This post originally appeared on the blog The Teacher Next Door.
It doesn’t matter how long you’ve taught, how beautifully you made your lesson plans, or how well you have crafted a fabulous learning activity for your students. The fact is that almost every day we encounter those awkward five to ten minute blocks of time, when it’s too short to start something new but too long not to do anything. Maybe you’ve been there too…those moments when you desperately need to re-direct your students before some form of chaos (big or small misbehaviors, depending upon your class) is bound to erupt.
So, what can you do to fill those pesky minutes? Here are my top ten favorite things to do:
10. Play a Quick Review Game
I love to play learning games in my classroom, and the kids LOVE them too. To do a review game on the spot, I quickly divide the class into 2 – 3 teams, depending upon how the desks are arranged at the time. Then I ask the kids questions about whatever topic we’re working on. I’ve taught for enough time now that I can usually just do this off the top of my head, but sometimes I grab a teacher’s edition to jog my memory and to give me some quick ideas. I simply tally the score on the smart board or white board and the winners are the first out to recess…woo hoo! A full 2 seconds before the other teams! 🙂
9. Play Pico, Fermi, Bagel
I’m big on activities that push kids to think and this is a really fun logic game that they’ll enjoy. First, kids take out their whiteboards or some scratch paper and then I put them into pairs or let them choose their own partner. The one who is “It”, thinks of a three digit number and writes down three dashes on the board/paper. The number can’t start with a zero and can’t have any repeating numbers … so 075 wouldn’t work and neither would 559. The partner tries to guess the number in as few turns as possible, while “It” writes down each guess to help both of them remember what has been guessed. “It” gives his/her partner clues for each number.
Pico = Right number in the wrong place
Fermi = Right number in the right place
Bagel = Wrong number (It’s not there!)
For example, if the number was 578 and the person guessed 582, “It” would say fermi, pico, bagel for that guess. As soon as a number is correctly guessed (all fermi) it is written down above the dashes.
8. Do a Brain Teaser
These higher level thinking activities are ones that my kids ask for by name! Each sheet has activities for the whole class to do, like analogies, logic puzzles, historical 2 Truths and a Lie, Which One Doesn’t Belong? and more. One of the great things about these is that I simply project them on my document camera, so there’s no copying needed!
7. ABC Game
Here’s another fun game to play. Name a topic and as a whole class or in groups of 2 – 3, kids try to get through the alphabet by naming items that start with each letter and match whatever topic you’ve named. For example, if we’re studying the ocean, A = Anenome, B = Beluga Whale, C = current. If a child gets stuck, his/her partner can suggest an idea and then keep going.
6. Show a Short Video
There are lots of short videos that are great, but this will take a bit of preplanning on your part to find them and to pre-screen them before you show your kids. I really love Brainpop, which has a huge selection of videos with multiple choice review questions afterwards (here’s where we play another game with these). While most Brainpop videos require a subscription, there are a number of free videos too, that you might want to check out.
5. Do Some Whiteboard Art
Whiteboards are essential in my classroom, and we use them every day. They really come in handy when you have a few spare minutes. One way to use them is with a directed drawing. Pinterest is full of “How to draw” ideas that are perfect for this. Another idea is to do a squiggle or shape art. I draw a squiggle or shape on the smart board and each child copies the same shape on his/her whiteboard and then adds details to make the drawing complete. For example, a circle can become the eye of a dog or a basketball, or even the porthole on a submarine.
4. How Many Can You Name?
Kids take out their whiteboards or some scratch paper and then I give them a topic (e.g. names of states, weather words, proper nouns…). Then they write down as many as they can in the time given. After a few minutes, I ask all the kids to stand if they wrote at least 5…10…15… until we find the child with the most answers. Then if there’s time, I have that child read the list to the class. Fun!
3. Play “Or”
This is a great table topic game that’s fun for families, but kids at school love it too. It is similar to Would You Rather. You give the kids two options (e.g. mountains or the beach…strawberries or blueberries…) and then go around the room, one by one, and each child answers the question. The rule is that you must choose one or the other. There’s no saying I don’t like either of them or I like them equally.
2. Play King and Queen
Okay… I’ve gotta tell you right up front that this game has no educational value, zero, zip, nada… It’s just plain fun and one that I did when I was in school. To play this game (always boys against girls), you choose a boy to be king and a girl to be queen. They stand on opposite sides of the room and each has a whiteboard eraser balanced on his/her head (if your school has a lice problem, this game is one you want to skip!). The rest of the class is sitting with everything off of the floor, feet under their desks, so the king and queen can walk around the room without tripping. The object of the game is like tag. “It” tries to tag the opponent while balancing the eraser before time is up (1 – 2 minutes). The child who is the chaser gets a point if he/she tags the other person and the other person gets a point if he/she does not get tagged. If one touches the eraser during the game or it falls off, the game is over and the other side gets the point. That’s it! Super simple but very exciting.
1. Brain Breaks
Research will back me on this but as a teacher, I just know… Brain breaks are so beneficial in the classroom. I believe we really need to give kids these energizing breaks more often. Those five minutes we spend will be given back to us tenfold in the amount of focusing we can get from our little ones. I do love my Brain Break Task Cards, which have 100 cards with over 250 activities. I think they’re a great combination with the website called GoNoodle, which has lots of free songs and dances.
The next time the kids are restless and you have a few minutes before recess or lunch, don’t panic, give some of these a try.
Thanks for stopping by!
Jenn Larson has 20 years teaching experience and creates curriculum on TpT as The Teacher Next Door. Her goal is to help busy teachers find resources which target learning standards but are engaging for students. Jenn is a mom of two kids and lives in Northern California. Besides teaching, Jenn loves traveling, movies, and Swedish Fish. Follow her TpT store and on Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest.