Students work at different paces, and there will always be those who finish their seatwork before others. It can be a challenge to keep these students occupied so they don’t disturb those still at work. A little planning will prepare teachers to keep those early finishers busy with activities that reinforce curriculum objectives.

Work Checklist

Some students finish work quickly because they want to get it over with, or they would rather do free-time activities. To keep students from rushing and handing in substandard work, keep a supply of “Check My Work” checklists handy. When students finish their work early, have them compare it to the checklist to confirm that they have done their best work. Include items on the checklist that are appropriate to your grade level. First grade items could include the following: Is my name and date on the paper in the right place? Did I fill in all the blanks? Is my handwriting neat? Items for students in higher grades could include these points: Did I use proper margins? Did I follow all directions completely?

Language Arts Activities

Have a list of activities that students can refer to in order to use their time wisely when they finish work early. Language arts activities for all grade levels could include making flashcards for spelling and vocabulary words: Put the word on one side and the definition on the other. Have a word family scavenger hunt: Keep a selection of grade-level readers, have students comb the text for words in specific word families, and record them on a chart. Students in third grade and up can create a crossword puzzle using vocabulary words. Think of something nice someone has done for you, and write that person a thank you note. Make a poster advertising the class’s current literature selection.

Math Activities

Students in grades one and two can use playing cards to practice sorting. Sort cards by suit, color and number. Early elementary students can work on a shapes book: Design book pages labeled with directives such as “green square” and “blue circle.” Have students create each of the shapes and gather the pages into a book. Students in grades three and up can create a map of their neighborhood. Older elementary students can try to make up word problems involving day-to-day activities such as, “If there are five people in my family and we each eat two eggs for breakfast every day, how many eggs do we need each week?”

Classroom Helpers

Students in third grade and up who finish early can be great classroom helpers. Give them jobs that help with classroom tasks while reinforcing curriculum objectives. Develop fine motor skills by cutting out bulletin board letters and shapes. Students can look through magazines and cut out pictures to use for writing prompts. Keep a list of topics that you will teach throughout the year in all subjects. Have students design a bulletin board to support one of the topics. When designing the bulletin board, older students can be encouraged to consider art elements such as line, shape, form, texture, value, space and color, and math concepts such as measurement and scale.

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About the Author

Debbie McCarson is a former English teacher and school business administrator. Her articles have appeared in "School Librarians’ Journal" and "The Encyclopedia of New Jersey." A South Jersey native, she is a regular contributor to "South Jersey MOM" magazine.