Spare-Time Learning: Activity Lists to Keep Everyone Engaged


Some students speed through their work. Others need extra coaching. How do you keep the faster students motivated while preserving the time you need to help others? Shannon and Cheri describe a simple practice that keeps everyone busy—and learning.

Shannon: I have a list to my right here that I call a monkey list. You can call it whatever you want. Last year I called it a class list. My co-teacher calls it an “I’m done” list. What this list is for is for your faster students who get done with their work really quickly. Probably most teachers realize and understand that classrooms have often faster students and slower students. How to keep the faster ones occupied is sometimes a challenge while you’re working with the ones that need more help. One of the things that I have done is every morning, I create a list of things for my students to do, when they’re done with their seat work or when they’re done with their other normal subjects.

Cheri: Oftentimes I try to choose activities that deal with what we are learning about currently, then they can get some extra practice during their spare time.

Shannon: They automatically know that when they are done with their other normal subject, they automatically plunge into the monkey list without being told. The first thing today, I put on, copy the spelling list one time, circle the special sounds. I put stuff on there that’s really easy for them to do and if it is complicated in any way, I will announce it in the morning so they understand what they’re doing first thing already.

Cheri: Some students choose to do these activities and do them quite well, others choose not to.

Shannon: If they happen to get done with the first items on the list, I have what I call the banana at the bottom: the good part, where they get to do something especially fun. Today I put a coloring book or a puzzle. Sometimes I’ll put a game on. You can do whatever you want. Sometimes I’ll put reading underneath your desk, something fun, something special. It motivates the faster ones to even go faster. It makes them feel good about themselves and I like how it teaches independence to work on their own and to think ahead. That helps me then in being able to help the slower ones who need my help.

Cheri: These are things that I do not grade. Normally I glance at them to see how they’re doing, but it’s not something that I spend my time on.

Shannon: I found this really helpful and I would recommend it to any teacher to use.

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