Keep Students Engaged Until the Last Bell Rings: Fillers

Whether it's right before a long vacation or the end of the school year, teachers need an arsenal of go-to ideas that will keep your students engaged.  The end of the school year is an exciting time, and energy levels run high, to say the least.  Being prepared is the key to finishing strong! Filed under Plan B in my teacher toolbox is my collection of time fillers - an important part of my end-of-year survival routine!

This blogpost gives 4 easy ideas to keep your students engaged, right up until the last bell rings.

While fillers are useful for the entire year, they're especially important to have handy those last two or three weeks.  Think about it... No matter how precise your plans are, there always seems to be that last minute assembly thrown in that your administrator forgot to mention, or a field trip that didn't take the full time allotted.  Now you're left with 10-15 minutes of "dead air" time.  That's when it's time to pull out the fillers instead of your hair!

Some of my favorite time fillers include:

This blogpost gives 4 easy ideas to keep your students engaged, right up until the last bell rings.
Red Herring stories- those quick, lateral thinking puzzles that kids love! Given a situation, kids have to ask questions that can only be answered with a yes/no or "it does not compute" (for those questions that can't be answered with a yes or no.) Start with an easy story to get your students used to asking the right kinds of questions. Soon, they'll be begging for more!

Jumbles are another of my favorites. Many newspapers publish a Jumble daily. Either cut them out to have an assortment of Jumbles (I have them on hand all year for early finishers), or get a book of them to share. They actually come with a variety of themes. I have the whole class try to solve each word and we work on the final question together.

This blogpost gives 4 easy ideas to keep your students engaged, right up until the last bell rings.

Jumbles are great because students have to use their phonetic knowledge of word formations, including consonants blends, vowel digraphs, and prefixes & suffixes.

Geography games offering clues to a location that students have to guess is a fun and easy last-minute filler.  I use a game called 20 Clues that gives 20 different clues to a location which could be a mountain range, a body of water, a country, a city, state or province, from the hardest clues to the dead-giveaways. But really, any geography game offering clues works well.

This blogpost gives 4 easy ideas to keep your students engaged, right up until the last bell rings.
I break the room up into teams (boys/girls, right half/left half, groups of 3 or 4, whatever works for  that day.)  Next, I determine point values: 50 or 100 or 500 points if they guess after one clue. (Frankly, I like to mix up the total point values from time to time.  I've found the more points possible to win, the better it is for whole-class engagement.)  I continue reading clues and subtracting multiples of points each time a new clue is read, until all groups have had a chance to answer.

Rotating through the groups, I give everyone a chance at the first big point values. For the last round, I make it worth a ridiculously high amount of points, read 2 or 3 of the clues and have each group write down their answer. Correct answers get the points and game is over!

I rarely give them answers to locations they don't get.  I want them to keep thinking about it after they've left. I keep a stash of Dum-Dums for smart kids, and the first one to come back with a correct answer later wins that coveted prize.

Mental Math is another favorite filler.  This one works well for lining up or dismissing at the end of the day.  I give a long string equation, pausing between each portion to give students a chance to figure it out mentally. There's usually 5 steps to the problems.

Here's an example - I'd say: 5 x 7; they think: (35); and so it continues... +10 (45) – 9 (36) ÷ 4 (9) squared (81).  I ask: What's my number?

This blogpost gives 4 easy ideas to keep your students engaged, right up until the last bell rings.
They keep the answers to each step in their heads, until I ask for their final answer. They raise their hands to share their answer and, if it's correct, I let them line up or leave-whichever the case may be, choosing one (or two) of their close personal friends to join them.  When it's down to the last group of five to eight students, and I know they're not great with mental math, we work it together out loud. Sometimes, I'll write it down for this last group.  Then, when they get the answer, all those remaining get to leave.

I like this game because it actually improves their ability to recall math facts.

And now for the best part... Because I don't save these nuggets until the end of the year, all the kids know how to play them. To really keep them focused, after the first round, I pick a student to be in charge of the game, usually by drawing a name from my name sticks.  If we have a longer time, I'll draw another name.  It improves their attention to the activity, because everyone wants to become the next "game show host."

These fillers really end the day or period on a high note and the kids love them. Nowadays, there's more than likely an app for these filler ideas, but I prefer to step away from the devices during these moments, unless I can throw the game up on a SmartBoard. It offers better interaction among the students, when everyone is focused on one spot.

What fillers do you use to keep them engaged until the last bell rings?

**Thanks to Ron Leishman for the archeologist and the gorilla clip art.  The funky alphabet is from Digital Doodles.