Classroom

45+ Productive Things for Teachers to Do During “Down Time”

I know, I know, there’s never down time when you’re a teacher! But hear me out, guys;  I’m posting this during the COVID-19 pandemic and my district has instructed us to not overwhelm kids with too much work. Not only does not everyone have access to technology, many students are already afraid and anxious, looking after younger siblings, or in unsafe environments. Right now, we are focusing on making sure our school community is doing well both physically and mentally. About 5 hours per week is what we’re to provide academically, which leaves me with a lot of extra time.

I thought it may be helpful for others to compile a list of things we as teachers may want to do to get a head-start on all the stuff that always come up at the beginning of the year, or day-to-day tasks, or things we never have the chance to get around to.

Here we go!

Clean up your computer files. Go through all your files both on your desktop and online and try to clean things up and organize them. If you’re anything like me, you have a bunch of files all over the place and in folders that once made sense but now don’t. Take this time to sort out a system that works for you and you’ll save a ton of time in the future trying to find things.

Print things off ahead of time. If you know you have some upcoming work, tests, etc., print them now. I always print off my beginning of the year assessments in June so they’re ready to go at the start of the school year. It saves me valuable time I could be using to set up my classroom, getting in touch with parents, and so on.

Make checklists. Make checklists for things you do everyday, this will make it easier for you to remember the things you need to do at the end of the day (making your mornings much easier), at the end of the week (making Mondays much easier), and so on!

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Learn a new tool. Always wanted to learn a new tool that teachers have been raving about, but never actually have the time? Try out EdPuzzle, FlipGrid, Canva, etc. and try to think of how you could use them in your classroom!

Write your report card comments. I follow a schedule in which I know roughly what I’ll be teaching when (though you never know what’s going to come up during the year), so I know what the stem of my report card comments will be. Write yours out early and when it comes time to write reports, you’ll just need to stick in the stem and then personalize for each student.

Make a list of common accommodations. If you have a running list of accommodations, learning strategies, tools, and resources that you use for your diverse learners, you’ll just need to draw from this list when writing out goals for kids or thinking of ways in which you can help your kiddos find success.

Make exemplars. I know I always find myself frantically trying to create art exemplars during lunch hour right before my art activity is planned. Make some exemplars for projects or assignments you’d like to do with your students and you’ll save yourself some stressful rushing at the last minute.

Write notes to parents. Keep in touch with parents. Use this time to write a kind note or email about what their child is doing well at school. It’s always nice for parents to hear about the good things their child is doing.

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Work on bulletin boards. I could spend hours on Pinterest or just Google image-searching looking up bulletin board ideas for my classroom. When I see one I love, I start making the letters and any other images I need. Then they’re on hand for when I want to switch up my board. I also laminate all my letters so I can use them in future years.

Scan your paper resources. A few years ago I got sick of hauling all my binders full of resources with me every time I moved classes or schools. So, I scanned everything and saved it digitally. It is SO. MUCH. BETTER. Not only do I have much more space in my room to actually do work and let kids sprawl, I now have access to all my files from anywhere I have access to a computer.

Make a substitute binder. You likely already have emergency sub plans, but a substitute binder also is an amazing lifesaver for teachers. It takes a significant amount of up-front time, but having routines, schedules, phone numbers, etc. on hand makes it so much easier to write sub plans during the year (and takes some stress off when you aren’t able to make it in). Also, you can use the majority of the binder form year to year and just change out some pages (like your class list and passwords).

Label your things. Hole punches, pens, rulers, etc. Other teachers and students will realize when they’ve accidentally taken something of yours if it has a big, fat label stuck on it.

Find activities for games or centers. Even if you’re not an elementary teacher, you can always find a use for various games in your classes. On Friday afternoons, after tests, or during “down times” it’s always nice to have educational games on hand for kids to have fun while still learning! I love exploring Pinterest for various ideas.

Create work/tasks for early finishers. I like to use an “All Done Garden” with younger kiddos, which allows them to pick an activity to do that I have ensured is productive and quiet. For older students, providing a list with choices and a hanging folder with any supplies/worksheets they may need is an excellent way to utilize student choice and provide students with meaningful work.

Organize your classroom library. Now is a great time to organize books according to genre, author, etc. You can also check out apps like BookSource or BookBuddy which let kids “checkout” books. Just please don’t organize according to reading level, kids know what they can and can’t read, and they don’t need all their peers to know, too!

Create “while you were away” folders. Use a hanging folder to hold any worksheets, notes, etc. that students may miss if they’re away. Also include a cover sheet (like this one, which isn’t mine but is really cute) for students running through all the assignments they may have missed.

Post pictures of how shelves should look. Take pictures of how you want all the shelves in your class to look. Stick them to the shelves so that kids know when they’re putting things away where everything needs to go.

Write “term at a glance sheets” for P/T Interviews. Have a sheet like this one ready to go for your conferences. You can also use this time to make your own fillable sheet that works for your specific needs and concerns.

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Make holiday cards for students. Different holidays come up throughout the year that I like to make little cards with treats for my students. Get ahead and pre-make these for the future. I like to use silly puns and like “Have a Hoppy Easter”.

Differentiate assignments that didn’t work. Now’s your chance to think back to lessons that didn’t work for all your students and tweak them for future use. You’ll definitely have another student who’s an English Language Learner, has a visual impairment, etc. so make sure your go-to lessons will work for them.

Write end or start of year letters to your students. I like to start the year with a letter to my students telling them how excited I am to teach them, and then end the year with another letter all about how fantastic they did and how great they’ll do in the future. Depending what time of year you’re reading this, try writing letters to your students.

Take some free online PD. There is a ton of free professional development available to teachers online. Whether it’s archived from live sessions or webinars teaching you how to use specific teaching products, you’ll be able to find something that will inspire you and teach you something new!

Create indoor recess fun folders. Maybe you’re lucky enough to live somewhere where it’s beautiful and perfect year-round and you never have to have indoor recesses. For the rest of us suckers, it’s nice to have activities on hand to keep students busy. I’d much prefer students to be playing board games, colouring, or completing word searches to playing on their phones.

Write a list of what you’ll need for next year. I like to keep a running list of things I’ll need to buy or make for the following year (or fun ideas I want to try). This is especially important if you can add some of these things to students’ school supply lists. There’s nothing worse than getting your first runny nose of the school year and realizing you forgot to add tissues to the students’ supply lists.

Think of next year’s field trips. Start to think about these early and write a to-do note for yourself for the very first week of school. These always fill up fast so you want to be on the ball and make sure you can get a spot and have all your paperwork filled out.

Think of next year’s guest speakers. Same deal as above.

Think of next year’s loans. This one is very similar to the last two. My district has an inter-district loan pool where we can take out things like science experiments, gym equipment, books, etc. Since so many teachers teach the same units at the same time, these are often unavailable when I want them. So, I go online at the very start of the year when it opens and book all the resources I want to use for when I think I’ll be teaching those units.

Make cute hall passes. Hall passes are one of those things I never think about until I see a teacher with a really cool or cute concept. Why not be that teacher with the awesome hall passes?

Make login cards. If you haven’t already made login cards (like these ones) for your kiddos, make some! Be smart about it and make an editable template that you can use for upcoming years as well.

Prep meals and snacks. Now’s your chance to make some healthy meals you can freeze for when things at work inevitably get crazy busy again. I like to make veggie-loaded soups and healthy smoothies because they allow me to get a ton of nutrients and they’re easy to freeze in mason jars.

Decorate your desk. Have an ugly desk you hate looking at? Why not fancy it up with some contact paper and washi tape? I did this to my desk this year and now it makes me so happy to see it when I come in in the mornings.

Decorate your door. Same as above!

Write a summary of each of your kids for next years’ teacher. Write out a quick summary of each of your kiddos that you can give to their future teacher. Include things like their reading level, math level, tools and resources that help them, some of their favourite things/things that motivate them, and best ways to communicate with their families. We often only do this for our “difficult” kids, but it’s super helpful for teachers to have a concise summary of everyone they’ll be getting. If they don’t have time to look through student files before classes start, this will be a lifesaver and you’ll be a hero!

Create homework folders. Make heavy duty folders or bags for kids to take to and from school when they have homework. It’s also super helpful to include things like glue, pencil crayons, scissors, and whatever else they may need for homework in case some kids don’t have these available at home.

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Make start of the year folders for each student. At the beginning of each year I send student home with a manila file full of all the forms they have to fill out, an “about the teacher” sheet, a list of rules and expectations for the classroom, and a welcome to our class little note and treat. Parents always appreciate having everything in one place.

Write form checklists for next year. Make a template that includes all of the things kids have to bring back to school, like forms, report card envelopes, and so on. If it’s ready to go, you just need to add in kids names and you can use the checklist throughout the year.

Create organized binders for guided reading and guided math. Having everything you need for your guided centres in one place makes the day-to-day run so much smoother. Include things like reading levels, notes on what each student is doing well on and still struggling with, strategies and prompts for during lessons, etc.

Top your whiteboard markers with erasers. If you haven’t already bought dry erase markers with erasers on the ends (like these, or these, or these), you can simply make your own by gluing pompoms or felt onto the ends of the lids. This makes it much easier for kids using personal whiteboards and (sometimes) stops them from using their hands to erase.

Stock up on any resources you’re running low on. Take a look around your classroom, write a list of what you’re running low on, and do a big haul to ensure you don’t run out of something just when you need it. Here are some of my personal favourites/things I seem to need every single year.

Rearrange your classroom. Why not move your furniture around to brighten up the room? I find that it can really add some energy back into your class if you’ve hit a lull. Section off different areas for different activities, like a reading corner, a focus zone, a calm down area, and so on.

Streamline all your classroom labels. If you have a bunch of different labels, go around your room and change them so everything matches. It’s surprising what a big difference small things like this can make for your happiness!

Create templates for things you send/use all the time. Write out things like form letters, notes for agendas, volunteer thank you notes, and so on. If you have these templates on hand, it will save you boat loads of time in the future.

Re-write or make new rubrics. If you’re feeling like some of your rubrics aren’t as strong as you’d like, go in and change them around. Or, try using a single-point rubric. These are my personal favourite as they allow for teacher professional judgement to be used more freely.

Make break cards. If you teach kids that get the wiggles and need a chance to move, break cards are a great option. I make every student two break cards. They can get up to two 3-minute breaks a day as needed. During that time they can take a timer and go get a drink, play with a fidget just outside the room, etc.

Create flexible seating. If you don’t have any flexible seating choices in your classroom, why not try it out. You don’t have to spend hundreds of dollars on hokki stools, you can provide cushions on the ground, beanbags, standing desks, exercise balls, milk crates, and so on. You might be very surprised by what kids are willing to sit on.

Re-vamp some of your go-to lessons. Like re-doing your rubrics and differentiating for diverse learners, think back to some of your lessons and think if there’s anything you’t like to change. So often we realize what goes wrong during a lesson, but then don’t have time to go right in and change it. Make notes about whether you should have pre-made groups, assigned students tasks, handed out supplies differently, and so on. That way,  if you do a similar lesson next year, you’ll remember exactly what could be done differently.

Think of some new writing prompts. It’s always fun to think of writing prompts that your students will love and that will allow them to be super creative! Spend some time to think of some good ones!

Have any other tips for teachers who have some time to get ahead of their day-to-day tasks? Let me know!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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