5 Early Finisher Ideas for ELA


Picture this scenario. You’ve planned out the perfect lesson, and it’s amazing! You assign it to your students, and they’re engaged, and you feel like you thought of everything. Then, you are surprised when 6 or 7 students finish it earlier than expected. What do you do then? You need to keep these students busy so that they don’t waste time or distract others. 


These are where early finisher activities (or just “early finishers”) come in handy. Early finishers are activities that students can do if they finish their assigned coursework early. It’s a good idea to have high-interest and content-driven early finishers on hand for whenever you need to engage students who complete their work before the rest of the class does. 


Here are 5 effective early finishers that you can bring to your own ELA classroom. 

1. Independent Reading 

Early finishers can be as simple as independent reading. When students finish early, they can visit your classroom library to find something to read while the others finish their work. Having a selection of extremely high-interest short-form reading material works especially well for this. Have a selection of texts that students can easily dive into and work their reading muscles, even if only for a short period of time (i.e., magazines, comic books, Ripley’s Believe It or Not!). 


If your students are reading novels for your class, they can also read those when they finish early. Establish this as a procedure in your classroom by telling students that, in the cases where they might finish early, they should always pull out their novels. To make this more engaging for students, you might consider allowing a flexible seating option during this time. Maybe students who finish early can read out in the hall or somewhere more comfortable. 

2. Word Puzzles, Brainteasers, and Games 

Another option is to use ELA-based brainteasers and games as early finishers. For example, I like to use Word Puzzles where students have to guess phrases based on riddle-like representations of them. For example, you might have the word “Right” with the letter “I” on both sides, and students need to use their problem-solving skills to determine that the phrase is “right between the eyes.” Brainteasers like these are great to help students develop their creative and lateral thinking. 


There are plenty of other early finisher games that can keep your students focused and on-task. For example, you could have them do simple crossword or word search puzzles when they finish early. You can even use language-based board games like Scrabble, Scattergories, and Boggle. 

There are also online games like Quizlet and Flocabulary that are educational and can be adapted specifically for ELA. The point here is to keep students engaged and develop their language skills in a fun and engaging way! 

3. Reading Mystery 

Reading Mysteries can also work well as early finishers in ELA. Although they are typically done as a whole-class activity, you can challenge students who finish early to try and figure one out on their own. You can grab the Mystery of the Missing Garden Gnome reading mystery for free by clicking here. 

The premise is that after returning home one night, Mrs. Henry notices that her beloved garden gnome is missing from her yard, and students need to figure out who did it. As students work to solve the mystery, they will be developing their reading comprehension, close reading, and inference skills at the same time.


4. Watch a TED Talk 

You might also consider having TED Talks videos available to early finishers. You could do this by having a computer with headphones set up in your classroom. Just create a document on the computer called “TED Talks” with links to a selection of videos that students can choose from when they finish their work early. Here are some options that you can keep in your file:

  • The Power of Introverts: Susan Cain (author of the massively successful book Quiet), gives a talk about the extraordinary contributions that introverts bring to the world, which often seems to value being social and outgoing over everything else.
  • Grit - The Power of Passion and Perseverance: The speaker in this video, Angela Duckworth, is informed by her experiences as a seventh-grade teacher. She supports a growth mindset in her claims that grit (over things like IQ and talent) is the leading determinant of success. 
  • The Danger of a Single Story: In this TED Talk, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie talks about the power of finding one’s authentic cultural voice and the importance of hearing more than the story of one person or country.
  • Everyday Leadership: In this funny talk, Drew Dudley discusses the value of everyday acts of kindness and how, though we might not realize it, we have all changed peoples’ lives. 
  • Millennials in the Workplace: In this video, Simon Sinek discusses what he believes are the four issues standing in the way of bringing millennials happiness and fulfillment in life and the workplace: parenting, technology, impatience, and environment. Although this one isn’t a TED Talk, it’s nonetheless an interesting and poignant reflection, and it can easily be turned into a more comprehensive activity.


These range in time between 6 and 20 minutes, so students can choose videos that suit the amount of time they have. You can find more ideas like these on TED Talk’s TED-Ed youth and education initiative, which is directed toward students. Their blog “9 TED Talks recommended by students for students” has great suggestions.

5. Write a Letter / Card 

Finally, you can get students who finish early to write a letter or card to someone with their extra time. Because who doesn’t love receiving one of these? You can encourage students to write a letter to say thank you to someone who recently did something for them or to someone who just makes them laugh! Or they might even write a card for an upcoming holiday. 

This is a good option because it gets students writing and also gives them something physical that they can take outside the classroom. Although this might seem like something that is more for younger students, it is also something that middle and high school students could enjoy as well. 


There you have it! If you are looking for more ideas for early finishers, check out the links below. 

Growing Bundle of Word Find Puzzles by Tracee Orman

Collaborative Trivia Bell-Ringers by Nouvelle ELA

Character Analysis Growth Mindset Activities by The Daring English Teacher

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