Igniting Critical and Creative Thinking

3 Great Early Finisher Activities Besides Reading A Book

“I’m done! Now what?” These are dreaded words every teacher has heard more than a time or two! Creating lessons that will serve a diverse group of students, often means you will have children finishing their activities at varied times. Some of your students might need the whole time block to complete an assignment, while others are done in only a few minutes! Because of this, it’s a good idea to have some “early finisher activities” ready to go. Today, I’m sharing some great early finisher activities that will challenge your students and provide more learning opportunities!

Take advantage of unused learning time by creating challenging and fun early finisher activities for your students.

Children who finish their work quickly are often doing so because they need more of a challenge. They may have mastered what everyone else is still learning and their minds are hungry for MORE! I say, give it to them! It can be really easy to have students grab a book and get reading after they finish early, but it’s important to incorporate activities that will truly challenge students as well.

Using early finisher activities as an opportunity to provide time for higher-level, critical thinking is a great way to meet the needs of ALL of your students, no matter their abilities. Today, let’s talk about planning early finisher activities that will provide the most “bang for your buck” and how to implement them!

Early Finisher Activities To Avoid

Before we discuss the best types of activities, let’s touch briefly on what to avoid. There are lots of things out there you could include in your early finisher activities, but in my experience, there are a few things that should be off the table. Here’s my list, so you can keep this info top of mind as you plan:

  • Additional Computer Practice: I find that there is already plenty of technology integration in most lesson plans. Avoid adding more practice on platforms such as IXL during this time. There are many other activities that will better serve your students!
  • “Tutor” Other Kids: This one comes up quite often for gifted and talented learners, but just say no! Students should use early finisher activities time as a way to challenge themselves, not help others.
  • Grade Papers: This one goes hand-in-hand with my last no-no. I don’t recommend asking students to grade papers during this time. While this is a useful activity in some cases, early finisher time is a valuable block that can be put to much better use!

So now that we’ve covered what I don’t recommend for early finisher activities, you might be wondering what my top picks are. I’m so glad you asked! As we dive into my 3 favorites, keep in mind that early finisher activities should challenge students, promote higher levels of thinking, and provide opportunities for personal growth. These 3 options touch on all of those areas!

1. Logic Puzzles

Logic puzzles are one of my favorite activities to include for early finishers. Logic puzzles are fun and engaging and will teach students reasoning, logical thinking, and comparing and contrasting. These puzzles are great for independent learning, making them an obvious choice for early finisher activities as well.

The logic puzzles I like to use feature a variety of styles including sudoku, magic squares, and matrix games in both print and digital options. The printables can be placed in a dry-erase sleeve for continued use and the digital ones are a great option for 1:1 classrooms. (They make a great technology center activity too!) \

Using logic puzzles can help build systematic thinking, and confidence while reducing boredom, making these an all-around win for me!

In my experience, logic puzzles are just tricky enough to keep students engaged while still being super enjoyable! If you want to give these a try in your classroom, be sure to grab the free sampler pack I made of these. There are 5 logic puzzles included in different formats so you can see how these work in your classroom.

If you are ready to jump in with critical thinking puzzles in your classroom then check out these resources.

Critical thinking and sequencing puzzles make great early finisher activities.
These Back to School and Fall themed puzzles make great early finisher activities
These addition square math puzzles make great early finisher activities.

2. Passion Projects

Passion projects are SUCH a fun activity to include in your lessons. Passion projects are investigative, project-based learning activities that help students identify their own, unique passions. By implementing these projects, your children will learn more about themselves in this student-centered curriculum. If you want to hear ALL the details about passion projects, be sure to read this blog post where I take a deep dive into passion projects and discuss in further detail how to get started using them.

The initial setup of passion projects will be a bit more hands-on and teacher-involved as you get students settled into their weekly action steps for working on passion projects. But once you have completed this, passion projects make a GREAT activity for early finishers! Students can take action on their own, personal passion projects after they complete their work. If you want to test-drive passion projects in your classroom, be sure to grab the lesson 1 freebie so you can see what they are all about! Or grab the entire resource and get started in your classroom with Passion Projects today!

A passion project like this is a great way to empower your students and give them voice and choice for projects. Grab this Passion Project Sampler to use in your classroom today.
Passion projects are a great way to give your students lots of choice but also hit those important learning goals at the same time.

3. Writing Center

Writing centers are such a great activity for students who finish their work early. If you have peeked around in my store before, you may have noticed how much I love writing centers. I have created a wide variety of them, with different themes to keep students engaged all year long!

Digital writing center used as an early finisher activity

Offering opportunities for students to express themselves through creative writing will boost confidence, enhance communication skills and help foster true joy in writing.

I recommend using a variety of writing centers geared towards different writing styles to keep things extra fun!

I love focusing on fables, narratives, dialogue, and seasonally-themed writing centers.

Check out these fun and engaging writing activities that will have your students begging for more!

Halloween Writing Prompts

Common Issues with Early Finisher Activities

After you have thought about how you might like to incorporate early finisher activities in your classroom, it’s a good idea to think about some of the challenges you might face. One that stands out most to me is children rushing through their work because they want to work on an early finisher activity.

This is a common issue in the classroom, especially if you’re choosing to use highly-engaging early finisher activities that are fun for students. I recommend combatting this with the following suggestions:

Ask for Quality

Children are smart. Sometimes all it takes to prevent this issue is an open, honest conversation.

Make sure students know the expectation in your classroom is high-quality work that they are proud of. Ask children to look over their work and double-check it before turning it in. Ask that they ensure they are proud of what they have written and tried their hardest before turning it in and moving on to the early-finisher activity.

In my experience, children appreciate this push for independence and personal responsibility. This helps to convey that you trust your students and know they will give it their all. This conversation is a good one to have frequently in the early stages of introducing early finisher activities as a reminder!

Use A Timer

A timer is another great option for students that need more than just a pep talk to slow down. You can set a timer that will tell students the minimum amount of time expected to complete the activity. This will take a bit of trial and error as you learn about how long it takes your students to complete various types of activities. Once you have a time basis, this can be a very helpful tool!

If students “finish” before the time is up, ask them to run through a checklist similar to this one to check for accuracy:

  • Read the questions and check the answers. Did I answer the whole question? Is the answer right? Did I follow the directions?
  • Are my sentences complete?
  • Is my name, number, and date on my page?
  • Is my handwriting neat and easy to read?
  • Am I proud of this work?

You can adjust these questions, depending on the assignment but the idea here is to get your students thinking and slowing down a bit. If they did indeed answer yes to all questions, they can sit quietly at their desk, then they can bring you their work for a quick check. If you are confident they did their best work then they can move on.

Make Sure Everyone Gets A Chance To Try Early Finisher Activities

Some of your students may not ever finish in time to try some of these activities. It’s perfectly acceptable to use the whole time block allotted for their work, but you want to make sure they get the benefit of trying these critical thinking activities as well!

To make sure all your students get to try these activities, I recommend picking an activity or two each week where you make sure that everyone finishes and can move on to early finisher activities.

By doing this, students will quickly realize that they will get a chance to work on the early finisher activities even if it is not every day. This will help cut back on the “rushing through work” since students know they will get a chance. And. . . if you add Passion Projects as your early finisher activity, consider setting aside some time each week to work on them as a class.

Start Planning Your Early Finisher Activities

Now that you have an idea of the variety of early finisher activities you can use in your classroom, it’s time to get a plan in place! To keep things simple while also making sure to retain engagement, I recommend using a rotating schedule for your early finisher activities. You could plan to use logic puzzles 2 days a week, writing centers 2 days a week, and passion projects 1 day a week, for example.

If you don’t like the thought of changing them out often, create an Early Finisher Space where students can go and grab any of the available early finisher activities. You can add in a variety of puzzles and writing prompts and let students choose what they would like to work on.

Whatever you choose, be sure to remember to include variety in your early finisher activities! These activities are a great opportunity to really get your students thinking, challenge your high achievers, and help meet the diverse needs of your classroom! Take advantage of this often unused learning time and plan highly-engaging and thought-provoking early finisher activities!

Save These Early Finisher Activities

Don’t forget to save this post on your favorite classroom Pinterest board! That way when you need some ideas for early finisher activities you can quickly and easily come back to find what you are looking for.

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hey y'all

I'm Susan!

I’m Susan Morrow and I help overwhelmed teachers create thinking classrooms where students discover the joy in learning and achieving.

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