It never fails that I have at least one student who is done with all their work, caught up on assignments (from my class and others), and has nothing else to do. I won't lie to you, sometimes my solution is letting them play a game on their computer or scroll on their phone. However, I do have some tricks to push those students who get done early. Not all of these ideas are related to academics, but I think some of the most valuable lessons kids learn in school aren't content area specific.
1. Have students organize, clean, tidy up, or file/shred papers
We have a ticket system in our school. 10 tickets will allow them to purchase a snack and 12 tickets allow them to purchase a drink. At least once a day, I'll have a student who will offer to clean (boards, tables, floors, etc.) for some tickets. I have also had students organize shelves, create posters, design labels, laminate papers, deliver items to other teachers, put away laptops, clean laptops, water my plants, sharpen pencils, return random books, carry papers to be recycled, etc. These little tasks get students up and moving and also save me a lot of time.
2. Encourage students to have a class book they read during downtime
Unfortunately, my idea of free reading didn't pan out how I wanted it to this year. But some of my students love reading. We have a small section of bookshelves outside of my classroom, so sometimes I will suggest they go read something they can find out there. Some of my students just keep a book on the shelf to read during their downtime.
3. Have board games for students to play
There is a wide variety of board games students could play, in class, that would have educational benefits. I have a Jenga set that has general, get-to-know-you questions on each of the blocks. I will often encourage students to read those with each other while playing the actual version of Jenga. If you are a math teacher, a sudoku game would be appropriate and challenging.
4. Have students work on classwork from other assignments
This might seem like an obvious strategy, but I seem to forget to ask students of this sometimes. Our school is small enough that students can go grab their work from another class without roaming the hallways or being disruptive to the other class. Also, a lot of our students have their work entirely on Google Classroom, so they can easily access that in any room.
5. Create "extra credit" or "bonus" activities for students to complete
I recently found a resource from The Superhero Teacher entitled, "Creative Writing BINGO: Interactive Bulletin Board." I have loved this resource so far. I hung this up in the hallway, outside the room, and students can easily access it at any time. I also have used this as an alternative assignment option, before the grading period was over. Students could select one of the options from the BINGO board, to stand in the place of a missing assignment.
Another resource for ELA teachers with a similar purpose is "Try a New Lens Interactive Bulletin Board" by Doc Cop Teaching. I haven't implemented this resource yet because I am saving it for the next school year, but I got to witness it in Jenna's classroom and thought it was brilliant.
6. Encourage students to assist other learners with their classwork
They say students make the best teachers, which I completely agree with. There have been countless times when I have had a student assist another one with their assignments. When students can teach the material, you know they've really absorbed it.
7. Allow students to do your work
This sounds totally weird, but hear me out. I have a file on my whiteboard of nearly mindless tasks my teacher's aide could complete. It would be easy to have a designated space to place items like this in your classroom. Some examples of work I have put there:
-Posters that need laminated
-Papers that need stapling (our printer always gets jammed using the stapler)
-Bulletin boards needing hung
-Hallway posters needing hung
-Upcoming event posters that need to be made (my favorite, free, online program to teach them to use is Canva for all poster making needs)
8. Print or purchase some coloring pages/books
There is absolutely nothing wrong with rewarding students with some creative time. Plus, all students love to color--no matter what age they are.
I hope you find these ideas helpful for the students who complete work early. It's ok to not always have a plan for them, but this list should benefit any of those quick little worker bees.