6 Creative Options for Overplanning When Lessons End Early

It’s exciting when a lesson that you write and plan is successful, however sometimes it can be too efficient and you finish early. So, what do you do when there's 5 or 10 minutes left of class time and nothing more planned for the remainder of the period? Avoid getting into a tizzy and move toward keeping students busy! Time and behavior management aficionado, Julie, warns teachers to not underplay time management in the classroom and shares 6 effective time fillers.

It’s rare, but some days your schedule actually runs smoothly, and you have 10 minutes left until the period ends. What do you do? Time management in a classroom can be precarious—as educators, we know that we want to keep our students engaged, even during downtime. Overplanning for those empty moments will help you fill up the time until your next transition, all the while avoiding a mind-numbing game of “Heads-Up 7-Up.” You can use many of these activities and games across grade levels by modifying details as appropriate.

Story Race

Story race overplanning activity

Choose one student to be a storyteller. They begin to tell a made-up story and will randomly stop at any point. The first student to raise their hand gets to contribute to the next part. You may need to establish limits to how much each student is allowed to add depending on the group.  Create rules such as utilizing familiar literary characters or historical figures to support curriculum-relevant topics.

Remote learning modification: The first student who can type the next part of the story into the chat gets to contribute. You may need to emphasize general appropriateness rules and limit the number of terms. You can break teams of students into groups in breakout rooms for creating multiple stories.

Word Challenge: Class vs. Teacher

word challenge teacher student

Keep an ongoing board game to fill those empty moments. Using Scrabble, you can play against your class, and you as their opponent. If teaching in-person, project the game onto your board and maintain the game until the letters run out.  Don’t forget to take a picture at the end of the day—you never know if it will get knocked over. When you play, have table groups conference, have each table present the word they would like to play, and the class votes on the best/most valuable word. This game will have kids utilizing their spelling and addition skills.  

Remote learning modification: Use an external camera or your phone to project your game when you share your screen while you’re Zooming. Students could type their word ideas into the chat.

Secret Signing


Secret Signing Overplanning

Keep a poster of American Sign Language (ASL) letter signs up in your classroom. You could even work on these letters in between lessons. When your students start picking them up, have short challenges when you have a few moments: choose a student to spell out a word or phrase using the signed letters, and have their classmates guess what it is. This could even merge into a type of “Telephone” game where students need to sign a word to each other one by one and see if the original word makes it correctly to the last person.  A rule of the game might be only using current vocabulary words or topics the class is learning about.  Have your students answer a question of the day, or “exit ticket” in sign language as they leave.

Remote learning modification: This would work similarly to in-person. However, you could provide a copy of the letter signs poster to your students so they may have a reference at home. Students could offer their ideas in the chat to eliminate chaos.

DIY Crossword/Word Search

Word Search Overplanning Activity

Keep graph paper on hand so students can create crosswords or word searches for any group of words you might want them to practice (such as character names, verbs, or a category of your choosing, depending on your group and what they are studying). Have them keep these sheets in a separate folder to pull out when they are finished with their work. Great for independent waiting and when students are completing their work at different times.

Remote learning modification: Upload a graph paper template on Google Classroom or Seesaw, so students can create one virtually or print it at home.

See Through My Eyes

See through my eyes word overplanning activity

Have your students grab a blank paper and pencil. Describe or read a scene from a class book or curriculum literature. Have your students illustrate how they envision the scene as you read and then compare their drawings at the end. If you have time, they can add color.

Thought Provokers

Any Thoughts Overplanning Activity

Start a natural, engaging conversation with your older learners by asking thought-provoking questions, like these:

  • Would you rather have 1 million dollars today, or 1 cent doubled every day for a month?
  • Who had the most significant impact on your life, good or bad, and why?
  • If you could pick anywhere in the world, where would you live and why?

Encourage natural follow-up questions from other students.

Fun activities make for happy students; happy students make for engaged students; and engaged students make for a happy teacher!  Keep a short list of these activities at hand for quick ideas when you’ve ended your lesson unexpectedly early.

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