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Gail S Hennessey's picture
Gail Skroback Hennessey taught for over 33 years, teaching sixth grade in all but two years. She earned a BA in early secondary education with a concentration in social studies and an MST in social...
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Got A Minute, Two or Five? Ideas for When you Need a Quick Activity!

I am a strong believer in having kids on task throughout the class session. Lessons rarely finished “early” and if they did, I always had something for the kids to do until the class ended. I usually didn’t give students “free time” to start homework or to read a book or magazine. That’s because that seemed to be a signal to have a chat fest. If I started the class by quickly checking homework or doing some clerical things, I had a bell ringer (is this term still used?) or activity for the students to do.  During testing days, some of these ideas for “Got A Minute, Two or Five” might be useful, too! My belief is that it's very important to keep kids on task. Learning should be a continuous process. Here are some suggestions for a “Got a Minute” folder that can be fun and, keep the learning going!

  1. Bell Ringers
    Using the News as Bell Ringers: There is always something in the news which could be used as a quick read/opinion exercise. Here are two examples of recent news stories for which a Got a Minute, two or three could be used.
    1. Man Helps Bear Cub and May be Charged! While hiking in Oregon, a man came upon a baby black bear cub. Thinking the young cub wasn’t breathing, he decided to look to see if its mother was in the area. After determining the cub was alone, the man wrapped up the malnourished bear cub and took it to a nearby wildlife center, where it received care. The man faced possible charges as it is illegal to capture wildlife in the state of Oregon. People are warned to let wildlife be. In this case, authorities say the hiker should have just notified wildlife them so they could have dealt with the bear cub. What would you do?
    • What do you think about this news story?
    • Should this hiker be fined for what he did? Why or why not?
    • What would you have done if you were in this situation?
    1. Bill for not attending a Birthday Party! You're invited to a birthday party and accept the invitation to attend. Sounds like a fun day of going to a ski area and doing lots and lots of tubing and having something to eat. When the day of the party arrives, your parents decided you won't be attending as they have other plans for the day. A few days later, you have a note to bring home from school from the host of the party. Inside, is a bill for about $25, the cost of the ski party. The parents of the birthday child say that all guests were told if they accepted and didn't show up, the fee would still need to be paid, so the parents felt that "no-shows" should have to pay the expense. The five-year-old boy's parents were very upset about receiving the bill in such a way and said they didn't plan to pay it. What would you do?
    • Should the parents of the boy who didn't show up, have to pay the bill?
    • Should the parents have called the boy's parents and not send a note home in the boy's backpack?
    • How would you settle this dispute?

I regularly update a Bell Ringer activity using topics in the News at my website for teachers

  1. Picture This
    Another activity if you have a few minutes is to show a photograph and have students respond to it. Here are a couple of examples:
    1. Writing Prompt: Pretend you are this statue of fairy tale writer, Hans Christian Andersen, found in Copenhagen, Denmark. What do you see as you sit there? What are you thinking about? Write in complete sentence form. 
    2. Writing Prompt: Pretend you are throwing a penny into the Grand Canyon for good luck. What would you wish to have? Why? Write in complete sentence form. 
  2. Geography Activities
    1. Geography Safaris: Have atlases or a world map and have kids go on Geography Safaris. I have these posted on my website or you can go to for printable versions. Each of the short safaris have the answers all start with a particular letter. Pair up students and have them get used to looking at maps to find the answers! 
  3. Write A-Z  
    I actually made this activity into a contest for extra credit. It was quite popular especially as a review before a test on all important terms covered. How I did this was, students listed the letters of the alphabet on a piece of paper (vertically). For example, Egyptians:

    A. afterlife, Africa


    C. canopic jar

    You could write multiple terms. When you regroup, you review the words. If another group has the word, so NILE RIVER, it has to be crossed out. If you have a different word, you each get 2 points. If you have a term for a letter which no one else has, you get 5 points. Oh, and the words must be something mentioned in the unit of study!

  4. Grid Activity
    Have pairs of students try and find a response for each of the letters. (You don’t have to go alphabetically.) This is a great activity that utilizes reference materials.



Famous Scientist

World Capital


Body of Water















Madame Curie



Caspian Sea
























Gulf of Mexico


  1. Three Things I Learned Today
    If you ever watch Morning Joe on MSNBC, I like how at the end of the show, each of the people state something they learned that day. Write a note and specifically write in complete sentence form, three things you learned from the lesson today. Encourage the students to share with their parents, grandparents, whomever. Maybe, offer extra credit if an adult signs that the information was shared!
  2. Color Games: (Promotion) 
    Have a few minutes, have students work on my color games to test knowledge about things that are a certain color or have the color in the world.  Great for a small group activity. I have a Purple Game, Red, Green, Blue, Yellow, and Orange Game. Check out one of these color games to see the activity.
  3. Write a paragraph and have students proofread to correct the statement. I like to use news stories.  

Here is an example: A Zookeeper at the London Zoo has stepped in to help a bady sloth. The baby sloths mom were unable to car for its so the zookeeper came to it’s rescue. Named Edward Scissorhands, because it will grew up to four inches claws. The zookeeper got a teddy bare from the gift shop to help the tiny tot develops its climbed muscles. Rope climbing couplings, called carabiners, was attached to the teddy bare and it was hung from a tree branch about six inches of the ground. That’s so if Edward felled, he won’t get hurt. The sloth is a very slow moveing animal, native to the forests of south America. They move so slowly, that moss can actually grew on them.

Revised version: A Zookeeper at the London Zoo has stepped in to help a BABY sloth. The baby sloth’s mom WAS unable to CARE for IT so the zookeeper came to ITS rescue. IT WAS named Edward Scissorhands, because it will GROW up to four inch claws. The zookeeper got a teddy BEAR from the gift shop to help the tiny tot DEVELOP its CLIMBING muscles. Rope climbing couplings, called carabiners, WERE attached to the teddy BEAR and it was hung from a tree branch about six inches OFF the ground. That’s so if Edward fell, he WOULDN’T get hurt. The sloth is a very slow MOVING animal, native to the forests of SOUTH America. They move so slowly, that moss can actually GROW on them! 

You may wish to have something that pertains to the subject you are teaching.

  1. Another activity to have in your “Got A Minute, Two or Three” folder, could be a Vocabulary Word of the Day or a Quote of the Day. Have students place the vocabulary word in a sentence or write a sentence explaining what they think the quote means.
  • Here are several of my favorite quotes: “Life is NOT a spectator sport!” - Dick’s Sporting Goods
  • “Remember, no one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” - Eleanor Roosevelt
  • “The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men (and women…) to do nothing.” - Edmund Burke

Note: Actually, all the “Got a Minute, Two or Three” suggestions I have listed, could also be used for a substitute folder as well.