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Create an "Early Finishers" Area for an Added Instructional Tool
Article Summary:Some of your students finished their work far ahead of the rest of the class, now what? Instead of simply forcing students to complete additional problems to keep them occupied, let's look at the advantages of creating an "Early Finishers" area that can open up a whole new world of possibilities for you and your students.
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Create an "Early Finishers" Area for an Added Instructional Tool
by Gregory L. Gomez

In an ideal classroom, all students would start and complete an assignment exactly at the same time. Wouldn't that be awesome? All your 4th grade students beginning to work on their 20 math problems at the same exact time without distraction, and then each and every one of your students setting their pencil down 20 minutes later with a complete page that you can check as a whole group for accuracy.
To hear of such a thing makes me chuckle, for in 12 years teaching in South Los Angeles, California, I have never come across a class that is able to do that. However that is not necessarily a bad thing or detrimental in any way whatsoever.
It's actually quite expected.
Think about that for a second. Even adults do not work at the exact same pace on any given subject. How could we possibly is the question you should be asking yourself? We all think differently. We all read at different speeds. We all digest information at different rates and in different manners. Point is, if we adults do not finish the same task at exactly the same time, how can we expect a classroom full of 30 young children to do the same?
We can't, and we shouldn't. What we should do is be prepared for those who finish early. Prepared not in the sense where just because they finished early they now have extra work to complete, but in the sense that what you now have for them will be stimulating and engaging.
Think of it this way, if a student just accurately finished 20 math multiplication problems ahead of everyone else in the class, and we as the teacher say "Good job, here are 30 more.", how do you think that student will feel?
As an adult I would take offense to that, thinking "Just because I finished first, now I have extra work?!?! What was the point in being first?" It seems that I am in some way being punished for my speed and accuracy in a subject that I am extremely proficient in.
Instead of simply forcing a student to complete additional problems to keep them occupied, let's look at the advantages of creating an "Early Finishers" area that can open up a whole new world of possibilities for you and your students.
What is an Early Finishers Area?

An early finishers area can be something as simple as a list written on the chalk/whiteboard that tells the student what they are to do when they finish working on their assignment.
Sounds simple and basic, however to truly take this idea to the next level you can create a "center", or area in one part of your classroom where there is a fancy colorfully labeled board along with the supplies they will need for the tasks. This "special" privileged area would only be accessible to those who have accurately completed their work and now have been granted permission to enter this sacred place.
Depending on what activities you have planned for this group will also dictate what supplies you will need to have ready for them to use.
What is important to keep in mind is that whatever the activity you have chosen for them, these students should be self-sufficient. They shouldn't need to ask you for help or anyone else for that matter. You don't want these children to cause a disturbance in the room for then it ruins the special time that they have earned.
Early finishers should been seen as "go-getters", as learners who take it upon themselves to finish their work and move on fluidly to the next task in an appropriate, calm, quiet manner so as not to disturb their fellow classmates.
It is your job as the teacher to ensure the activity or activities on the task list are explained in a manner that does not cause confusion in any way.
Explicitly teach them what they are to do step-by-step from start to finish so there is no reason for anyone to ask you "I don't know what to do." Don't keep this area a secret, teach the entire class so all your students understand that this is not just an area for a pre-selected group of students, but it is an area that can be accessed by everyone, as long as their work is complete and correct.
Teach the students how they are to check their work for accuracy. Teach them what they are to do if they find one or more of their answers incorrect. Teach them where they place the work when finished.
Think of anything that may cause confusion or difficulty from the students' perspective. Of questions or concerns they might have.
Explicitly teach them how the "Early Finishers" area works. Teach them how and where they are supposed to complete the work you list there. Teach them the clean up signal, and what they are to do with the work they completed there.
The more direct instruction you provide along with specific examples of how this area should be used, the more you will help guarantee an effective experience.
Gregory L. Gomez, M. Ed, has been teaching 5th grade in the Los Angeles Unified School District for 12 years. He created to help teachers and parents provide children with a fun and creative way to review grade level math standards and concepts. Get valuable teaching strategies and teaching tips along with FREE math worksheets samples to download.
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We hope you found this article informative and that you will be able to take some of these ideas and incorporate them into your classroom. We invite you to take a moment to download two FREE math review worksheets that students have found exciting and inspirational. These aren't the typical worksheets that you've seen before, so don't be surprised if you find your students begging for more!
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