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Home » Blog » Teacher Support » Routines & Procedures » Early Finisher Ideas

Early Finisher Ideas

Back to School, Routines & Procedures

Written by: Katie Palmer

A teacher has just finished teaching a well planned, engaging lesson. It’s time for students to work independently. She pulls out readers to work with a student one-on-one feeling pride at how well the lesson just went. When suddenly, across the room comes a happy voice, “Teacher, I’m done already! Now what should I do?” Her one-on-one lesson is immediately interrupted, learning time lost. Every teacher wants to avoid this scenario! Luckily there are MANY ways to create a routine for fast finishers that can be quickly implemented in the classroom! Read below for early finisher ideas to keep your speedy students happily busy (and doing meaningful work too)!

early finisher ideas list

1) Early Finisher Idea: Ketchup, Mustard & Pickles

No, we aren’t making a grocery list! Ketchup, Mustard & Pickles is a GENIUS procedure to avoid “I’m done!” being shouted across the classroom during work time. When taught and modeled consistently, this method will work every time! Let’s take a closer look at each section of the chart!

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  • Mustard: This is the work you have assigned for independent work time. It could be a center activity workbook page/worksheet, or whatever it is that pertains to your lesson/curriculum of the day. Students know this is what they do first. (It could even be copied onto yellow paper to show students this is their “mustard must do”.) After they finish their must do, they move on to either Ketchup or Pickles. 

  • Ketchup-This section is for the students who have work to”ketchup” (catch up) on from earlier in the day/week. Often a student who has missing work does not realize they have missing work! So, it is beneficial for students to have a “Ketchup” folder. This folder is for work the students miss while absent or just didn’t complete during earlier work time. In the classroom somewhere, have a “ketchup” basket. Students will know they need to look through the folders in the basket to check if theirs is empty before they can move on to mustard or pickles. 

  • Pickles: Now on to the BEST part! Students LOVE to pick what they get to do and that is what pickles is all about, you pick! This can be run in a couple of different ways. 

Variation: Teacher Loads Pickle Folders

For this method, teachers will have a pickles folder for each child. (Green if you wish!) Then they can pick and choose which activities can go into the folders. These should be engaging yet also meaningful. (NOT busywork!) If teachers want to take it a step further, they can differentiate these enrichment activities and choose things that will help/engage each individual student. (That’s the perk of having individual pickles folders!) Bonus tip: students will love when the activities are changed out and seasonal!

individual pickle folder for early finishers in elementary school

Variation: Students Pick From a List of Activities

This is a lower prep option for teachers. The activities can be ones students can do without needing an activity sheet or many materials: directed drawing, a prompted draw/write in their journal, etc OR teachers can have the activity sheets/centers materials available in a certain area in the classroom. Again, students love when the activities are changed out. (There will be exclamations of excitement and “Look at the new pickles stuff!” heard when the changes are discovered.)

Variation: Pickle Options Chart

A really easy way to display “you get to pick” activities.

pickle choices chart for early finishers

Love the ketchup, mustard and pickles idea? Check out this post: 2nd Grade Classroom Procedures for OODLES of ideas to make your classroom run smoothly and efficiently.

2) Early Finisher Idea: Use a Working Clock

Another idea to keep kids on task and not asking, “How much longer until _____?” (You fill in the blank with whatever question keeps popping up during independent work time!) is a Working Clock! This is an idea that is starting to be widely used in classrooms. It greatly helps students with executive functioning hurdles. Teachers can really dig deep into this concept and even attend amazing trainings, but for the purpose of this post, I will share with you an EASY way to implement this strategy into your classroom today!

(If you want to learn a bit more about executive functioning and strategies to implement to help students, Pathway 2 Success has a great post on it HERE.)

a classroom working clock displayed so students can see how much time to spend on different tasks

The idea behind this strategy is it gives a clear visual of how much time students have to complete certain tasks. They will no longer ask how much longer they have to work or until you will transition to the next activity. 

Some teachers purchase an analog clock with a wipe off surface and use dry erase markers to create their working clock. Others display an online clock and draw onto the projected image on their whiteboard or interactive board. HERE is a free online clock that can easily be displayed. (Just make sure to click “real time”.)

3) Early Finisher Idea: Make Packets

Okay, so now you have a couple ideas of how to manage/avoid fast finishing in the classroom, but just what should students be working on? Grab our print and go early finisher packets for easy skills practice for 1st and 2nd grade!

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toothy task kits

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toothy task kits

4) Early Finisher Idea: Toothy

Students LOVE Toothy! Toothy is great for a fast finishers activity because once students know how to play it, they can comfortably play any set! Best part=it is self correcting! Watch the videos below if you are new to Toothy. 

2 Ways to Get These Resources

Join All Access to download everything we've ever made.

toothy task kits

Or... Purchase a bundle in our shop.

toothy task kits

Have an amazing early finishers activity to share? Hop over to our Facebook Groups, the biggest PLC's on the planet! 

Lucky 2nd Grade Teachers

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Happy Teaching!

early finisher ideas


  1. Kelly

    I loved using your 2nd grade Early Finisher packet. I am moving to 1st grade, do you have one for 1st grade?

    • Jess Dalrymple

      Hello Kelly! Thanks for reaching out about this! You can grab the 1st grade early finisher packet right HERE. Enjoy your move to 1st grade!


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Hey there!  I’m Angie, owner of Lucky Little Learners. Our #1 goal is to support K-2 teachers.  We provide unlimited access to over 20,000 printables that are aligned to your standards.