Home > Lesson Planning Channel > Archives > Interdisciplinary > Lesson Planning Article

L E S S O N   P L A N N I N G    A R T I C L E

Don't Waste a Minute!

What do you do with those awkward moments that arise in every teacher’s day, those times between classes or before specials, when there’s 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."

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.


  • Ask each student to name three things he or she learned that day.
  • 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.



  • 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.
  • 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.

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