Sometimes, no matter how exceptional the lesson plan is, there are those moments when there is no plan for the extra minutes! There are also the moments right at the beginning of the class where students are filtering in, and you can't quite start the lesson, but you also do not want idle hands making mischief.
In my own classroom, I have found that time fillers are a great way to provide a teachable moment for things that you aren't necessarily covering in your class. For example, if I am teaching Macbeth in my class, we can look at a music video and talk about how the artist uses rhyme schemes to create a great beat!
Consider these "time fillers" to get creative with teaching your students new things, exploring new ideas, and getting to know each other even better!
1. Two Truths and a Lie
You can assign a student to begin or assign a random student first. I like to go first for my students to grasp the concept and have a moment and come up with their own truths and lies! This can be a great way to transition from beginning a class period to actual instructional time.
While this isn't an educational time filler, per se, this is a great way for kids to get to know their fellow students and you as their teacher. I have found that middle school upper grade elementary really love this game and the challenge of guessing the truths and the lies.
Learn more: Hobby Lark
2. D.E.A.R. Time
Depending on what part of your class you feel like this would work best with, the D.E.A.R. (Drop Everything and Read) time is a great way to utilize that additional time in class. This activity requires minimal planning for teachers, and it is something that everyone in the class can participate in. I utilized D.E.A.R. time in class when middle school students were my primary crowd, and they needed some quiet time.
I told students they could read whatever they wanted during this extra time, but it had to be on paper (no phones or computers). This time would challenge students to expand their reading time and minds, and at the end of the week or the month, we would take that same D.E.A.R. to do book circle talks.
3. Trivia Time!
Whether you need to cover key vocabulary terms, math skills, critical thinking skills, or anything else, a quick 5-10 minutes of trivia is a fun and engaging time filler. There are a couple of different ways of doing trivia that are fun, and my students are constantly asking to do it over again!
Daily Trivia Question
That little bit of time you have at the beginning of class is one of the best moments to offer up a daily trivia question! You can either post yours in Google Classroom or display it on your projection board. You can either give each student a piece of paper to write down their answer or have them answer via electronic methods.
I really like using this Random Trivia Generator! Not only is this free to use, but it has all different types of subject matter available.
Kahoot has been my favorite method of student trivia for the last eight years! This activity promotes teamwork among students in the class and has tons of free resources for teachers in the form of different trivia topics. I love to do as a teacher to jump around from one team to the next answering questions.
4. Work on Communication Skills
These classroom time fillers are an excellent way to practice effective communication and listening skills.
Talking Circle Time
Intentional circle time is focused on students having a safe place to talk about anything. Have your students place their chairs into a circle. Then, explain the following:
1. Have a talking "stick" or item. Only those that have this item in their hand can speak. The goal here is to let everyone speak with no interruptions.
2. The person who begins the circle should be the teacher. Pose the question, give your answer, and pass the talking piece on to the next student.
3. Continue this until the circle has been completed, and then repeat.
Make sure you begin with an easy question and something more surface-level. For example, you could start with a hypothetical question: If you won the lottery, what are the first five things you would do with it?
I really like this guide entitled 180 Questions for Connecting Circles.
If you are ever doing a lesson on how not to gossip or how stories change over time by word-of-mouth, then this is a great time filler game! How this game works is simple: have your students begin by sitting in a circle. Give the first student a piece of paper that says something on it. I like to start this game with something silly such as, "I'm cursed with a craving for spicy pickles with a siracha sauce!".
Only let the first student hold the paper for a few moments to read what is on it, then take it away. From memory, the first student will then whisper into the phrase to the 2nd person, then the 2nd to the 3rd person, and so on. By the end of the round, have the last student say aloud to the class what they heard. You can then read the original phrase. I guarantee the last version will be drastically different than the first!
5. Time to Write!
Sometimes, those extra minutes at the beginning of class are the perfect opportunity to allow students to write something. You can post things such as comprehension questions or a fun writing prompt on the board during this time.
I often enjoy giving two or three prompts and allowing students to choose one they want to write about. Some great board prompts are listed below:
1. She walked alone down the dark and cold stairs until...
2. Think about who you want to be and what you want to have in ten years.
3. If you could travel anywhere in the world, and money wasn't an issue, where would you go, and what would you do?
4. If you could meet any person, living or dead, who would it be? Explain why you want to meet this person and tell them what you would ask them?
5. If you could go back in time to any point, what time would you go? What things do you think you would see?
6. Bored Students? Let's Play Board Games!
My students absolutely love to play board games in class when they have extra time. Specific board games challenge creativity, analytical and critical thinking, and the ability to display other types of skills. Depending on the ages of students in your class, you certainly want to make sure that the games are age-appropriate.
I have found that middle school and high school students are very competitive! Because of this, I have found that even the most mischievous students will pay attention when it is them vs. another student or the teacher. As listed below, some board games that I always have on hand are in my classroom!
7. What is Lost, Can be Found!
Have you ever heard of blackout poetry, also known as found poetry? My students always love doing this artistic activity, and more so, they love tearing pages out of old books. You heard that right. To do this activity, you tear pages out of old books and create short poems by circling words in a sequence and blacking out the rest of the page.
Many students come up with amazing poems and even more amazing art pieces. You can even hang these around your classroom to create a mural wall!
8. Vocabulary Game, Anyone?
Okay, I know vocabulary is not the most exciting activity on the list. However, it CAN be lots of fun! I really love Vocabulary.com because you can host something called a "vocab jam." This website has a ton of different vocabulary lists already created by other teachers. So no prep for you! Also, the game doesn't just ask what the definition of a word is but also allows students to learn how to use it in a sentence and determine definitions based on context and synonyms associated with the given word.
9. The is no "I" in Team!
Sometimes, you will have already bonded classes, and everyone gets along. In other classes, your students may need some experiences where they have an opportunity for team building to help form a bond of familiarity. These three games have been a hit in my class year after year. Sometimes, if we are blessed with a warm day, we will do this outside.
The Solo Cup Game
This game requires a tiny bit of preparation! You need red solo cups, rubber bands (not the hair kind!), and string or twine. The goal of this game is for each student (groups of three) to stack seven solo cups into a tower using only the rubber band with a string attached. Tie three pieces of string to the rubber band.
Students cannot touch the cups, and if the cups fall, they have to start all over again. I always like to have a prize for the groups that finished first.
Arm in Arm
Place your students in groups of five and have them stand in a circle with their backs facing inward. Then have the kids sit on the ground (on their bottoms) and interlock their arms. All arms must stay interlocked at all times. The entire goal of this activity is for all your students to work as a team and come to a standing position without breaking contact with their peers.
Last but not least, let's do something sweet! I like to get the individual mini packages of candy and then give each student one package. Make sure to tell them not to eat them until the end! Then place your students into groups of three to four. Please give them the M&M icebreaker worksheet (click here!) and allow students to talk as they pull out the different colors.