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Early Finishers in the Upper Elementary Classroom

Early finishers…I don’t recall being taught about them in college, but the struggle of what exactly to have them work on is REAL.

Teacher Struggles with Early Finishers

When I started teaching, I would just have them read if they finished something early. Seemed easy enough. But some students don’t enjoy reading (*gasp* I know), and I didn’t want them to hate it more by having to do it every spare second. Plus, then they’d have no incentive actually to finish their work. I wanted reading to be a CHOICE for those who love it, but I needed other options for those who didn’t.

Then came the other issue of making the activities “too fun” that students rushed through their work to be able to get to them. Not ideal. This can be a real problem. But I also didn’t want the options viewed as punishments, causing them not to complete the work. So, to get the activities, they had to have the best effort work. I reviewed it BEFORE they were allowed to partake in the other choice activities. If there were a lot of corrections to be made, I don’t tell them which ones. They need to go back over it and find the mistakes themselves. This helped get them to put out their best work the first time.

I definitely didn’t want them coming up to me to figure out what they needed to do every time they finished something. So, after a few weeks into the school year, we did an anchor chart together with ideas for what they could do when they finished their work.

Some students pick the same activity every time. If you have this problem, here is one solution I used. I would prefer them to have a little variety in their activities, so I added their options on choice boards. That way, they could still pick the ones they enjoy more, but they must choose a different one each time. They can’t do a repeat until they get a new board, which I would hand out to students who have filled a certain number of spaces.

The Anchor Chart

We sat together and discussed possible options for what activities would be good choices for early finishers. We also discussed the work they needed to do to get to those choice activities. I wrote all the ideas down on an anchor chart.

The next day, we reviewed the ideas and considered whether each would be easy to get out and set up quickly, if they could work quietly on it, and if it was good practice. We crossed some off that wouldn’t make good early finisher activities, and then we created a new anchor chart with the finalized list. We also rated them in priority order so they knew which ones came first. For instance, “Complete any unfinished work.” was a priority over “Play a quiet review game with a friend.”

The Options

Here are the options we have come up with over the years. Some years, they may have more options for early finishers than other years, depending on the class. Also, some options may get taken away if they do not follow that particular option’s expectations (which we go over A LOT). I then put the choices on the choice board. They can choose which activity they’d like to do and color their choice each time they finish early. Get the FREE DOWNLOAD here.

Finish ANY Unfinished Work

This one is priority number one! If they have other work they haven’t finished, they must work on and finish before they can move to other choice activities.


Reading is always an option. I know some students who will pick this every single time. It’s a great, quick way to fill some time before the next activity.


Writing is always an option. They can write in their notebooks anytime they finish something early. This is choice writing time. If they love to write, this is a good option for them to be able to choose the topic and go to town! Students LOVE writing about the holiday of the day each day. Find out more about Holiday of the Day here.

Math Fact Practice

They can grab a laptop and practice quietly in their seats using apps. I also have a Multiplication Fact U-Know game that my students LOVE to use to practice. It also comes in all of the other operations. You can even get the subtraction version to try for free by signing up for my newsletter below. Find out more ways to practice math facts in this post.

Write a Book Review

Students who have just finished a book they love can write a review for the book and put it inside of the front cover of the book for future readers. Students are more likely to read a book one of their classmates recommends. Plus, it’s a great way to let others know what a great book it is and why. I made a quick freebie for you to be able to use this. Download the freebie here. 

Study for Any Upcoming Tests

Spelling, vocabulary, math, science, social studies…there is usually a quiz or test coming up that they can study for. They can make their study cards, study with a friend, or study at their seats. It’s a great option to get students to study before the assessment.

Review Games

I usually always have a few U-Know games ready to go for students to practice with a friend or two. These early finisher games are usually topics that have passed that I’d like to keep fresh in their minds, or they are prerequisite skills for upcoming chapters that they had the previous year. It’s a great way to spiral the standards throughout the year so students don’t forget important concepts. See more about how I spiral the standards using games in this post.

Passion Projects

My students always really enjoy their Passion Projects. There’s no set due date, and they get to choose something they are passionate about to do them on. So, it’s a great activity to pull out and work on whenever they can. Once they’re done, they present the information they learned to the class to teach us more about their passion. I personally LOVE seeing these presentations, and the students BEG for time to work on them.

Websites They May Work On


Grab & Go Task Card Games

Sometimes, I will take a skill they need extra practice on and make a mini set of task cards to put into a container. You can see how I do that in this post. I added a mini whiteboard, markers, erasers, game pieces, and a die. I also include a mini answer key. Students can grab a friend and a bin and work practicing the skills on the cards. I always have them flip a card and have everyone answer. Then they check the answer key, and anyone that is correct rolls and moves their game piece.

Choose New Books from the Class Library

When they finish work early, it is a great time to go and check out some new books. I only allow them over at the library at certain times of the day, so they always have to grab a new book or two to add to their book bins if they are close to finishing all the books they currently have.

Some Type of Ongoing Project

Sometimes, we work on a PBL or a big Social Studies project. If they are behind on the project and need time to work on it, that is also a good choice for early finishers.

I hope you found some fresh, new ideas! Let me know if your early finishers do something that should be added to the list! Thanks for reading.

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