Once discussing fast finishers and how to deal with them I’d like to start not with worksheets and activities but with something beyond. Being aware of some core concepts will help you develop your own ways how to tackle these kinds of students. So in this article, I’m going to share some principles of classroom management to bear in mind and then a list of handy activities to use.
What to take care of first?
- Differentiate the Instructions
Varying your instructions with a mixed ability class, in the beginning, you might simply avoid fast finishers by the end of the activity, as each will be busy doing their own task up to their abilities. Say, the stronger ones make up 7 sentences, while the slower ones come up with 4 or 5. More on adapting the tasks see here.
Getting awards/ being awarded is a tool that gets your students to feel eager about doing extra tasks and take up those fast finishers’ activities as part of class routine. If you have a system of personal or group ratings, or special stickers or ‘currency’ to be awarded for their achievements during the lessons, early finishers activities should be valued with help of those as well. This is a way to get your fast finishers feel positive about their extra efforts.
Once students are catered for, take care of yourself:
- ‘Exploit’ the materials
I’m not in favour of bending over a copier for hours and stacking piles and piles of worksheets (it’s just not that eco-friendly as well). Materials have to be reusable and adaptable. If these are preschool or primary school kids, there could be widely used laminated worksheets for writing, e.g. letter tracing, phonics tracing, etc. With juniors and teens — flashcards with the pictures to be described or memorized; sets of words, functional phrases or even sentences. It means rather think about what I can do with what I have than what else I can get.
- ‘Exploit’ your learners’ autonomy
It’s always good to encourage your students to participate more in classroom routine and even take on the role of the teacher from time to time. So, why not offer them to make up their own tasks for peers? Go for one of the activities in our list (or create your own) and assign it as part of your students’ hometask. You benefit and save your time, your learners get a break from typical hometasks and develop creativity.
How to present and keep the activities in a more enjoyable way?
These could be either so-called ‘ I’m done jars’ or ‘What to do next’ bulletin boards. Plenty of design can be found on Pinterest. These sets of jars and boards can be beautifully decorated and contain a number of activities inside to choose from. Preferably, you have a few jars or a few sections on the board with tasks aimed at different aspects like Vocabulary, Grammar, Maths or Fun.
Top 10 activities for fast finishers
- Memory dictation.
Students pick out a few flashcards (lower levels or kids) or a set of phrases/ sentences (higher level), which you reuse from the previous lessons. They have a minute to look and memorize them and then a minute to write by heart. The students self-check afterwards, as one of the aims here is to estimate and improve yourself. (Skills — spelling, memorizing). An hourglass could be a valuable tool to help early finishers control how much time they spend on the task.
- “Describe it/ guess what?”
You need some little toys as realia or a set of cards or ‘exploit’ some pictures/words in the text/ coursebook. The student picks out some cards or realia and then has to describe them in English, you set the fixed number of words/ sentences — 3 to 5. Once the peers have finished, the student can read their description for others to guess. (Skills — grammar/writing, interaction, active listening).
- ‘True/ false’.
You need a set of pictures to choose from/ a realia or exploit your coursebook. Get the students to come up with 3 to 5 sentences about the picture/ realia, one of which is a false. As an extension, the others have to guess. (Skills — grammar, writing, critical thinking, interaction, active listening). Another variation is to compare two pictures or realis.
- Self-reflection cards.
I do cater for emotional intelligence and self-identification. So, it might be the cards with the beginnings like: Today I feel…/ My friend/mother feels… / My favourite food/colour is…, etc. If we take older students and higher levels — Finish up with three to five ideas: Today I’ve…./ Tomorrow I’m…./ Today I’ve felt … as… (Skills — grammar/writing, analyzing).
- ‘Language Suitcases’
It is the idea by Jeremy Harmer one can use for practicing new vocabulary. Each lesson learners have to put down 5 to 10 new words they liked and put into their own envelopes. The next lesson they take out their own cards and either make sentences with them or define. So, they can work on their own vocabulary. (Skills — writing, memorizing).
- ‘Wiggle jar’’ cards.
A bit of physical exercise — students have to do the actions written in the cards, say, crouch 10 times, hop 20 times on your left leg, etc. You might even look at a number of physical challenges that develop the right hemisphere. Here is a sample. (Skills — reading).
- Spot the mistake.
It might be at a word level or phrase or sentence level. Students should correct the mistakes or tick the correct words/ sentences. (Skills — spelling or grammar, reading, memorizing).
- ‘Match’ words/cards with the same phonics or cards and their descriptions, etc (Skills — reading, critical thinking)
- CLIL tasks or problem-solving. Learners have to deal with Maths or Logic tasks. There are plenty of freebies. (Skills — reading, critical thinking).
- Creating fast finishers’ cards.
Students make up their own sets of words, phrases or sentences on the topic to share. Prepare a Maths puzzle. Write your true/false about the picture.