3 Strategies for When Teachers Finish Lessons Early


We all know, even with the best of intentions, teachers sometimes finish a lesson early and have unexpected time left. We also know administrators want lessons to go bell to bell (rightly so). Our go-to plan tends to be, “Find something to do.” This can be dangerous because students WILL find something to do, and it is not always productive – if you know what I mean. On the other hand, teachers may embrace this time as a way to build classroom cohesion, provide extra practice, and creatively allow students to develop ideas by having simple activities ready to go when the gift of time presents itself.

Let me share with you three possible ways to fill extra time you sometimes have at the end of class. I will also share with you related influences on student achievement, the effect sizes on learning (≥.40 = 1+ year of growth) and descriptions as shared on the Visible Learning MetaX website (visiblelearningmetax.com).

Every Minute Counts Activities


I used this activity often in my classroom when I finished one of my lessons early. It is simple to implement and requires no prep. Simply ask students to share their “roses,” or the good things going on in their lives. Sometimes I changed it up by having students share a rose about one of their classmates.

At times further expectations need to be set when students begin sharing material items received as their rose since it may cause others to feel left out. Also, be sure to hear from all students. If a student struggles to share, spend a private moment talking with the student. In the course of the conversation, if the student shares something you see as a Rose, encourage the student to share it with the class.

How this strategy connects to the belonging influence

Effect size: 0.40

The belonging influence is described by Visible Learning Metax as “The extent to which students feel respected, included, accepted, and encouraged by others in the social environment of school. Also called “school connectedness,” this affective relationship to the culture of school has been shown to shape a student’s emotional, behavioral, and cognitive engagement with schooling.”

By opening time up for students to share good things happening in one’s life, students are able to celebrate the accomplishments, life events, and other significant happenings that otherwise may not be divulged. Voice is given to students in other areas of life outside of school.

Wind Back Wednesday

When a lesson finishes early, use the time as an opportunity to review previous material. Pull out flashcards, a poster, diagram or other learning tools from a completed unit. See what students remember. When using a poster, cover up parts using sticky notes. Pull off the sticky note to reveal infor­mation. Make connections between newly learned material and the learning of earlier days.

This is a great strategy to check students’ understanding and retention of previously taught material. Use the time left at the end of a lesson to assess your students’ learning by reinforcing how concepts they are learning now connect to concepts they’ve already mastered.

How this strategy connects to the Spaced VS. Mass Practice influence

Effect size: 0.65

According to the Visible Learning Metax, Spaced VS. Mass Practice is defined as “The claim is that students are better able to commit information to memory when they study that information in spaced (or distributed) intervals rather than all at once in a “massed” interval. Spaced practices involve practice broken up into a number of shorter sessions, over a longer period of time. Massed practice consists of fewer, longer training sessions.”

By spacing out practice, students have the opportunity to deeply embed their learning for later retrieval. This is learning that sticks. This is learning that allows students to build knowledge and transfer that knowledge to other areas of their school and personal lives.

Fortunately, Unfortunately

Begin a story with a fortunately statement: “Fortunately, today is Monday, and I get to be with you again.” Then, pass the story to a student. This student gets to add the next line by giving an unfortunately statement: “Unfortunately, I forgot to set my alarm clock.”

After the student finishes his statement, he passes it to another classmate who adds a fortunate line. The pattern continues around the class alternating between fortunately and unfortunately statements.

How this strategy connects to the Creativity Programs influence

Effect size: 0.64

In the Visible Learning Metax research, “Cooperative learning (in which students work together to solve problems) has been shown to be more effective than competitive learning (in which students independently solve problems) in nearly all cases, although some studies disagree about the relative advantage to cooperative learning programs.”

Using this strategy helps students build flexibility in thinking since they need to connect their thoughts to others creating a fluid story that make sense. Students build and elaborate the story in the moment. At the same time, a great adventure is being had by all as students cooperatively work together to create a story full of twists and turns.

Kim Watts spent 21 years teaching middle school in both inner-city and affluent schools. During her time in the classroom, Kim taught English/Language Arts, brought AVID to her campus as a certified AVID teacher, and taught Capturing Kids’ Hearts Teen Leadership. Kim was the SIM Coordinator for her campus’ Literacy Leadership Team, helping them to implement a school-wide approach to improving literacy using the Strategic Instruction Model.

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