By default, I used to tell early finishers to review their work. Some teachers ask early finishers to help the slower students keep up. Sometimes early finishers get asked to do busy work around the classroom – organize the book shelf or wash the glassware. But now I use enrichment activities for my middle school science students as a reward for early completion. Here are 12 strategies I use for early finishers to support their learning without providing busy work.
Why we need a strategy
You crafted an excellent assignment. It is an in depth project and has an extensive rubric. You explain it to your class in great detail, emphasizing how important it is that they do their best work. And then they begin. In your head, you’ve imagined that this assignment will take your students 45-60 minutes. You’ve planned to use that time to collect data on work habits, social emotional learning, and work one on one with each of the students who were absent yesterday. You’ve barely taken out your clipboard when Johnny raises his hand and says “What do I do when I’m done.”
You’re stunned. He can’t be finished. Sure, he’s a bright kid and a quick worker, but this assignment was so elaborate and demanding that he must have done a poor job. So you answer in the way that every teacher answers. “You can’t possibly be done yet. Review your work.”
Side note. I’m sorry. “Review your work” is a meaningless answer for middle schoolers. Unless you’ve provided exemplar projects and modeled how to use the exemplars to improve your work, a 12 year old will interpret your directions to mean “sit quietly for another half hour.” That’s not fair to kids.
But let’s assume in this case that Johnny’s work is decent. Maybe he worked on it at home yesterday or maybe he’s just a really fast worker, but however he did it, Johnny has checked all the boxes on this assignment. When you glance at it, you’re guessing it’s B+ work.
Bored students act out. Students who are acting out distract other learners. Distracted learners act out. And now you’ve changed an early finisher problem into a classroom management problem.
Now what do you do? You need strategies for your early finishers so that they can stay engaged.
I call the enrichment activities that are available to early finishers my “End Zone” because it’s the zone they go to when they’re at the end of their work. Years ago, the End Zone was a book case in the back of the room with games and activities that students could work on when they were done. Now, the End Zone is a digital space and I update it with each unit I teach.
Some of the links like the “Spring Flower Genetics” and the “Natural Selection Pixel Art” are review activities that will help students prepare for an assessment. [Incidentally, if you click on the links, you can download those two resources for free!] Links like “Crack the DNA code game” and “Play a DNA research game” are websites that have games that reinforce the content of the unit. Links like “Learn about human mutations” are for students who are curious and have questions I haven’t answered in class. “This is Sand” and “Quick Draw” are two quick games that take only a minute or two to play and students enjoy them as time fillers but they aren’t really content related.
Over the course of a unit, students pick and choose their favorite activities. I watch what they choose and try to include more activities that they enjoy, so the End Zone sometimes changes during the unit as favorites are replicated.
There are a few keys to making a great early finisher activity:
- Use a variety of resources. See below for more ideas.
- Create a TinyUrl to access the end zone. The link https://tinyurl.com/darwin22 points to the natural selection end zone above. This makes it easier for students to access.
- Post the link on the board or on Google Classroom at the beginning of the unit so students can access it whenever they need it during the unit.
- Change it frequently. I update the end zone for each unit with different themes.
12 strategies to include for your early finishers
You can include as many or as few opportunities for enrichment in your middle school science End Zone as you want, but try to include all of these strategies for early finishers:
- Review activities
- Self-checking quizzes to review content
- Color by number – I usually include the directions in the End Zone web site with instructions on where to find the worksheet and colored pencils in the classroom.
- Boom cards – these digital task cards are my students’ absolute favorites!
- Pixel art digital worksheets to practice vocab.
- Easy, quick games that review content.
- Non-content science – Include one or two of these for each unit, just to mix it up a little:
- Science Wordle
- Virtual field trip to some place either related to content or so distant that students likely wouldn’t have visited.
- Include some kind of citizen science activity that will engage students in real life data collection.
- If space permits, offer a STEM challenge with some easy to find materials you can keep in a box somewhere.
How do you keep your middle school science students engaged even when they’re early finishers? What kind of strategies for early finishers do you provide in your classroom? Let me know below!