Early Finishers (in class, on a course)

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)

Example: Svetlana’s post about Vocabulary Organizer/Flash Card Maker

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! 🙂

About Zhenya

ELT: teacher educator, trainer coach, reflective practice addict https://wednesdayseminars.wordpress.com/.
This entry was posted in Trainer Reflections and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to Early Finishers (in class, on a course)

  1. Hana Tichá says:

    Hi. Zhenya,

    I use some of your tips, such as letting the early finisher(s) start the following/coming task. This, in my teaching context, only happens only if the extra task is something everybody will have do as a homework assignment. Then it is a kind of reward for the fast finishers, not punishment (as some might see it). I like the not-doing-anything-at-all one too. There are basically two types of students – those who are fast and crave more challenge and those who are fast but prefer a bit of breathing space (they simply wish to disappear into their dream world for a while). And I don’t really mind. With teenagers it can become a bit tough, though. Once they finish, they immediately look for fun and this may result in giggling, chatter and other ways of disturbing others, especially the slower students.

    Anyway, thanks for sharing some food for thought.


    Liked by 1 person

    • Zhenya says:

      Hi Hana

      Thank you for adding the idea about the homework (in class, as a reward for the ones who are fast) – I think my teachers at school were using this method a lot (and it did feel great to have fewer tasks for homework).

      Great point about various ‘types’ of early finishers – those who need activity would be reflecting quietly but need something else (an… fast!)

      When you wrote ‘punishment’ about giving extra tasks, I remember one piece of feedback received on a course with teachers: ‘Now when you give us more work in class b/c we are fast, I see how my students might feel…’

      Thank you for commenting very much – and enjoy December 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. ven_vve says:

    Hi Zhenya,

    I haven’t commented on here for a while, but have been following your blog with interest, as usual.
    How did you make it snow on your page, btw?
    Re early finishers, I can’t remember ever being too concerned about them – not to the extent that I would give them an extra task to do, anyway. Like Hana, I’m okay with those who finish first going on to do something unrelated to the course (the last suggestion on your list). They usually have no more than a couple of minutes to do this – whatever it is – because when I see that roughly half the class are done, I move on to the next stage. I think one of the things I say most often in class is, “Don’t worry if you didn’t have time to do everything because we’ll go through all the answers together” or words to that effect.
    With activities where the success of the next activity depends on the students finishing the first one (prep time for a presentation / roleplay or reading a longish text, say) I sometimes use one of the two other strategies you also mention: talk to the student and see if they have any questions/problems, or suggest they compare their answers with another early finisher. This sometimes works.
    I’m sure I’d have to think out my strategy more carefully if I worked with YLs / teenagers, as both you and Hana point out.
    I wish you all the best in the coming year and look forward to reading your posts!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Zhenya says:

      Hi Vedrana
      So good to hear from you – thank you for commenting!

      Re snow (which I love too!): it is a part of the General Settings in my theme (Manifest) and it will be on till Jan 4. Very sweet!
      Re letting early finishers have free time and do other things: in fact, I am thinking that it needs to happen more often in a training room (because teachers are adults, and because not everything needs to be ‘under control’ in the classroom!) Perhaps if teachers are treated like adults during training they would be doing the same in their classrooms? Or perhaps would start thinking about it (another reminder to myself about making this more explicit)

      Wishing you a good new year – full of development, progress, growth, and improvement (in the areas you choose to!), and full of new posts of course! Cheers!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. careymicaela says:

    Hi Zhenya!

    As you mentioned in your post, Fast Finishers can be tricky. With my young learners I always have something planned for those who finish earlier than the rest because there are always at least one or two who do.

    Sometimes I ask them to just relax for a minute or think about/reread what they’ve written. Other times I try to get them to do some sort of speaking task in pairs with another student who has also finished. These tasks are usually very simple, such as spell a word for your partner to guess or point to a part of your body for your partner to say the word.

    When we’re working on a task in which certain students are bound to finish well before the others, I set up a table at the back of the classroom with flashcards, books, picture dictionaries, posters… They take something to their desk or sit at the table and do a quick activity with a partner. When the rest of the class is finished, they put the material back on the table and return to their seat. The students seem to enjoy the time for self-discovery and it’s easy to get them ready to move on when everyone is done.

    I like your idea about having students create a task (or maybe a worksheet or similar) for other students. It would take some thought but that could become a long term project that Fast Finishers work on… food for thought. Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Zhenya says:

      Hi Micaela

      Thank you for the comment – and for your input from the point of view of YL teacher (the ‘trickiest’ group of learners to manage in class?) Can’t agree more with the tips to make the early finisher task very simple for the kids (less time for the teacher to explain those!). Wow – a wonderful idea on having a table with cards/materials. Taking it on board for the training courses too! (also, seems like some time alone/individually, and independent learning)

      Finally, yes, the tasks for each other needs to be a long(er) term idea for small kids (because the explanation of a new task takes a while, which takes away the class time, and kind of kills the idea to have something ready for early finishers. Will try to dig the original resource where I saw it in, and possibly write another post in 2016.

      Meanwhile, let’s meet the New Year! Cheers to you – let’s have a good one, online and offline, in class and in life!


  4. Pingback: Multi-level classes, early finishers & grouping strategies: Jan 10 RPG SF Bay Area | reflection pools

  5. Tim says:

    Hi Zhenya! After trying to create a completely new task and asking early finishers to do I found: 1) It felt like punishment 2) It was hard to explain it, answer questions, etc. 3) Required more prep time too. 4) Other students felt left out! So now I write the homework assignment for the next class on the board and ask S’s to work on it if they finish early. This seems to have solved my issues from above and keeps everyone happy.


    • Zhenya says:

      Hi Tim

      Thank you for your comment! I like the solution you came up with: indeed, in this case it is a reward, not a punishment for the Ss (and their first time management lesson, perhaps) I think my Maths teacher had a similar approach (she listed all the exercise/problem numbers for the lesson on the board, and ‘starred’ some as more challenging, and if we did many/all – no homework 🙂

      Thanks for thinking together!


  6. Hey, thanks for the mention!

    Liked by 1 person

Eager to hear what you think!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s