How many times have you already heard those words this year? And how many times were they quickly followed by, “What can I do now?”
Students finishing work and not knowing what to do next (even though you’ve given them about 100 options 1,000 times) is always a problem. I’ve always had routines and procedures that I taught and practiced over and over again. One year I even made this sign that I would just point to whenever my middle schoolers said anything similar. However, it never seems to be quite enough to fully end the problem of students calling out and then wondering what to do next. While I have yet to find the magic solution to preventing the question from being asked, I do have several activities that my students enjoyed participating in when they had a few free minutes.
As I mention in my post, Out of the Blue Classroom Favorites, the Lego table is one of the more popular areas in my classroom. It’s a small table with a couple of chairs, a pail of Legos and some baseboards. Sometimes I include a book with the picture directions for building various things (free download from More Preposition Fun post), but students generally ignore this. If students have free time, they may sit at the table (no more than two students at any given time) and build whatever they wish. It’s not unusual for them to simply cover the baseplates with Legos, building nothing in particular, but it seems to be relaxing for them.
Also mentioned in Out of the Blue Classroom Favorites, the puzzle table is similar to the Lego area. It is a small table with a couple of chairs and a jig saw puzzle spread out on it. Students sit at the table (again, no more than two at a time) and work on the puzzle as they have time and desire. Once a puzzle has been completed, we take a picture of it to hang on the wall behind the table, and begin a new one. Not only is it a fun activity for students to participate in during down time, it helps build our classroom community as well. Since all students are working on the puzzle together, it belongs to the entire class and everyone feels a sense of accomplishment when it’s finished.
Free Reading Area
Again, not a fancy area, but a popular one. As I describe in my Alternative Seating post, my reading corner consisted of an area rug, a body pillow with a fun colored cover, and some arm pillows. The only rule about the reading area was one has to be either reading or working quietly on schoolwork. The number of students allowed to use it at any given time depended on how much space I had available to dedicate to it that year.
In our digital world, many students don’t have as much time to play traditional card/board games. Some of my students have never played a card or board game in their lives. I kept a shelf of classic games that ranged from two to four players and students were allowed to take them to their desks or a quiet corner of the classroom (our short table with chair cushions was always a popular spot) to play when they finished early or we had special days such as Fun Friday. Some of the most popular options from my collection were Uno, Go Fish, Sorry!, Connect Four, and Battleship.
Skillology Choice Boards
Featured in Top Free Teachers Pay Teachers Downloads of 2021, English Skillology Choice Boards were a way for my students to earn extra credit during their free time. I have four levels (beginner, low intermediate, high intermediate, advanced) and students could use class Chromebooks to access their boards from their desks. All of my boards are free, use the links above to get all of the details and your own copies.
Note Folding / Origami
When I was in high school, back in the dark ages, no one had cell phones. The passing of notes was our main form of communication. It wasn’t enough to simply write a note, fold it in half or quarters, and give it to someone, though. No, it had to be folded in an elaborate fashion. After we did a notetaking activity where students created what I always knew as a cootie-catcher (apparently some called them fortune tellers), my students were amazed at my paper folding skills. Later, when we had some free time, I showed them a few other ways of folding paper I remembered, and they loved it. The whole thing became another free time “center” in our classroom. I printed out instructions for various ways of folding notes, and students would write to one another and then attempt to follow them. They had a blast, and the best part was they were getting a lot of good writing and reading practice in the process. Eventually, I bought a few origami instructional books for students who wanted to try some more elaborate paper folding creations.
Fun Sheets / Art Center
The final option that became fairly standard in my classrooms was a fun sheets / art center. It was simply a shelf with copies of various activity sheets and some basic art supplies. I copied sudoku puzzles, crosswords, wordsearches, and a variety of coloring pages that I downloaded for free from the internet. I organized them in manilla folders (with an example stapled to the front) and mail organizers. Next to the papers I had bins with crayons, colored pencils, markers, scissors, white copy paper, colored copy paper, and wallpaper (see Out of the Blue Favorite Classroom “Supplies”). Students could take what they wanted and complete the pages or create original art projects.
Some of these options, such as the reading corner, were always available in my classroom. Others, such as the origami area, came and went throughout the year(s). A lot of it was determined by how much space I had and access to supplies. I would love to tell you that having these various options/centers solved the “I’m done! Now what?” problem in my classroom, but that would be a lie. It did reduce it, though, and most of the time that was good enough for me. Happy teaching, everyone!