Need an infusion of quick activities for those times when lessons finish early, schedules get disrupted, or the dismissal bell has ten more minutes to go? These quick filler activities are perfect for keeping your students productively engaged during transition times.

Students Take Turns "Teaching" End-of-Day Mini-Lessons

To wrap up the day, April Roberts, an ESL teacher in Franklin County, Georgia, sometimes turns over the class to one of her students. "I call on someone at random, and ask him or her to go to the board and in two minutes or less, re-teach something they learned during the day," explains Roberts. "I call them Mr. or Ms. and ask questions as the student re-caps the lesson. I encourage the other students to ask questions so the ‘teacher' can field them." Roberts also lets the student decide whether to present the mini-lesson in English or Spanish. "This option allows everyone to participate effectively, even beginners." Roberts finds this end-of-day quick activity works especially well with grammar lessons because the "teacher" can write examples, diagram sentences, list words, and/or categorize parts of speech. However, the activity can be readily adapted to other content areas and types of lessons, too.

Math Race to Reach Target Number

Keeping math skills sharp is a top priority in Caroll Spencer's middle school classroom in Rancho Palo Verdes, California. That's why "Get As Close As You Can" is among her favorite sponge activities. "I pick a random number — in the thousands or greater for upper grades, lower numbers for earlier grades — and write it on the board. I call it the target number." Then, she writes down five other random numbers and invites her students to use any of the five numbers and any combination of math operations (addition, subtraction, multiplication, division) to write an equation that gets them as close as possible to the target number. The student with the equation that comes closest to the target number wins! Here's an example:

Target number: 1,050

Random Numbers: 5, 87, 24, 13, 9

Sample answer: (87 x 13) - (24 x 5) = 1,011

The Price Is Right!

The local classifieds come in handy when Lori Shinerock needs a spur-of-the-moment math activity. After drawing a T-chart on the board, she reads a classified ad description of a house for sale. "Then I ask students to guess the price of the house," says Shinerock, who teaches in Three Rivers, Oregon. She records guesses that are too high on one side of the T-chart and guesses that are too low on the other. "Eventually, they will guess the real price by looking at other guesses and adjusting accordingly," she says. "I am always amazed at what they think a house sells for when we start. The exercise makes them think mathematically and gives them a much better sense of what things really cost." For a change of pace, consider reading ad descriptions for cars and other big-ticket items. To modify this activity for lower grades, use a supermarket or discount store circular and describe less expensive items.

Mascot Toss-Across Energizes Creative Writing

Alice Garner pulls out the school's mascot — a stuffed leopard — to add energy and excitement to a let's-write-it-together activity. "The leopard is loosely stuffed, about five inches long, and has a voice box; it roars if dropped or squeezed too tightly," explains Garner, a teacher in Leland, North Carolina. "We use him while we orally 'write' a story." She starts by announcing the first sentence of the story and gently throwing the leopard to one of her students. The student comes up with the next line in the story and then gently tosses the stuffed animal to a classmate. "If the leopard roars, the one who caused the roar sits down," explains Garner. "We have come up with so many zany stories. Plus, we're practicing important story-writing skills and behavior skills at the same time." If your school doesn't have a mascot or you want to give the activity a sporty theme, try using a foam ball instead. Anyone who throws too hard or drops the ball is out.

Mad Libs for Language Skills Practice and Laughs

Many teachers use Mad Libs to fill extra minutes with productive fun. Dana Smith, a fifth- and sixth-grade social studies teacher, keeps a variety of Mad Libs activity books in her class and enjoys going around the room asking students to fill in the blanks with nouns, verbs, descriptive words, or whatever type of word the story requires. "Then I read the story aloud . . . it's a great way to practice language skills and the stories are funny, too." To convert Mad Libs to a student-directed activity instead of a teacher-directed activity, keep photocopies of several Mad Libs pages on hand and distribute to small groups. One student gives the clues; the other students take turns answering. When the stories are complete, the leaders of each group take turns reading their collaborations aloud to the class.

Creative Ways to Line Up

Next time you think your students are too noisy when they line up, take a tip from Lora Mulstay, a teacher in Holbrook, Arizona. She's figured out a way to get them to line up quietly and build teamwork, communication, and leadership skills at the same time. "My students like to 'migrate' to the door before lunch and at the end of the day before the bell rings. So, I let them line up, but with one catch . . . ," explains Mulstay. "I have them line up in some sort of unusual order — sometimes by height (big to small, small to big), by shoe size, maybe alphabetical order by middle name. They have to figure out the correct order by themselves, with no help from me. Sometimes I have them figure it out without talking! Since the students can't leave until they have the correct order, they have learned to work well with one another." She uses the activity once or twice a week and it's usually followed by a debriefing the next day or after lunch to discuss what went well, what didn't, and what could have been done differently to make the activity go more smoothly.


These ideas originally appeared in Teacher magazine.