Search form

Don't Waste a Minute!


What do you do with those awkward moments that arise in every teachers day, those times between classes or before specials, when theres no time for a new lesson but plenty of time for kids to act up? Try some mini lessons, quick activities that fill time without wasting it! Included: Dozens of mini lessons to keep kids busy -- and learning -- every minute of the day!

Find a few dozen more activities in our 5-Minute Fillers archive. Use these fun quick-tivities whenever you have 5 or 10 minutes to spare!

We've all experienced it -- that dreaded gap between classes, lessons, or activities that can quickly lead to chaos. What's a teacher to do?

Education World decided to go to the best source and ask some innovative teachers what they do.

"My favorite fill-in activity is called Who Has It? Who Doesn't?" said Cathy Jimenez, a bilingual teacher in the Escondido (California) Union School District. "This activity helps children develop observational skills and practice categorizing.

"I choose an observable object, such as hair ribbons, a watch, or a white shirt, and say, 'Juan has it. Belen doesn't. Homero has it. Andres doesn't.' When students think they know the answer, they raise their hands and ask, "Is it a watch?" (or a ribbon or whatever object you chose). The student who guesses first is the first to line up for recess, lunch, or wherever we're going," Jimenez told Education World.

"I've used this activity with students up to eighth grade and the kids seem to like it," Jimenez said. "When I do it with lower grades, I have the children who 'have it' line up along one wall and the children who 'don't have it' line up along another wall so they have a better view of one another."

"I like to play Don't Be Greedy! with my students," Rosalind Te Maari, a math teacher in Sydney, Australia, told Education World.

"Students stand beside their seats, and I roll a die," Te Maari explained. "Each time I roll the die, students add the number to the previous total, keeping a running score. Students can sit down at any time during the game, accepting the total at that point as their final score. For example, if a student sits down after three rolls of the die showing 4, 6, and 1, he or she has a score of 11. The game continues until someone rolls a 2. The students still standing lose ALL their points -- because they've been greedy! The seated student(s) with the highest score wins."

Beverly J. Sandness, an elementary school principal in Minot, North Dakota, told Education World about some of the fill-ins she used while teaching second grade at Northridge Elementary School in Bismarck, North Dakota.

"I used to teach poetry while my students waited in line to enter the gym or music room or to be dismissed," Sandness said. "We also learned lyrics to old songs. By the end of the year, the children knew the songs and poems so well, I could just call out a title and they would respond."

Sandness also suggested these fill-ins:

  • Brainstorm ideas for class projects.
  • Share weekend or holiday plans.
  • Tell riddles or jokes.
  • Practice math facts or spelling words.
  • Match states with their capital cities.
Diane Samuels, who teaches emotionally disabled students at Northwest Elementary School in Huntington, Indiana, shared these favorite fill-ins with Education World:

  • Play What's in the Box? In this variation of 20 Questions, students ask questions requiring only yes or no answers and try to identify an object hidden in a box.
  • Ask each student to name three things he or she learned that day.
  • Read a poem and have students supply the last word of each line or stanza.
  • Play Follow the Leader. Each time the leader stops, students must turn around and pay a compliment to the next person in line.
  • Challenge students to find three things in the room they can straighten or clean in one minute -- and do it.
  • Invite students to share a riddle or joke.
  • Play The Change in My Pocket, another variation on 20 Questions. Students try to guess the number and kinds of coins in someone's pocket.
  • Ask a student to name a noun that begins with A. Have the next student name a noun beginning with B, and so on.
  • Ask students to name all the "green" words they can think of.
  • Play Simon Says.
  • Have students arrange themselves in groups based on the kind of pet they own or would like to own -- without using words.


  • Storytelling. Tell the first two or three sentences of a story, and then ask each student to add a sentence. The last student should complete the story.
  • Problem Solving. Display a number of items, such as a rope, an over-sized pencil, an eyelash curler, a CD, a newspaper advertisement, a straw, and so on. Explain to students that they are archaeologists investigating a lost city. Ask them to describe the lives of the people who might have used the items. Encourage them to consider unusual uses for the common items.
  • Art. Provide students with blank 5-inch by 7-inch index cards. Ask them to draw pictures of their favorite places or activities at school and write captions or brief messages under the picture. Have them turn the pictures into postcards by writing their home addresses on the backs of the cards.
  • Language Arts. Ask each student to write a definition of friend on a strip of paper. Glue the papers together to form a friendship chain.
  • Math. Provide students with colored construction paper. Ask each to draw a circle, square, triangle, or rectangle on the paper with a black marker. (You can cut out colored shapes ahead of time, if you prefer.) Have students line up, creating a pattern with the colored shapes. "Read" the pattern aloud, and then clap your hands to have students form a new pattern.
  • Decision Making. Ask each student to give one good reason to. (Or one good reason not to!)
  • History. Assign each student an important event in history and ask students to form a human timeline.
  • Language Arts. Provide students with the first part of a well-known maxim, such as "An apple a day" or "The early bird" and have them take turns providing new endings.
  • Geography. Write a list of scrambled country names on the chalkboard. Have students take turns unscrambling the words and locating the countries on a map.
  • Language Arts. Have one student call out a noun, a second student call out an adjective, and a third student call out a verb. Ask a volunteer to use all three words in a sentence.

The following four activities require some advance preparation, but once the materials are created, they can be used over and over again.

  • Language Arts. Create a set of word cards by writing a noun, verb, adjective, adverb, article, or pronoun in large letters on each card. Arrange students into groups, give each student a card, and have the students in each group arrange their cards in alphabetical order, into sentences, into lines of free verse, or into parts of speech.
  • Problem Solving. Print copies of online puzzles, such as Brain Binders and distribute them for students to solve.
  • Geography. Create a set of bingo cards with the name of a state or country in each square. Keep the cards handy and use them to play 'Capital Cities Bingo.' You call out the names of capital cities and students mark the corresponding countries or states. (Be sure to check the winner's card!)
  • Math. Provide each student with a sealed see-through bag containing an assortment of "coins." The amount of money in each bag should match the amount in exactly one other bag -- although the denomination of the coins should differ. Have each student find the student whose total matches his or her own.


Article by Linda Starr
Education World®
Copyright © 2008 Education World

Originally published 09/07/2001
Last updated 11/25/2008