This month, we heard from many teachers who need to accommodate students with a wide variety of skills. This means, not only having activities on hand for early finishers, but making sure that you have an assortment of options that will meet the needs of students at different levels. Quiet reading with follow up activities is a popular choice for many teachers. Others pointed out the value of letting students who breeze through their work mentor other students. Beyond that, we saw new, creative approaches to keeping students engaged and challenged when their initial work is completed.

See the ideas below for some of the entries selected as this month's winners. You can find more activities and tips — and continue to share your own — on our Winning Ideas discussion board.

Thank you again for your submissions. And remember to check the latest contest topic for more chances to win.

1. Weekly Center Rotations
Submitted by Valerie Tyler, grade 2, St. Albert the Great School, North Royal, OH
In my classroom my students are organized in small numbered "teams." I have a pocket chart hanging in the front of the room that has cards for different baskets or centers the students may visit (classroom library, computer area, etc). Weekly, I rotate cards that indicate which team may use a center. When students are finished with their work they may bring back center materials and complete self-directed (and usually self-correcting) activities at their desk.

This not only give the students control and choice over their own learning, but it offers me the opportunity to choose activities to enrich and expand on what we are working on in class. It also gives me the ability to make sure the students are challenging themselves in various areas of the curriculum such as math, writing, reading, science and art.

One example of a center is the Reading center (pictured), where I have a leveled library, books organized according to topics, and author study baskets.  The students also have a poster they can refer to regarding how to choose a "just right book."

See other center ideas from this teacher.

2. $1.00 Word Activity
Submitted by Laura Audi, grade 5, American Muslim Academy, Detroit, MI
In my classroom, I use the 1.00 Dollar word activity for early finishers. It's a very motivating and exciting activity, and my students even spend their lunch time looking for 1.00 dollar words. The idea is basically finding a word and then adding the letters where a=1, b=2 and so on ...z=26. If the sum is equal to 100 then it's a 1.00 word and that student gets one point extra credit. This great activity enhances addition and vocabulary skills.

3. Bulletin Board Decorators
Submitted by Pat Devitto, grade 4, Northeast Elementary School, Brentwood, NY
I leave one bulletin board for the children to decorate. They can use this to display anything that connects to something we've explored in class. Students may choose to decorate the board with photos from home, writing samples, illustrations, song lyrics (be careful with this), print ads, etc. And for those who do not finish early, the teacher needs to give them a free pass from time to time. Every youngster deserves the opportunity to shine.

4. Book & Movie Reviews
Submitted by Paul Yoakam, grade 5, Lincoln Elementary, Miles City MT
We write book and movie reviews to be posted on a bulletin board in my room.  I let the kids type them out and find a picture of it to go with.  When it gets full, the old ones come down and the new ones go up.  Kids love typing their work and playing with the different fonts and also printing out the picture to go with the book or movie. 

This obviously takes a lesson to be able to write a decent review, but when they get the hang of it, all is well.

5. Let Students Set Their Options
Submitted by Katy Hoh, grades 2-6, W.C.K. Walls Elementary School, Pitman, NJ
During the first week of school I ask the class to come up with reasonable ideas to do when they finish a worksheet, test etc. before their classmates.

I set some rules first:

  1. It has to be a quiet activity.
  2. It cannot involve spending money to do it!
  3. You have to be able to do it alone.
  4. It has to be in good taste.
  5. Teacher has the final approval.

As a class we discuss the options together and make a class list of ideas that is posted.

Some of the ideas that students have come up with include:

  • Have a book in your desk that you pick out ahead of time. Either read it at your desk or go to the library area
  • Work on a Suduko puzzles. I give them a sticker if they complete it correctly.
  • Make a card for a family member or friend (I keep a card materials basket handy).
  • Color a picture. There are no directions; they can choose to use markers, crayons, pencils. Simple, but something they hardly have time to do!
  • Go to the back of the room and play quietly with playdough.
  • Write a letter to a student in another class, or another teacher, or staff member.
  • Window Watch: go to the back of the classroom where you won't disturb anyone and look outside, make a list of things that you see, one point for everything that you write down and two points for something that moves.
  • If anyone is not respectful of their classmates by being loud they must come back to their desks and either put their head down or read to themselves

See more ideas from this teacher:
My Top 10 Ideas
Card Basket