A lot has been already discussed about early finishers in class, especially in an ELT classroom. The students (especially young learners) who complete their task(s) earlier than others often start distracting themselves and/or the peers who are still on task. In any group of learners, there are those who need more time to think, and there are those who rush through the (written) exercises and loudly signal that they are ready for something else. Sometimes they are faster thinkers, sometimes they find it hard to focus, sometimes it is a combination of both.
Fortunately, there is the whole book on this topic by Rachael Harris called 100 Activities for Fast Finishers (I am looking forward to reading it on the coming winter break). You can purchase the books here, and read about the author on her fantastic blog here. By the way, in this post Rachael shared that she is thinking about adding even more ideas to the list! 🙂
My post below, however, is on a slightly different subject: what can a trainer do with early finishers (adult participants, teachers) in a training classroom? One obvious answer might be to actually model the same activities one would use with young learner students (especially if the focus of the training course is working with this age group). I tried to see if this is true by taking some examples and analyzing them. Invite you to join me in the comments!
I have tried the following with my language learners, and thinking about pros and cons for using them with teachers:
Letting the early finisher(s) start the following/coming task
Pro: the student/course participant is still quietly busy
Con: s/he is constantly faster than the others, and is probably just ‘going though’ the tasks, not thinking in-depth
Variation: offering an extra question/statement on the same task (could be 2-3 options on the board just in case, or written on a separate card, etc.)
Giving the early finisher(s) an extra task you had prepared
Pro: caters for the variety of paces/needs, allows to differentiate the approaches
Con: takes more preparation time
Variation: (see the next idea!)
Asking the early finisher(s) to create a task for others
Pro: keeps everyone busy, and moderately challenged
Con: might become a new task in itself, especially if never used before, resulting in longer explanation time (and therefore spending more time with early finishers than monitoring other students)
Note: once it becomes a routine, might be a wonderful learning tool (when early finishers decide on the level of difficulty of the tasks they create, and later of each other’s tasks they complete). Could probably become a topic for another post?
Asking if the early finisher(s) have any problems with homework for today’s lesson (or any previous lessons)
Pro: provides some individual time with the teacher
Con: works only if there is one early finisher at a time
Solution: ask the students/participants who finished earlier to compare the homework and exchange questions, etc.
Talking to them on the topic of the lesson/session
Chatting with them (about something personal)
Inviting to do some self-check for anything missing (in this task, in the homework or in the missed lessons that week / month)
Pro: works especially well with those students/course participants who are often in a hurry and need a reminder about accuracy
Con: might look/feel a bit patronising (requires trust between the teacher and student, or trainer/participant)
Variation: looking through the worksheet and saying that there are 3 points that might be different
Checking answers (by the teacher) and later pairing them up with another student to become the ‘expert’
Pro: this gives a chance to create a more student-centered checking, or peer teaching
Con: might become a little messy in terms of classroom management (if the students need to change places and move chairs, etc.)
Pairing the early finisher(s) with another early finisher to share/compare
Pro: promotes more learning and discussion, allows the ‘fast thinkers’ to go through the task again
Con: turns the quiet thinking time into a noisier alternative, and this in itself might distract those who are still writing
Variation: asking them to move to a further area in the room, or to speak quietly
Not doing anything at all – letting the students/participants take some quiet rest
Pro: an opportunity for reflection, jounaling, breathing, thinking
Con: might be a challenge for an extrovert personality type
What other pros and cons of the above do you see? What else have you tried with your students and/or teachers on a course, or colleagues in a PD session? How do you like to be treated in the spaces of time during a session/workshop when you completed the task, and the others are still working? How else can the issue be addressed without the teacher/trainer being in control of what is happening in class?
2018 update: check this post by Mark Trevarton called ‘Why I Gave up on ‘Fast Finisher Activities‘ for more ideas and examples!
Thank you for reading! 🙂