10 Ideas for Early Finishers

This is definitely not the first time that I’ve written about this topic. In 2014, I posted an article called, “It’s Not Enough,” where I admitted that I had resorted to the same plan that many teachers use for students who finish quickly — let them read a book or help other students. I understand that many teachers are in survival mode right now, so those options are even more attractive. But this does a disservice to those students who have demonstrated mastery of the material (possibly before you even taught it). Students who are careless and rush should receive guidance on how to improve their work, while students who don’t need more practice should be challenged.

Having dealt with these situations many times over my 29 years of teaching, I am the first to admit that it’s a difficult balance to keep students challenged without doing what Lisa Van Gemert calls “moreferentiation”, but if you are not in a situation where students can test out of doing grade level assignments and move to more advanced work here are some ideas I gleaned from a Twitter thread asking for advice last month.

  • Students who finish early can design a game (can be digital like Kahoot or just questions on index cards) for the class to play that reviews the concepts.
  • Twitter user Chris Clark (@clar1344) has this “Coming to a Consensus” idea:
  • Jigsaw puzzle table and/or building center (Legos, Magnatiles, Keva Planks Challenges, etc…)
  • An “I’m Done, Now What?” choice board, similar to this one from Megan Balduf (@MBalduf) I also have Choice Board collections on this page.
  • Similar to choice boards, JC4Ed (@JC4_ed) suggests, “digital enrichment folders with content/related games and virtual field trips”
  • Puzzle of the Day, such as one of these Wordle Variations or these other brainteasers and puzzles, or possibly even an interactive Sudoku Bulletin Board or station like this one from Jocelyn Lawrence (@HFFifthGrade):
  • Sonia Karmily (@KarmilySonia) has this recommendation:
  • Create with a purpose as this teacher suggests:
  • Prepare a presentation for a PowerPoint Party
  • Ask students to make suggestions. Depending on ability level, they could each have their own customized list of things to do when finished.

I’d like to thank Gretchen (@offgridteacher) for originally posing this question on Twitter. You can go here to see her question and read the thread of responses.

P.S. I do want to make a note here that I deliberately did not include Genius Hour in my suggestions. In my experience, it was difficult for students to work on Genius Hour projects when they finished early because there just wasn’t enough time for them to “get into it” before we were moving on to the next activity. Genius Hour always worked better in my classroom when it was allotted its own time. However, quite a few people did mention it in the thread, so it must work in some classrooms.


Choice Boards and Menus

One of the most popular free resources that has been used by teachers in the last year has been Flipgrid. Kathi Kersznowski (@kerszi) recently tweeted an incredible choice board she had created for ways teachers can use Flipgrid, “Flipgrid Madness.”

I like the look and interactivity of Kathi’s board, which was created with Genially. Another example of a Genially choice board, this one more directed toward students, is this interactive Tic-Tac-Toe style board for To Kill a Mockingbird. Erin Klein wrote this post on designing choice boards using Genially.

Of course, Genially is not the only digital tool you can use to make choice boards and menus. There have been plenty of articles published on using Google Slides, Docs, and MS Word. I’ve tried to collect as many how-to’s as I could find into this Wakelet on How to Design Choice Boards and Menus.

If you don’t want to start from scratch, SlidesMania has nice-looking templates here and here. I’ve also tried to collect some more subject-specific ones in a K-8 Wakelet and a Secondary Wakelet.

Choice boards and menus are a common strategy for differentiating by student interest and/or ability. The best ones are carefully planned with specific goals, but I’ve seen many that are improperly used to give students busy work. As always, clearly defined expectations, well-communicated relevancy, and regular feedback will be important if you are using this strategy.

K-12, Teaching Tools

Top EdTech Tools for Digital Differentiation

My latest post for the Neo Blog is, “Top EdTech Tools for Digital Differentiation.” You may recognize some of the tools I recommend, such as Newsela and the one I blogged about yesterday, Immersive Reader. But you might be surprised by some other gems that are less ubiquitous right now.

One of the messages I hope that gets across with my Neo post (and everything I include on my own blog) is that differentiation should be happening for all students, not just the ones who are struggling. With technology, we can help all students to learn more, and teachers can have more time to give children the personal attention they need.

My previous NEO articles have been: From Normal to Better: Using What We’ve Learned to Improve Education, Applying Universal Design for Learning in Remote Classrooms, How Distance Learning Fosters Global CollaborationHow to Use Design Thinking in the Classroom, and How to S.T.E.A.M. Up Distance Learning.

Next month’s post for Neo will be, “How to Facilitate Meaningful Discussions in the Hybrid or Virtual Classroom.” If you have any advice, I would love to hear it!

Students at Sutton Middle School use online research to answer questions during a lesson in history class. Photo by Allison Shelley for American Education: Images of Teachers and Students in Action
K-12, Student Response, Teaching Tools


Today I am posting about a product that technically would never had made it on this blog if I didn’t break some rules sometimes.  First of all, it’s a tool for making worksheets.  Yuck.  I know worksheets are a necessary evil sometimes, but they are way, way overused to give students busy work.  Secondly, to get the most out of this tool, you will need to pay for a subscription.  I try to recommend free tools because I know teachers pay for too much already out of their pockets.


This subscription ($35.99 for a year) is a great deal for all of the features you will get – the features that also make this the most powerful digital “worksheet creator” I’ve seen.  If you don’t believe me, try the 14 day trial.

In many ways, Wizer is comparable to a Google Form on steroids.  In both of these, the teacher can create questions, push it out to students, and receive grades and reports on their responses.  But here are the ways that it’s different:

  • It currently interfaces with Google Classroom, Edmodo, and Microsoft, so you have two more option than you do with a Google Form.
  • You can design the worksheet to look much more visually appealing.
  • You can use any of the teacher-created Wizer worksheets to tweak to use as your own. Or, if you like inventing the wheel, make your own from scratch.
  • There are over 10 different question types you can use, including: Drawing, Fill in the Blanks, Label an Image, Sorting, Open Questions.
  • You can record (audio or video) instructions as well as text.
  • Students can respond using audio or text.
  • Students can design their own worksheets.

Here is an example of a worksheet for Tuck Everlasting that I found in the Wizer Community.  You can see what the Teacher Dashboard looks like below.

Wizer Teacher Dashboard

Now I think you’ll admit that those are pretty good options.  But the one that’s the game-changer, the one that made me decide to blog about Wizer, the one that is an incredible deal for $35.99/year is the option to differentiate within your worksheet.

With “The Awesome Plan,” teachers can create Learner Profiles for each of their students based on ability, interest, preferred learning mode, whatever you want.  You can create rules based on those categories.  Then, when you create a worksheet, you can use alternate questions for different Differentiated Instruction groups.  For example, do you want to have Fill-In-the Blank questions?  Some students may need a word bank, and others may not.   If you have all of your Learner Profiles done, you can just select with a couple of clicks who gets the word bank and who doesn’t.  Do you have some students who can answer open-ended questions, and others who need multiple choice?  Assign alternate questions!  You can see a quick video example embedded below.

Initially, you will have to do some work to get your Learner Profiles in order.  But imagine the simplicity of creating assessments once you’ve got your information loaded.  If you’ve got students who have their own devices, this tool could make your life much easier – without sacrificing the engagement of your learners.

If you are someone who has used Wizer, please share your feedback!

Apps, Games, K-12, Teaching Tools

Customizing Words by Osmo

Even though the Osmo Words game has been around for a few years, many people probably do not take advantage of its full potential.  The Words app is engaging and fun, but can be even more powerful educationally by customizing it.

If adults sign up for a free account at myOsmo, they can add their own albums of pictures and words that can be downloaded to the library on the mobile device being used to play Words.  For example, my first graders choose their own countries to study.  As we learn about different features of the countries, I add photos to an album in myWords that they can then use to review.

You can find instructions for customizing the Words game here.  Using your own albums not only allows you to make the game relevant to current learning topics in your classroom, but also to differentiate.  You could use the same pictures in different albums with different vocabulary.  Or, you can associate a picture with several words of varying difficulty.  For example, a picture of the Taj Mahal may prompt the students to guess Taj Mahal, India, or even tomb.

The online album customization is made even easier with links to UnSplash, an awesome resource of Creative Commons photos.  Or, if you don’t want to make your own album, there are many that other teachers have made and shared publicly that you can also download to your device.

Some examples of the public albums in Osmo Words

Apps, Education, K-12, Math, Websites


This year I seem to have a group of students in each of my grade levels who are passionate about math.  Every time I pull out a math activity, they devour it with glee.  It has been a challenge for me to give these students assignments which maintain their excitement for “hard” math without discouraging them with work that is too difficult.  Their classroom teachers are facing the same dilemma.

A couple of weeks ago, I decided to see what my 4th and 5th grade gifted students thought about Prodigy.  Prodigy is an online math game that is free.  (It is also available as an app.)  Teachers can add classrooms of students, and can manage the math topics students practice, as well as the levels at which each student plays.  I immediately assigned all of my students to topics above their current grade levels.  After introducing it in class, I gave them their individual passcodes, letters for their parents, and the caution that playing Prodigy was completely optional.  I also notified their homeroom teachers, and made it clear to the students and the teachers that it was completely up to the teachers to decide if the students could play the game in class.

My students say that the graphics are apparently reminiscent of that popular game, Pokemon.  The students create avatars and can battle each other by doing math problems. They can also earn different abilities as they progress through the game.

There is a paid option for Prodigy, where parents can buy memberships.  This allows the students to access a few more features than the free version.  I have one student who asked his parent for permission to get the membership so far; everyone else seems satisfied with the free game.

I like that I can see individual student reports with Prodigy and that I can differentiate for each child in my class.  I am also pleasantly surprised to see how excited the students are about playing the game.  In addition, the privacy aspect seems fairly good, as the avatars do not give away any student information.

Prodigy does not teach.  It is not a substitute for engaging classroom lessons that include higher order thinking skills.  I enjoy using it as a formative assessment as it gives me reports on the strengths and weaknesses of each of my students in the skills they are assigned, but I would be appalled by any teacher who used Prodigy as their only method of assessment or differentiation.

As long as my students continue to be excited about math, I will view Prodigy as one of the many tools at our disposal that supports their learning.  But I will also continue to provide them with real-life opportunities to use math in relevant ways.