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How to Keep Your Early Finishers Engaged (and out of trouble!)

“I’m done!”

Two words every teacher dreads… Early finishers can distract others, get themselves in trouble, or otherwise cause mischief in a classroom. On today’s blog, I’ll share my top tips for keeping your early finishers busy.

Get Organized!

First and foremost, you need to create a plan for your classroom so you don’t cringe every time a kiddo completes a task in record time. Come up with a list of a few different choices, and explicitly teach your students what their choices are. Clear expectations = fewer behaviour problems.

As I’m sure you know, it takes more than one run-through for young students to really understand something, so be sure to practice your procedures with them several times. This is really important at the beginning of the school year, but it’s also a good idea to revisit after school breaks or whenever you notice students “forgetting” what they’re supposed to do when they finish early. There shouldn’t be any room for uncertainty or boredom.

Options for Students Who Finish Early

First, let’s start with what not to do.

  1. Help other students. This may seem surprising to you, but I’ve found that this really doesn’t go well most of the time. With young kids especially, “helping” usually turns into distraction, or worse, a “let me do it for you” kind of situation. There are times when students can help each other of course, but it’s important that individual work be done individually.
  2. Do more work! This one seems like a no-brainer, but a lot of teachers think an easy solution is to have early finishers just keep working ahead. You finished page 3? Awesome, move ahead to page 4! No one likes doing extra work! Assigning more pages, worksheets, or lessons can be really frustrating to students. They could start to feel like they’re being punished for working quickly.

So what are some better options?

Enrichment Tasks for Early Finishers

I love to provide my students with tasks that are fun and engaging but that still keep them focused on the skill we’re learning. Just be sure that the tasks you offer are meaningful and not busy work to just keep them occupied. Ideally, these activities are ones that your students love to do, so finishing early feels more like a reward than a punishment.

Some early finisher tasks I like to offer include the following:

Math Task Cards

Have a designated area for math task cards, or tape some up around the room. My students like to use these for little games like “beat the clock” (have a little hourglass timer handy) or as a scavenger hunt with cards posted around the room. Find a complete ready-to-use set here: Math Task Cards Bundle.


Solve the Room (self-paced)

“Solve the room” activities get students up and moving and can definitely be done as a self-paced activity for your early finishers. You’ll need to have different math task cards placed around the room. Teach students where to find the “solve the room” clipboards and recording sheets. Students walk around the room, searching for task cards. When they find one, they solve the problem and write their answer on the recording sheet. I know it kind of sounds like assigning extra work, but my students LOVE this activity so much! It gives your kinesthetic learners a chance to get moving in a non-disruptive way.

Check out my Solve the Room Bundle. It includes 30 games covering a variety of math skills suitable for kindergarten and first grade.

Interactive Digital Games

If you have devices in your classroom, this can be a great option for early finishers! Kids are very motivated by technology, especially if it’s something they don’t use every day. There are tons of options for meaningful practice that actually feels like play! Make sure your students know how to select the appropriate game or task to match your current learning goals, and have a designated place for them to work.

Here are a few resources you could use with your classroom devices:


Always a Great Choice: Reading!

Reading is always a fantastic choice for your early finishers. Of course you’ll have some students who are more enthusiastic than others about reading, but there are ways you can make it appealing to even the more reluctant readers in your group.

Offer choice and variety

I do this with book boxes. Each student has their own book box, and they always have 3-4 books in their box. They can choose to switch them out whenever they’re ready for a change—at the appropriate time of course. My kiddos aren’t allowed to “shop” for a new book when everyone is supposed to be seated for independent work. Instead, I’ve taught them that part of the morning routine is to make any book box switches they’d like for the day.

Create an attractive reading nook

My janitor was so kind and installed these beautiful shelves for me. Aren’t they gorgeous?? I fill them with themed books that the kids are so excited to read. I make these books extra special by only allowing kids to read them during their “finished time.”

Of course, we all have some students who never finish early so I make sure to give those kids other opportunities to read these special books. This shelf area has become a winner in my class! Kids know they only have a limited time to read the books since they’re themed and/or seasonal. I found these clear bookshelves on Amazon and absolutely love them!


An Organized Classroom Will Save You Tons of Headaches!

A well-run classroom is one where kids know routines and can independently do what’s expected of them. It doesn’t help the teacher much if you have to individually direct each early finisher. You’d never get anything else done!

Be sure to review routines like where to put things when they’re done, what to do when they’re done, how to make a choice, etc. Practicing this at the beginning of the year will save you lots of time and trouble all year!

To help you get organized, I’ve created this editable slide that you can project on your smart board and/or print out each week to display in a designated area. You can fill it out with the day or week’s choices and your expectations for what they should do when they finish their work. Grab your free download today!



How do you plan for your early finishers? I’d love to hear your ideas, so come share with me on Instagram or Facebook!


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