Creative and Educational Time Fillers: No More Wasted Minutes
By Mary Montero
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There are few things more frustrating than wasted time in the classroom. All those little five and then minute breaks can really add up, and bored students can often become mischievous students. Whether it’s staggered time as students get logged on for digital learning, a few extra minutes before dismissal, or just those random moments that sometimes pop up during the day, these low prep educational time fillers will prevent wasted minutes.
Simple Time Fillers
Stretch creative thinking by letting students take turns asking “would you rather”, “this/that”, “which one doesn’t belong”, or “what’s the same” questions. These are great for friendly debates too because there’s often more than one correct answer. Example: Which one doesn’t belong: 9, 16, 25, 43? Some students may say 16 because it’s the only even number. Other students may say 43 because it’s the only one that isn’t a square number. If you prefer to have cards ready to go, Brain Quest cards (Amazon affiliate link) are a good buy.
Mad Libs are sneaky ways to practice grammar with those extra minutes. You can download free Mad Libs from their website and they have an app too. To save on paper, you can project a Mad Lib and have students write down their answers to fill in the blanks. Students can read their completed Mad Libs to a few friends, vote on the funniest, etc.
Keep a joke or riddle jar so students can take turns reading them to the class. You can also encourage students to contribute their own jokes to the jar.
Esti-Mysteries are free PowerPoints that are super easy to project or screen share digitally. Each one is a photograph that challenges students to figure out what number is represented. As you click through the slides, clues appear that require students to use math concepts to improve their estimate. In the end, the students solve the mystery to find the missing number.
Play an advanced game of mystery number with 3 digits, fractions, or decimals. Students guess your mystery number and you can only answer with “higher” or “lower” until the mystery number is discovered. The student who correctly identified the number gets to pick the next mystery number. This is great for not only math skills, but listening skills too.
“Around the World” is always a favorite, but if you have a little more time this partner math fact practice is another way to reinforce math skills.
Upper Elementary students still enjoy picture books, so I always recommend having a go-to stack of books to fill those few extra minutes. These can be related to your current units of study, mentor texts, or even seasonal themes. Books like 5 Minute Mini-Mysteries or Whodunit Puzzles (Amazon affiliate links) are fun to add to the mix too.
More like an audio book than podcast, the Six Minutes Podcast releases two episodes per week. Your students will be captivated by adventuring with eleven-year-old Holiday, who is pulled from the icy waters of Alaska with no memory of who she is or where she came from.
Journaling is another way to meaningfully fill those extra minutes. This Creative Critical Thinking Weekly Journal is low prep and available in print and digital versions. Each page reinforces writing, inference skills, vocabulary building, and seasonal events.
Rocket Kids YouTube channel is full of short videos made by students for students focused on character, growth mindset, and life skills.
Brain break videos are always a hit. Here’s a post with some of my favorites that you probably haven’t seen!
Podcasts are perfect for listening skills. The Who Smarted? podcast builds critical thinking in twelve minute bites. Its kid-friendly humor and interactive games teach kids facts about any topic you can think of. Teachers can also download study guides and extension ideas.
A Few More Educational Time Fillers
You can read this post for 12 ideas to increase critical thinking and creativity in five minutes or less.
These ice breakers and team building ideas were designed for the beginning of the year, but often work all year long too!
If you have a little more time or need ideas for early finishers, I love using task cards for literacy, math, and creative thinking.
What Ideas Would You Add?
We’re always sharing ideas in our Inspired In Upper Elementary Facebook group, especially for 3rd-5th grade teachers just like you. Come join us and share your own favorite educational time fillers!
I’m so glad you are here. I’m a current gifted and talented teacher in a small town in Colorado, and I’ve been in education since 2009. My passion (other than my family and cookies) is for making teachers’ lives easier and classrooms more engaging.