Tips for Teachers: 5 Ways to Extend Learning for “Fast Finishers”

Fast FinishersThe very first thing I noticed at the beginning of my practicum is there will always be students who finish their work significantly faster than their peers, and these students won’t necessarily always be the same. For example, a fast finisher in math may need more time to complete a writing assignment. To avoid having students sitting at their desk and doing nothing, it’s important to have some extensions in place.

Personally, I’d rather have a student read a book they’ve chosen independently than complete a random worksheet that will disappear in their backpack. Though you want to make sure students aren’t rushing through their work, students who are consistently finishing early shouldn’t feel as though they’re being punished with extra assignments. Extension activities should be meaningful and help students accomplish a learning goal.

Check your work

The first thing I tell fast finishers to do is check their work. Even if it only takes them two minutes, it’s important to establish and reinforce this habit. At the beginning of the year, discuss why it’s important to check your work and some strategies for doing so.

  • Directions: Reread the activity’s directions and make sure you followed them correctly. If there were multiple parts, did you complete all of them?
  • Math: Do a problem twice or do the reverse mathematical operation. For example, if you were subtracting, use addition to check the work.
  • Writing: Read through your writing and highlight capital letters and punctuation to make sure it’s included, and circle words with tricky spelling that you should check in the dictionary.

Extend activities to a higher level

One simple way to accommodate fast finishers is to ask them to extend what they’ve learned to a higher thinking level.

For example, if students are identifying the structure of an informational text, you can extend the activity by asking fast finishers to consider how the text would be different if the structure was changed. So, if students were reading an article about how animals go extinct as a result of hunting (a cause and effect structure), you might ask them to consider what kind of information would be included in the article if it was written using a problem and solution structure (because of overhunting that results in extinction, laws have been put in place and animal populations have recovered).

Keep work-in-progress folders

When I started student teaching, I was surprised by how many things students are working on at once. In an elementary classroom where the teacher is covering several different subjects throughout the day, students might start on an activity one day and continue working on it throughout the next couple of days or even weeks.

Work-in-progress folders provide a place for students to keep assignments they haven’t finished. When a student finishes an activity before their classmates, he or she can pull out the folders and work independently to complete an assignment. Not only does this give students meaningful work to do when they finish with another activity, but it also makes them responsible for their own learning, and emphasizes project and time management skills.

Have students illustrate their learning

Many students, regardless of age, love to draw and color, but art is often neglected in the classroom. Asking students to illustrate a concept they just learned not only gives them the opportunity to be creative, but it is also a great indicator of their level of understanding. Students can keep their illustrations as references or they can be posted throughout the room as anchor charts.

Have students share what they know

There’s a reason that group work is so effective — kids learn well from other kids. Your fast finishers may be more effective at explaining a concept to a student who is having difficulty completing a task than you are. This promotes cooperation among classmates, and gives fast finishers a chance to demonstrate their understanding by explaining their thinking out loud.

Lisandra I. Flynn spent 2012 to 2014 working toward a master’s degree in elementary education while working full time as an editor. After seven years in publishing, she recently transitioned from corporate life to student teach fifth grade in an elementary school. Flynn shares her journey from the office to the classroom and offers insight and advice to those seeking their own career change.