Make Every Minute Count: 5 Ideas to Keep Your Students Engaged and Learning

As a teacher, you probably know how difficult it can be to fit all of your responsibilities, ideas, and daily to-do list items into one school day! But, even with your busy schedule, you may have small pockets of free time when you don’t have anything planned with your students.  It’s during these times, like the last five minutes before dismissal, that you can make every minute count by introducing Brain Breaks to keep your students engaged, thinking, and entertained.

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Where’s the Extra Free Time?

With a quick glance at your packed calendar, you may think I’m crazy! You may not feel like you have any of this underutilized free time I’m touting. If you look a little more closely at your schedule, though, you’ll probably find small periods that might not seem valuable at first. These are the minutes that count! Add them all up and you’re looking at a pretty significant chunk of time; a period of time that was previously wasted.

According to the Virginia Department of Education, “If a teacher increases instructional time by just fifteen minutes a day through the use of more efficient routines, procedures and transitions, students gain 45 hours of instructional time a year.” Forty-five hours a year! Can you imagine what extras you could squeeze into those hours? That’s an entire week of bonus teaching! 

Don’t be intimidated by the additional lesson planning you may have to do if you discover an extra week of class time. These newly-found hours don’t have to be spent on direct instruction. Instead, by adding brain breaks, asking critical thinking questions, or introducing a variety of other activities that are beneficial to the development of your students, you can make this extra time count.

By being just a bit creative, you can find these pockets of free time while:

  • Walking in the hallway to the classroom or to resource classes;
  • Waiting in the hallway for resource, an assembly, lunch, or bathroom breaks;
  • Standing in the lunch line;
  • Transitioning between subjects/activities;
  • Finishing assignments early;
  • In the morning during arrival, breakfast, announcements, and attendance;
  • In the afternoon while packing up and during the dismissal period; or
  • During unplanned interruptions, such as classroom guests or phone calls.

Brain Breaks & Other Ideas to Fill Your Free Time

Here are some activities you can complete with your class when you have an extra two, five, or ten minutes in your schedule during the day.

Take Brain Breaks

Movement is healthy for the brain and can improve instruction.  Plus, you’re working with kids; they have to get up and move around! You can use YouTube to search for brain break activities or Just Dance videos. You can also write ideas of your own on index cards or popsicle sticks and pick one when you have a few minutes to spare.

For a ready-to-go activity that requires even less planning, you might try brain break cards that encourage the whole class’ involvement and can be completed in less than five minutes.

For a ready-to-go activity that requires even less planning, try BRAIN BREAKS!
For a ready-to-go activity that requires even less planning, try BRAIN BREAKS!

Make Lists

You can use the extra time in your classroom to make lists, and the ideas are endless! Students can list different foods, vegetables, states, countries, names that begin with a particular letter, animals that are herbivores, ways to know when it’s springtime, prominent historical figures, math terms, and more.

Create an extensive master list as a class or give students an index card. Then, have them create their decision lists and compile the information. Cross-subject bonus tip! Elevate this activity by collecting your data in a class bar graph and analyzing the results! 

Would You Rather?

Put your students on the spot by prompting them with a series of “Would You Rather?” questions. Playing this game requires your students to use their critical thinking skills by evaluating two different but equally appealing or unappealing options and choosing one.  

Students can work in partners and read through several questions verbally.  The class can complete the task cards together and move to one side of the room or the other to indicate their response. They can even complete different movements to indicate their preference. For example, they can hop like a bunny if they would rather be able to talk to animals and stand like a statue if they’d prefer to control the weather.

If the whole class is working on the same question, you can even display the question on your SMARTBoard or projector using this set or one you create yourself.

Put your students on the spot by prompting them with a series of "Would You Rather?" questions.
Put your students on the spot by prompting them with a series of “Would You Rather?” questions.

Intensify this activity by asking students to explain their reasoning verbally or in a writing exercise.

Use STEM Bins

Science, technology, engineering, art, and math are some of the hottest topics in education right now. We know there’s a push for more STEM and STEAM in the classroom, but sometimes it can be a struggle to find time for them.  STEM Bins can help! STEM bins are quick activities put together in plastic bins that students can work on independently or with a partner when they have a few extra minutes in their day.

You can create your own STEM bins, or you can purchase ready-made bins depending on your preference (and budget).

Try it! For example, place small Legos in a container along with pictures of various objects like a house, a car, a person, etc.  Challenge students to create the 3-D version of the picture with Legos.

STEM bins are fun, interactive, creative, and cheap! You can easily modify them to fit perfectly in your classroom atmosphere.

Critical Thinking Task Cards

For lateral thinking practice, critical thinking task cards are great in the elementary classroom.  This particular set encourages students to come up with creative reasons why a particular situation has occurred, utilizing the highest levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy. For example, have students list three possible reasons why Victoria refused to get out of the car. Lacking background information, students are encouraged to dive deep for creative options.

For lateral thinking practice, critical thinking task cards are great in the elementary classroom.  
For lateral thinking practice, critical thinking task cards are great in the elementary classroom.

 

Purchase the easy-to-implement Brain Breaks Cards, Would You Rather Cards, or 3 Reasons Why Cards on Teachers Pay Teachers or right here on Minds in Bloom to have some ready-to-go activities to fill those few spare moments of valuable time!

Happy Teaching!

 

 

 

 

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