented eraser. —Donila C.
Keep it fresh.
Make each day a theme. Music Monday—learn educational songs such as presidents and elements. Tech Tuesday—learn about new tech or tech careers, Wind Down Wednesday—practice mindfulness with the students. Throwback Thursday—learn about a historic event from that week. Flashback Friday—practice something they know such as timed multiplication tables or handwriting. It’s educational and quick and it never gets boring ! —Ariel W.
I taught at an elementary school that started at 7:00 and we had universal breakfast for the first 20 minutes. While the kids ate, I read a chapter from a book. We read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator, Matilda, etc. The kids would be on time just to hear the next chapter (or two if they were short.) —Anne S.
Work on typing skills.
During a similar time, my fifth graders worked on their typing skills and took timed typing tests. They enjoyed the practice, games, and light competition. We would chart their progress under their anonymous student number throughout the year. Some sites to try: www.typing.com or www.typingclub.com or www.nitrotype.com —Kate W.
Use the time for make-up work.
Students who are struggling in a course of study could be steered toward supplemental activities. Those who were absent the previous day can meet with you to get missed work. Or kids who forgot to take an assignment home might be able to complete it in that time. —Lynn R.
My kids LOVE, LOVE logic puzzles. Sometimes I will use a rebus, sometimes it’s just a puzzle I found online, sometimes a math puzzle. They really get into who can solve it first and it gets them geared up for class. —Christine L.
Play Soduku. Start at 4×4—it’s easy to teach them how if they don’t already know. It is a great activity to practice number and problem solving and anyone can do it. Plus, they get harder and harder so you can keep challenging them. Also, the puzzles don’t need to be finished in a day so they can keep working on them each morning. Keep track of the levels they are reaching so they can celebrate each success too. —Kymmie W.
Bring out the magic word: LEGO.
LEGO! Design, create, build, talk, discuss, rebuild, take photos, create step-by-step guides for new designs. Trust me, if you build with LEGO bricks the first activity of the day, you won’t have any more stragglers.—Bec W.
Practice cursive writing.
It may be a bit old school, but I think it’s the perfect opportunity to teach cursive handwriting. Those who get there early will have very good handwriting by the end of the year, and those who get there later won’t. All of them will be exposed to it and given the opportunity to improve.—Beth Z.
Try Speed Spelling.
My first graders love this! Choose one of the weekly spelling words. Give students one minute to write the word (spelled correctly, of course) as many times as they can. The champs each week get to do the activity with chalk pens on the windows. The following week, the champs have to take a 2-3 second delayed start.—Jane D.
Practice oral skills.
I like to play Would You Rather with my students during times like these. I call on a few students to share and require them to justify their answer. Because I teach English, it’s important that my students learn to provide solid evidence for their responses, and Would You Rather is a fun way to introduce and practice this skill.—Madison D.
We do daily geography. There are two questions per day, and I don’t give them additional time to finish. They may use maps, atlases and peers as resources, but not the teacher (me) so I have time to take attendance and do the lunch count.—Therese K.
Engage in trivia.
I put up a daily trivia question. Some days I relate it to the curriculum, and others I just pick something fun. Students write their answers on sticky notes which I collect in the morning. Then I reveal the correct answer at the end of the day.—Marcie M.
Start the day with a review.
Do a simple review game of the previous days’ content first thing in the morning. Offer prizes, and a catch! They have to be there on time in order to play.—Jeremy S.
Inspire your students.
I show inspirational short videos as students come in. Then I ask them to draw, journal, and make connections with it.—Ginee S.
I use this awkward time period to teach empathy and acceptance. I really like the SBSK (Special Books by Special Kids) page’s videos and show them in order to prompt a short discussion each morning.—Meghan E.
What tricks have you found to keep students engaged and learning even when you just have the tiniest bit of time? Add your comments below.