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Don’t Let “Free Time” Stress You Out

by Professor Joe Martin

It’s been said that an “idle mind” is the devil’s playground. Well, if that’s true, and you’re a teacher, then that means most of us have “Devil Disney Land” in our classrooms.

All jokes aside, if you’re a new teacher (even a veteran) there’s nothing funny about students who finish their work early, having too much free time on their hands while you’re still trying to teach a lesson. This “idle time” can lead to excessive talking, disruptive behavior, as well as disruption of learning (for other students) if not planned for and addressed adequately.

So allow me to offer you some teaching suggestions to help you reduce some of the stress in your life. These are six activities you can use to keep your students busy without just assigning busy work:




1. Allow your students to read something they're interested in or passionate about (ask them for a list of their favorite topics, and start collecting articles and keeping them in their personal folders). Maybe ask them to write a summary about the article as well if they finish too soon.

2. Bring in games that will test and challenge them to think (i.e., Soduku - my 10 year old loves it, puzzles, chess, etc.). Make it a competition and award first, second, and third place prizes for those with the fewest errors or those who finish first).

3. Have them write short stories (or start a journal) about interesting topics (i.e., what they did last week, their high or low this week, their BIG dream, if they were Principal for a day, their favorite teacher and why, etc.).

4. Allow those who are very creative to draw a picture of you (brace yourself) while teaching, or something that they're really interested in.

5. For the more creative types, have your students write a poem or a rap about different topics (i.e., their family, their friends, the class, the school, etc.) and share it later with the class.

6. For younger students, you can never go wrong with coloring books.

Pick your favorite and feel free to modify any of these suggestions. The key here is to have a plan. Successful classroom management is more about preparation than perfection.

As a teacher, if you use your own “idle time” to prepare for theirs, you’ll never have to worry about your Disney Land becoming the devil’s playground. As always, teach with passion!


Joe Martin is an award-winning national speaker, author, professor, and educational consultant. His mission is to help students, teachers, and administrators learn, lead, and live with purpose and passion. To find out more visit his web site at


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