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 even the most fidgety kids productively engaged during transition times.

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."

Fishbowl Songs

For a quick activity when her young students are waiting for dismissal or an assembly to start, Geraldine Fogle relies on a plastic fishbowl filled with fish-shaped cutouts in a variety of colors and patterns. Each fish has the name of a song or finger play. "I usually use seasonally appropriate titles and have some year-round favorites, too," says Fogle, a teacher with Parents as Teachers in New York. "The children take turns taking a fish out of the bowl and that is the song we sing." To ensure that "we are not singing the same songs every time," Fogle has a fish net hanging nearby. It holds all the fish the class "caught" earlier in the week.

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.

Pose Like a Statue!

"We love to play Statue while waiting in line for lunch or specials," says Ruth Ewell, a first-grade teacher in Lone Tree, Colorado. "One person is 'it' and calls out 'Statue!' All of the other kids freeze and try to look the most like a statue. The person who is "it" selects the one who looks most like a statue to start a new round. This is a fantastic, imaginative, and quiet game."

The Numbers Are Snowballing

Debbie Herman, a fourth grade teacher in Fowler, California, likes to play "Snowball" with her class when she finds herself with a few extra minutes. The main rule is everyone must remain quiet unless she points to them. "I begin by pointing to one student and stating an addition fact such as 7 + 9," explains Herman. "The student can think all he or she wants but must not say 'uh,' 'um,' or anything other than the answer. When the student replies, '16,' I quickly turn to another student, point, and say, 'plus 5,' and that student must add 5 to the previous answer." If a student does not hear the answer, was not following along mentally (and therefore cannot reply correctly), or says anything other than the answer, the game starts over. "Our goal is to reach 100 with no mistakes and nothing spoken other than the correct answers," continues Herman. "We keep track of how far we get without a mistake and always strive to at least surpass our highest score." The game works well because students struggling with math can be called upon early in the game and given simpler problems, while the math wizards can be challenged. She points out that the game can also be played with subtraction, except you start with 100 and work your way to 0.

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 go well, and what could have been done differently to make the activity go more smoothly.


These ideas originally appeared in Teacher magazine.