Earlier this month, I wrote an article titled Teaching Secrets: How to Use Leftover Class Time Wisely that was published by Teacher Magazine. It appeared a week ago as part of a series coordinated by the Teacher Leaders Network. That functions as a sort of “Part One” on this topic. In order to view the whole article, you have to register for the Education Week site. It’s free, though, and only takes less than a minute. You’ll see where it says “Free Registration” just below the beginning portion of the article that you can see.

I’d strongly encourage readers to check-out that piece, where I share a few of the ideas shared by readers of this blog in a previous post. I also share some of my own and frame them in a bit of a community organizing context.

In this “Part Two” post, I’d like to more completely share reader suggestions and also include some links to additional resources that you might find useful.

This is the latest post in my “What Do You Do?” series. Previous ones have included:

What Do You Do When You’re Having A Bad Day At School?
What Do You Do To Keep Students (And You!) Focused Near The End Of The Year?
What Do You Do On The Last Day Of Class (Part Two)?
What Do You Do When You Have A Few Minutes Left In Class? — Part

The next question I’ll be tackling is “What Do You Do On The First Day of Class?”

I’m eager to hear what readers do.  I’ll, of course, highlight your ideas (with credit) in the post.

Please share how you handle your first day of class each year.  You can leave a comment at my original call for contributions (the experiences that have already been shared are great, and you can see them there).   The “deadline” for comments will be August 15th.

Now, back to the primary topic of this post — What Do You Do When You Have A Few Minutes Left In Class?

I’d like to give a framework for this post by quoting what I wrote in the Teacher Magazine article:

“My thoughts … fall into seven categories: Review, Summarize, Relate, Reflect, Intellectually Challenge, Technologically Engage, and (a student favorite) Chill.”

In this post, though, I’m adding an eighth one — Read.


A common plan is to use the extra time for review.

Angela Cunningham:

I teach Geography, so the last 5-10 minutes of class time is always well spent reviewing maps. We grab atlases and compete to see who can find a random country the fastest. The first one with their finger on the country and their hand in the air wins. It’s easy and requires no advanced preparation, but has long-lasting results.

R. Turneron

I teach 3 subjects, but this doesn’t matter because they all need the review. I like to review the day’s topic with real-world applications. When I taught Area the application was painting. If you want to paint the classroom three colors what are the colors and a close approximation of the amount paint you would need? Some are still trying to figure out the amount of paint!

Karenne Sylvester

I have several options (to keep things from getting stale ;-)

1. Vocabulary Review – students go back through their books- previous units or through my conversation control sheets and look for highlighted words and make example sentences.

2. Vocabulary Review – students take two words from their lessons today and tell me how they anticipate activating these new words in English conversations during the coming week.

3. Feedback – how are we doing? What have we learned so far/ in the lesson today / how can we apply this knowledge to our real lives?


I love to play the Princeton Review Vocabulary Minute for my students. There are always 4-5 words that go with the theme of the song. Whether it is a greek/latin/french root, or a list of synonyms, the students like to sing along and try to remember the words and meanings at the end (for a small treat, usually… cap eraser or m&m). Sometimes, for the really good ones that we play over and over, I’ll catch the kids singing them on their own, or even asking me to play them.

Mister Teacher

I teach 3rd grade math, so on days when we have a few minutes left (rare), we play little math games that don’t require cards, pieces, or any kind of equipment. “Math around the World,” or a “Multiplication Bee” or something like that. The kids enjoy it because it’s a game, and it helps to drill their basic facts.

Paula Mc

As a third grade teacher teaching South Carolina History and ELA I use the last 5 min. for a review of South Carolina Facts. Each week my students have 10 SC social studies facts that they have to know by Friday. So each day I review. I also take that time to read to my student.


Summarizing the day’s lesson is another good activity.  I’d highly recommend Rick Wormeli’s book Summarization In Any Subject: 50 Techniques to Improve Student Learning,


Using the time to get to know students is another excellent idea.

Gladys Baya

I teach classes of over 30 teens and usually assign some homework, so if I finish everything I’d planned before the bell goes off, I usually encourage them to start working on their homework so that they don’t need to go about it at home. If they have tests on other subjects after my lesson, they usually request permission to use that time for reviewing, and I let them. While they do whatever they’ve chosen to do, I walk around and try and start some casual conversation with those of them I haven’t had much chance to interact during the lesson, especially if they seem not to be using their time in any fruitful way… ;-) it’s just light-hearted chat on any topic of their interest, not on the point of the lesson!


Reminds me of 2 years ago when I was teaching biology.. In last few minutes, I ask my student about their activities in campus or home…also about their boy/girlfriend.. I make a last minutes as relax as possible cause I want to also be their friend..


Taking time to think about what students are learning actually “means” to them and their lives is a good way to spend a few minutes, too.


One of the thinking routines from Project Zero http://tinyurl.com/dgr79f (highly recommended reading !)
eg Connect Extend Challenge. How does today’s learning connect to what you already knew? How did it extend your thinking further? What challenges/questions do you still have?


Using short mysteries or “lateral thinking” puzzles was also mentioned (as well as a number of other ways to stimulate students’ minds). Here are two good sources for lateral thinking puzzles:

Realistic Lateral Thinking Puzzles

Lateral Thinking Problems

Here’s another source: The Ten Greatest Lateral Thinking Puzzles is from Paul Sloane.

Kelly Hines:

I have a book of 5 minute mysteries. We read aloud and students use their inductive and deductive reasoning skills to try to solve the mystery.
I also have all of the review games that I’ve developed over the year for our interactive whiteboard. They are always readily on hand to open up and use to go back over previous units of study.
There are also some fun vanity license plates to decipher here (http://www-chaos.umd.edu/misc/). The kids love the challenge!


I play critical thinking games or read out brain teasers. I also have a student submitted (pre read) joke/riddle box.

Derek Smith

The kids love it when we get out the Brain Quest, or Trivial Pursuit Cards. Another good time filler we do is math facts around the world style.


I can always capture their interest with a SCIENCE DEMO of the DAY (related to the topic presented). Occasionally with 5-10 minutes left we close our books and brainstorm new vocabulary or even play a quick game of vocabulary challenge. Whatever I choose it keeps them going to the very end.

Here’s a teacher with a lot of options that cross all categories, but I’m putting all her ideas here:


I teach fifth grade. Here are some of the things I do when I have five minutes of class time:

1) Pick sticks (random selection) for one minute speeches for table points. Some of the topics include such things as, tell all the uses you can think of for chewing gum. They aren’t allowed to say what the topic is, the class has to guess. Another might be, convince the class that you would be a good president. I have over 100 topics on laminated papers prepared, so they never have the same topic in a year.

2) Spelling sparkle to review spelling words.

3)Watch a segment from http://www.thefutureschannel.com (all clips are five minutes or less) professionals showing their job and relating how math and science help them in their profession. (Free)

4) Watch a clip from Brainpop.com. My school purchased a membership for me, but you can have a trial with an email account for one week without purchasing. Excellent learning tool.


Technology can be a useful tool — inside the classroom or in the computer lab.  Some specific resources for these area can be found in these lists:

For Online Learning Games That Can Be Played Or Created Quickly please go to my “The Best” list and look under “Games” or look at these:

The Best online Learning Games– 2007
The Best Online Video Games For Learning Language & Content Knowledge
The Best “Fun” Sites You Can Use For Learning, Too
The Best Websites For Creating Online Learning Games
The Best Online Learning Games — 2008
The Best Sites For Making Crossword Puzzles & Hangman Games
The Best Fun Sites You Can Use For Learning, Too — 2008
The Best Online Games Students Can Play In Private Virtual “Rooms”
The Best “Cause-Related” Online Learning Games
The Best “I Spy” (Hidden Object) Games For Vocabulary Development
The Best Collections Of Online Educational Games
The Best Places To Read & Write “Choose Your Own Adventure” Stories
The Best Places To Find Online Video Games For Language-Learning

For Examples Of Ways Students Can Create Online Content In Minutes:

The Best Ways To Create Online Content Easily & Quickly — 2008

The Best Ways To Create Online Content Easily & Quickly — 2009

Here are some other ways teachers use technology during “leftover” time:


If I’m working with computers I get the students to “post” a highlight, lesson learned, or question on http://www.wallwisher.com/ In the classroom I love bubble basic facts practice on the Smartboard, throwing the koush(that’s definitely spelled wrong) at the circles to reveal the fact, and then the answer.


I teach project based differentiated instruction so there are always diverse projects going on-but an idea I love to try and work in is using the classroom blog site.

This next teacher also has several different ideas she uses, but since the one she listed first related to computers, I’m placing her whole comment in this section:

Beth Diaz

We work on a quick Renaissance program called Math Facts in a Flash to practice math facts on computer. I read aloud math brainteasers and make up my own. I challenge students to come up with long “incredible Equations” for the number of the school day-How many days have we been in school? I read aloud from whatever read aloud chapter book we have going at the moment.  Or since I teach second grade all boys, we may take a one minute organize your desk or locker break.

7) “CHILL”

Just giving students a few minutes of free time to chat is something I do very occasionally, and others do, too.


I teach high school, so if it is only 5-10 minutes, I let them chill. Everybody needs some downtime, and many schools have eliminated breaks during the morning and afternoon.

But it doesn’t just have to be a few minutes to chat — singing is another alternative..


I love to bring out instruments (if I have any) and sing songs. Sometimes the songs are related to content, other times, they are fun songs that we sing as a class.


I teach 7th grade go and most of students get done at varying times, so on most days I send them to my free time page. It has tons of quasi education fun stuff for them to do. It keeps the fast workers occupied and allows the slower ones time to finish up.


Karen McMillan

I have a few things I might do if I have some extra time at the end of a class. My favorite is to read to them. Even seventh graders love to hear a story. On Friday, while we were waiting for the parents to arrive for our field trip, I started reading “The Phantom Tollbooth” to them. Within thirty seconds of starting, you could hear a pin drop in my classroom!

Of course, the fact that it’s so much fun for me to read out loud and do the voices and put on a little performance, has absolutely nothing to do with it.


As a first grade teacher I’ve always got a book or two ready to read. Other options include various ways to practice math facts, playing spelling sparkle, or telling a story that we each add on one by one.

Thanks to everybody who contributed! And feel free to leave more ideas in the comment section of this post…