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Setting Up Early Finisher Activities in a Social Distancing and Distance Learning Classroom

In Episode 22, of Rockin’ This Teacher Thing…

 Early Finisher Activities are a part of every K-1 classroom but with the new requirements brought by social distancing, and distance learning, using early finisher activities from the past might not be usable. 

Today we will talk about how to structure early finisher activities so that your little ankle biters will be busy learning even when they finish their tasks early.  

You CAN keep them busy and learning and not spend hours prepping these must have resources for our classroom. 

Lot’s to talk about today so let’s start rockin today’s episode.

ep 22

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[00:00:00] Hey, teacher friends, this is Angie and the Rockin’ This Teacher Thing Podcast show. The podcast for early primary teachers that rock their classrooms every day. “Teacher I’m done now what?” Ooh, it’s the two sentences that every teacher hears. Early finisher activities are a part of every kindergarten and first grade classroom, but with the new requirements brought by social distancing distance learning, using early finisher activities from the past might not be usable in your classroom today.

[00:00:38] So today on our podcast, we’ll learn about how to structure early finisher activities so that your little ankle biters will be busy learning, even when they’re finished with their tasks, early. You can keep them busy and learning and not spend hours prepping these must have resources for your classroom. Are you ready?

[00:00:58] Let’s start rocking today’s [00:01:00] episode. Hey, teach your friends early finisher activities. How do you feel when you hear the words teacher I’m done now what? You cringe, don’t ya? I cringe. It’s not, you know, it’s coming and then you hear it. And then, then you have to think of something for them to do.

[00:01:22] And now you have the added issue of not being able to share supplies in your classroom, having to social distance. You have pressure from parents. If your students are distance learning, you have the pressure from parents to give them a little bit more independent activities. It’s just really something that is a challenge right now for you and your classroom.

[00:01:50] Today, I’m going to give you some ideas and some solutions for your classroom that you can use in your classes tomorrow. [00:02:00] I know that’s what we like low prep, high engagement. I think you’re going to love them. If you see something like here, go ahead. And there’s a link in the description down below on October 13th, I’m doing a full masterclass free on how to do this in your classroom.

[00:02:20] We’re going to do a deep dive. The bad thing is, is I can only take 50 people onto the platform that I have. So please go ahead and get signed up for that October 13th and then I’ll do, but be doing a few more there, but you’ll be on a wait list and you’ll be notified of the times, the days and times I do it.

[00:02:41] All right. So  that needs to, get done sooner than later. If that’s something you’re interested in and who’s not interested in having activities for your students, that they can do independently.  Today, we’re going to talk about how [00:03:00] you teach them how to be independent because they don’t know on their own how to be independent.

[00:03:05] You have to teach them. And there’s a step by step process that I’ve found that really works really good.  Okay. So first of all, let’s get into what doesn’t work in the classroom. It’s not so much what doesn’t work in the classroom. It’s what doesn’t work as well as you need it to work. Okay. What doesn’t work for as long as you need it to work, because why do we need early finisher activities to begin with?

[00:03:36] Okay. Let’s start with the why. The why you’re going to tell the world is so that kids can be independent. They can be learning. Even when they’re done with a task, they, the engagement, the time on task, things like that, that you tell the world and you, and those are really important. But also [00:04:00] the real reason is that many times you need time. You need time that kids aren’t tugging on your sweater. You need time to be with your struggling learners. You know how it is you, you stop the math lesson. You give the little printable worksheet or the workbook page or even, whatever. And your early finishers are literally done in 30 seconds and they’re running across the classroom with their papers waving in the air,” Teacher that was so easy. I’m done now, what do I do?” You haven’t even gotten over to your early to struggling learners. They can’t even get their names on their paper without you helping them. Right? And so that is the biggest, why. Why do you need these materials; to help your student, to meet the needs of all your  [00:05:00] students.  You need to be helping those early finishers. You need to be helping those early finishers find something to do, but you also need to be helping those struggling learners.  So everyone needs to be learning. Everyone needs an activity to be doing that will help them academically.

[00:05:18] That will keep them busy. It’s really a classroom management issue. Okay. And so that’s, that’s your big, why? So let’s talk about what doesn’t work kind of works. What I used to do is I would teach her I’m dying now, what? That was so many to say, I would go ahead and say to them, go ahead and read a book. Go ahead and get in the book bin.

[00:05:42] Read, read some books and that worked okay for kindergarten and first grade for a while, right they’re, they have not built up the stamina to read a book on their own for 15 minutes. Let’s just face it. They haven’t most of them haven’t. and so. That works, [00:06:00] but it doesn’t, it’s not the best. the other thing I used to say was, draw a picture, get a coloring sheet and those are good.

[00:06:10] There’s a time and place for color sheets goodness knows  I had a stack of color sheets that, that big and. scrap box that big, those are all really important as well. Okay. But is it challenging them academically? And the answer is no, it’s not exactly what they need. It’s not, they’re not practicing the skills that they need, so it works, but it doesn’t.

[00:06:39] Here’s another one I used to do playdough. Playdough’s great until you have to clean it up. Until it’s ground into the carpet until the administrator walks into room. “So the custodian is really mad because he had to spend three hours in your room last night, getting Playdough out of your carpet.”

[00:06:57] And you’re thinking, I, I [00:07:00] teach kindergarten and first grade there’s going to be mess. And it kind of makes you mad. Then when you ask them to clean it up too, during the early finisher activity, and then it’s time to move on, you need something that cleans up fast. Playdough does not clean up fast as well as Legos.

[00:07:17] Right? That’s another solution. I used to try, a bin full of Legos. That’s not going to work now because everybody’s going to need their own little tub of Legos, which is doable, but you have to have a whole heck of a lot of Legos. Okay. but do you find, am I, the only one my students would get in that Lego bin and then let the fighting commence. It’s like, what is it  about Legos that everybody wants that one little special thing? Are you kidding me? It’s just nuts. So, and to clean up Legos quickly and completely. It doesn’t happen. And how many of you have ever stepped on a Lego in your classroom? Not fun. Okay. How about [00:08:00] writing journals? Again, great for academics.

[00:08:04] Do they have the stamina to, to write for on their own for 15 minutes? Probably not. Probably not. Especially at the beginning of the year for kindergartners and first graders, that’s real iffy. That’s that’s real iffy. so those are things that I used to do, but I’m thinking now that that’s probably not going to work for you and the solution I have for you, those things didn’t work for me for long. So I had to come up with something else and that’s what I’m going to talk to you about today.

[00:08:37] Another thing that can’t happen anymore is students helping students. You can’t have a little mentor, student, an early finisher helping a, a slow finisher.

[00:08:49] The social  distancing issue. It’s just not going to allow it anymore. Okay. So you need some solutions. [00:09:00] So let’s talk about what makes an excellent early finisher resource. Okay. What are some things that you need as a teacher to have built into this resource? The first one is. It needs to be individual, especially now you can’t have the early finisher bins that everyone’s sharing the materials they get done with the little game and they put it back.

[00:09:25] Can’t have that anymore. Okay. It has to be individual. The next thing it needs to be is independent. They have to be able to do it totally independently. That’s part of the early finisher problem is that you can’t clone yourself. You can’t be with your early finishers and with your struggling students at the same time, you have to  choose one.

[00:09:50] And the one you have to choose is you’re struggling your strugglers. So your early finishers, it has to be independent.

[00:09:58] Skill builder. 

They [00:10:00] have to be able to be doing it mean something besides drawing and a color sheet. They have to be practicing their skills. They have to be practicing, academics to make, get a really good resource.

[00:10:13] And then are a master class. We’re going to go into these a little bit more in depth.

[00:10:18] Easy cleanup. We talked about this before, right? That easily cleanup issue. When you want to go on to the next activity, I want to go onto it, like in 30 seconds, not forever. You don’t want to have to be cleaning up this and cleaning up that because that doesn’t work.

[00:10:37] Okay. Next one is minimal materials, especially now with classrooms where you have to be disinfecting things, the fewer materials, the better.  You don’t want  little tiny manipulatives. Thousands of little tiny manipulatives, right? If you have a little game that has the alphabet, a [00:11:00] through Z, that’s a lot of little manipulatives.

[00:11:03] You can’t have that anymore. So minimal materials. And to add to that, materials that are really easily accessible. Especially if kids are using this at home, they, they won’t have access to a lot of those. Okay?

[00:11:21] Next one for you is fast prep. You need materials that you don’t spend a lot of time prepping even, and this  is true- even spending time at the copy machine for an over and over and over again, printables that’s too much time. You want to be able to make something, print it once, have them use it again and again and again, and again. Send your one time at the copy machine. Plus you’re saving on paper, right?

[00:11:57] Fast prep for you. This [00:12:00] time and teachers are always up against this that they use. Their family time. They use their personal time to do things for school. And just from personal experience, sometimes that starts to really wear on your psyche on your stress level goes up because you just really realize that you’re not taking care of the thing in your life that matters most. And that’s your family, that’s your friends, that’s yourself. You’re pouring it all into your, your work. And  you need to give yourself some grace and you need stuff that you’re going to do once and be done. All right. Yeah, I’ll get off my soap box with that because that’s, that’s a huge one on my heart  because teacher, friends, you matter, you, you need to give yourself some grace and not spend hours and hours and hours doing stuff for school.

[00:13:00] [00:13:00] Next one. Ease of change. Like,your students can change it up. If they need to right? They’re at home, they can change it. You can do it quickly. All right. So ease of change again, it goes to that prep thing right?

[00:13:16] Now, you know, with distance learning, this didn’t used to be a requirement for your early finishers, but now it is because some of them are at home  and parents are having to be at home and they’re wanting materials that their students can do by themselves.

[00:13:38] So the parents can do their work. Right. So it needs to be parent friendly. Plus parents are not teachers. And I think the world has really figured that out that they’re they’re teachers, but they’re not wanting to, or able to, or feel frustrated by let me put it that way. Parents are teachers,  but [00:14:00] they’re not equipped to, to sit down and, teach them hour after hour after hour the academics.

[00:14:07] Right. So parent friendly. Next one. This is a huge one, no screen. How much time are kids on screens? They’re on screens a ton. And if we can give them materials that have no screens, that is a plus.

[00:14:27] And portable. You’re at school. It’s two o’clock on a Tuesday and you are,  doing some stuff in your classroom. And the administrator walks in and says, tomorrow we’re going, we’re going distance learning full on no more, no more hybrid system, no more in class stuff. Send home what you need with your kids today.

[00:14:51] It’s like, ah, I have 45 minutes. What in the heck? And so it needs to be portable. Okay. [00:15:00] So that, that is the new criteria for excellent early finisher materials. So what in the world can we do? Well, let’s go ahead and get into an activity.

[00:15:17] Let’s go ahead and do an activity. Now, when I came up with this little solution, I was teaching kindergarten or first grade. I really honestly cannot remember.  It goes like this:

[00:15:31] I hated doing calendar time with my students. I felt it was more of an issue of classroom management on my part and not very much learning the kids that were participating were the kids that already knew their months of the year and days of the week.  I can put count by twos, fives, tens and whatever, and, and Lala Lala lot. And I found it super frustrating. And then the kids that [00:16:00] weren’t participating were the ones that needed the practice.

[00:16:03] So what I did to solve my problem, as I went to teachers pay teachers, I got the calendar binder thing that you make the copies and put them in page protectors and showed them how to do it.  And it was amazing. I loved it because it was something they could do on their own. It was something that they felt independent and they were, they felt proud of, I could spend the time in a small group with the students that really needed the help. I could see the progress with those daily skills. It was amazing.

[00:16:42] And it was so amazing. Yeah. I started to put other pages into the calendar binder and, And then students would say like free time, “Can I do my calendar binder ?” Or after a math lesson? I would say, Hey, why don’t you get out your calendar binder and do something. They [00:17:00] were like, okay, can I? I was like, sure.

[00:17:02] So it kind of hit me. Wow. What if hello, Angie? What if you had a binder that kids could use. When they’re done early. And so that’s how this all was born. And through trial through error, I made materials and found materials that really worked well. And that’s the criteria that you just got. Okay?

[00:17:32] So I thought, you know, I’m just gonna, I’m just gonna go with this. This is going be, this is going to be good. Okay. So let’s go ahead and jump into an activity that you can do with your students.

[00:17:45]now, since this is a podcast, I don’t have a visual for you, but guess what? I am actually recording this as a YouTube video as well. So if you’re interested in getting the full visual, go ahead, go over to teachers, [00:18:00] making the basics fun on YouTube and check out the video. The I’ll put the link in the description down below, and you can see this in full and living color. Okay. So. how to organize this. I organized this with my students in a binder, but you could do like a little folder.

[00:18:24]you could do like a little plastic folder with the little prongs, right? that would be really a handy thing.

[00:18:35] The idea is to keep it individualized and contained as possible. So that the portable issue, isn’t an issue. You can scoop it up and go. This is called the LIT binder, and you can call it anything you want. This is called LIT like, Ooh, my daughter came up with the. The title, Learning Independent Time.

[00:19:00] [00:19:00] And the very first activity that you can do with them is super simple. And I’ve made a YouTube video about this before, but what you do, and let me open up the binder. Is you take a piece of paper and you laminate it, or if you’re doing this tomorrow and you don’t have time, don’t laminate it, just get some page protectors, slip, a piece of paper into a page protector.

[00:19:27] Okay. The great thing about laminating. Cut it down the piece of paper, then laminate it, then slip it into the page protector. It makes it usable again and again and again and again, the piece of paper. And you’ll see why in a second, why you’d want to do this. So. This is an activity that I would start with my students to show them how to be independent.

[00:19:52] So I would tell them, you know, what you guys, when you’re done with an activity, you have some options [00:20:00] of activities that you can do, and they are going to be in this very special binder right here. And I’m going to show you an activity that you can do on your own.

[00:20:12] It’s so important that you are an independent learner.

[00:20:17] Why? Because all of the great people of the world, are people that know how to learn on their own. They have a question, they have a wonder, they have something that they want to do, and they do it. They don’t wait for somebody to hold their hand and tell them what to do. No, they go, they find their solution, they learn it.

[00:20:42] And so today we’re going to start you on being one of those amazing people, because all of you are amazing people. Okay.

[00:20:51] So I would do that with them and really, really, show them that how important independence is. [00:21:00] And at that age, they want to be independent. They want to be big kids. It’s something they talk about all the time.

[00:21:07] Right? In fact, they’ll even say, well, when I was a little kid that always cracks me up, honey, you’re six. You are a little kid. No, they mean like a three-year-old when I was a little kid, they already see themselves as big.  Use that. Okay. So, let me, go ahead now. Minimal materials, little pouch here has just a few materials in it.

[00:21:34] I’m going to go ahead and get out something that is very minimal and that is dry erase markers. How you can find dry erase markers anywhere, and they’re accessible, at your nearest target. Right? And so, so this piece of paper that I’ve laminated is in the page protector, [00:22:00] and you can take it out and you do just a little squiggle on it.

[00:22:07] All right. And then you put it back back into your page protector and the task now is for your students to take that shape and transform it into a picture. So you say, what does that look like? What can that be? And they look at it and they take another dry erase marker. And I try and get them to have two different dry, dry erase markers in their pouch.

[00:22:40] That’s pretty minimal. And they take it and they draw whatever they think. this is going to be, yeah. A Lily pad for a frog. All right? [00:23:00] And this frog loves to sit on his llly pad and he doesn’t like flies. You know what this frog likes?  He likes the little seeds that come off of dandelions. So when a dandelion, the seeds poof off of a dandelion he likes to catch them with his tongue and, eat them. then one day he caught one with his tongue, but it kept flying up and up and up and it took him on a great adventure. All right. So show them how they can make a story out of this. After they add detailed to this, they can do one of two things.

[00:23:43] They can take their piece of paper. Take out the piece of paper, flip it on the other side. Right?

[00:23:57] And now they have the same [00:24:00] shape, but they have another opportunity to do some other stories, same shape. So you’re expanding their creative thinking. And that is really an amazing academic skill that your students need. The expansion on an idea. And so they can do that. Now here’s a piece of paper with  page protector that …Let me flip this around.

[00:24:37] Okay. That they can use to do their writing and they can use a dry erase marker and they can write their story. Okay.

[00:24:46] So you show them how to do this and what I would do, and I will go in more in depth in the masterclass about this, because this is a pretty big piece. If they can’t be independent, it doesn’t matter [00:25:00] what kinds of activities you give them.  If they can’t be independent, then, None of this is going to work because the key is the independence part. And so, I would start off really small. I would show them this activity with just the drawing. And then the next day I would show them how to flip the paper over and expand on their idea of the drawing.

[00:25:22] Try different idea. Then the next day I would show them how to do the writing. And each time I would only give them like two minutes to, do the activity. Now here’s a key you are going to want to give them time to play. And that means, and I did this wrong, and this is what I’m passing on to you, you have to give them time to play, and this is what they’re going to do.

[00:25:49] They’re going to take their dry erase marker. They’re going to scribble all over the, the page protector and make it black or blue or whatever color, your [00:26:00] dry erase marker. And then they’re going to erase it with their finger, and then they’re going to do all those kinds of things. You need to let them do that because if you don’t let them do that, then when it comes time for them to be independent  for realsies and you’re over with your struggling learners and, and you want them to be doing something academic, they won’t be because you did not give them time to play. And so part of this is show them the activity, give them time to play. I would show them the activity, have them do the activity for two minutes.

[00:26:36] Give them three minutes to play the next day. Have them do the activity for three minutes. give them three minutes to play and set a timer. And then after four or five days, You have worked up to 10, 15 minutes that they can be independent on their own. After this activity, I would give them another activity that they can put in their binder.

[00:26:59] Then they have [00:27:00] choice right. During their, their free time, their playtime. I call it free time instead of playtime, they can go ahead and choose. I can do this game. I can do this game. I can do this part. I can do that part. All right. So you’re building the activities. All right. And in the masterclass, I’m going to give you a few other activities. In fact, during the masterclass, if you want, I’m going to have some free downloads for you to have to start  your binder, for your classroom.

[00:27:45] So independence is a huge part of all of this. Okay.

[00:27:50] All right, teach your friends today. We talked about criteria, on what makes an excellent early finisher material. We talked [00:28:00] about how to set-up a lesson and lessons to get them to be independent. And you got an activity that you can use literally tomorrow in your

[00:28:13] classroom, or this is an activity that your, your virtual kids can do too, right? It might not be a laminated piece of paper, but they can the squiggle, piece, something on a piece of paper. And then. transform it into a different picture and then do some writing. They can do that from home.

[00:28:34] All you have to do is show them and teach them and encourage them to be independent and show them.  Hmm. At the beginning of the week, we could be independent for five minutes.  Now we can be independent for 15 minutes. So everyday you’d jump that up. Okay.

[00:28:54] So teacher friends, you learn that and you also have the [00:29:00] opportunity to attend the masterclass that is coming up on October 13th. If you, click on the link below and it says that, To get on the waiting list because we’re not doing the stuff right now.

[00:29:13] Go ahead and click on it. And as soon as I do the masterclass again, I will notify you. So no worries. Okay.

[00:29:22] Teacher, friends, you are amazing. You are doing the hard work, whether you’re in the regular classroom or doing a hybrid system, or you’re only doing it virtually. I want you to know that you are amazing.

[00:29:38] You were amazing and you were making progress every day. And I want you to pat yourself on the back. I want you to feel proud that you are a teacher. You are making a difference in those kids’ world and you are making a difference and the whole world. All right, this is a hard, hard time and you are amazing.

[00:29:58] So with that, [00:30:00] I want you to good. Give yourself some grace. I want you to give yourself. Some freedom to rest. I want you to give yourself some downtime to be by yourself. I want you to give, give you some time to be with your family and to rest and to say yes to yourself and no to the chaos that is around you.

[00:30:26] Working harder is not going to make your classroom better. Working on you and making you the best you can be. That’s what’s going to make your classroom amazing because you’re the thing that makes your classroom amazing. Okay. You are it. So I love you. I hope you enjoyed today’s episode and I will see you next time.

[00:30:48] Thanks for stopping by [00:31:00] Bye-Bye.

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Angie K

Angie K

I love to help teachers create an amazing teacher life.
I've taught for 25+ years and I want to help you find joy and energy in each day.

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