Before setting about our action research project, we decided that a good fast finishers’ activity should be:
- Useful – that it should imply some kind of extension activity which allows stronger pupils to learn more.
- Relevant – that it is connected with the topic being studied or as revision of something already studied.
- Appropriate – that it suits the linguistic, as well as cognitive level of the learners.
- Simple – that it does not require complex instructions.
- Autonomous – that it can be done without taking up too much teacher time.
- Easy-to-end – that it can be finished quickly and is easy to check.
- Discreet – that it does not disturb the rest of the group.
- Flexible – that the activity will work for individuals or for pairs.
- Fun – that it will not be seen as an onerous ‘punishment’.
Prevention, as we all know, is better than cure …
As the children who were slow to start were often the last to finish, we made sure that all pupils began at the same time and if necessary, gave slow starters individual help.
Result: Disparity in finishing times was reduced significantly, although we still had some fast finishers to deal with!
Setting time limits
Although we felt it was important for the teacher’s timing to be realistic and for the teacher to tell their pupils exactly how long they had left at regular intervals, by setting clear time limits, our aim was to motivate our pupils’ output and concentration.
Result: Pupils did work faster and kept more firmly ‘on task’. A successful, low-preparation strategy.
Giving open-ended tasks
Rather than telling children to write six sentences, for example, we instructed them to write as many as they could in three minutes.
Result: A successful strategy as all the pupils could work at their own pace and level, a weaker pupil would produce two sentences and a stronger one, eight.
As we all know, different proficiency pupils should ideally do different tasks. If all children get the same worksheet, we can include vocabulary, for example, the names of insects at the bottom of the worksheet to help the weaker pupils, while stronger pupils can be challenged by folding the paper back to hide the words and try to do the exercise from memory.
Result: Each pupil had a level of challenge more appropriate to his/her proficiency and everyone was able to do the task in more or less the same time. However, we did feel that weaker pupils could start to become demotivated if they were always given easier tasks, although we did agree that weaker performers would be even more demotivated by always finishing last and getting things wrong!
By using different correction techniques, we found we were able manage more efficiently the time it takes pupils to finish their work. In the case of a weaker finisher, Pupil A, the teacher corrects the mistake fully. Pupil B is a mid-level pupil who is neither notably fast or slow to finish, so the teacher identifies the mistake, but the pupil has to correct it. Pupil C is a strong, fast finisher and is therefore expected to both identify and correct the mistake.
Result: Stronger pupils were encouraged to think more for themselves and the extra time they spent correcting their own errors was time well spent. We were all very positive about this idea, but felt that these techniques were most appropriate to use with older Primary pupils.
But sometimes, we all need a little extra help …
We found that this was often the most appropriate and relevant idea to keep fast finishers usefully occupied. Here are five favourite extension activities that we identified in our research:
- Extend the exercise: ie Now write two more sentences using the model.
- Illustrate the exercise: Pupils drew pictures next to the sentences to show their meaning.
- Memorise the exercise: Pupils memorised the sentences and then tested each other (this worked especially well with question and answer tasks).
- Translate the exercise: Pupils wrote L1 translations next to the sentences or words.
- Dictate sentences: Pupils dictated sentences (or spelt words) to each other.
Result: Manageable, low-preparation activities that were not timeconsuming and did keep fast finishers usefully occupied!
Create a puzzle box
We also asked fast finishers to create self-access materials that could be used by themselves and/or the rest of the class at a later date. We found that it was a good idea to have some examples already made up for our pupils to follow if we wanted our pupils to work efficiently and independently of the teacher!
Anagram cards: Pupils wrote an anagram on a piece of card, with the correct version of word on the back of the card.
Pelmanism cards: On one set of cards, pupils drew items of vocabulary and on another, they wrote a set of corresponding word cards. These cards were then used for a variety of matching and memory games.
Odd-one-out cards: On one side of a card, pupils wrote a series of words and on the other side, they explained the exception.
Spelling cards: On one side of a card, pupils drew a picture of a word and a series of blanks to indicate the number of missing letters corresponding to that word. They then wrote the correct answer on the reverse side of the card (to help weaker or younger pupils we also asked pupils to write in the first letter as a clue).
Here fast finishers worked with display projects that they could put together over several classes and work independently to produce.
Word wall: We cleared a large wall space and asked fast finishers to write the lexis they had been studying onto pieces of card and draw pictures of these words onto other cards. As the term progressed, they gradually built up a word wall of all the vocabulary sets they had studied. Cards were blu-tacked up and the wall was used for games.
Topic poster: Here the pupils made a topic collage by drawing pictures, cutting out photos from magazines and labelling them.
A-Z poster: Having prepared A4-sized coloured cards for each letter of the alphabet, pupils pinned them up on the wall. Fast finishers wrote new words (or drew pictures) on smaller cards and blu-tacked them onto the correct A4 letter card.
Colouring poster: The teacher drew a big picture and the fast finishers coloured it in little by little. For example, if we were studying food, we drew a giant fruit bowl, full of different types of fruit. We then wrote some colouring instructions on the board and the fast finishers had to read the instructions and colour the items. This proved particularly popular with teachers of younger children.
Result: Our pupils absolutely LOVED the Puzzle box as it is so much fun to make! We teachers also liked it, because the children did some of our preparation for us. In our opinion, children creating self-access materials meets all eight criteria for a successful fast finisher activity (useful, relevant, appropriate, simple, easy-to-end, discreet, flexible and fun). We cannot recommend it highly enough.
Using Ongoing projects was also equally as successful. Our pupils particularly liked these ideas and the revision activities in our classes were again very easy to prepare. It also allowed our fast finishers to learn new words and ideas as well as usefully recycling ones that they had already studied in class.
As we said at the start of our article, we began our fast finishers action research project because it was an area that many teachers found problematic. We are very happy with the result of our research and feel that it was well worth the time and effort we put into it. Although some of the strategies took time to prepare and set up, they saved us time in the long run. It also became very clear to us that finding useful things for fast finishers to do was of invaluable benefit to all of our pupils.
Abi Watson, Alistair Jones, Angela McClenaghan, Claire Davis, Danielle Peckett, Karen Pomerleau, Kelly Sohnlien, Luisa Muñoz, Simon Gillow. Cambridge School, Granollers (firstname.lastname@example.org)