Classroom Management

“I’m Done”: Meaningful Work for Classroom Downtime

August 20, 2014

Want to get those pesky little quick finishers off your tail? You veteran teachers know what I’m talking about. The kids who finish first and need to tell you they’re finished.

“I’m done.”

Those two words bring chills to my spine every time I hear them. Sometimes I just want to say….

“Do you want me to stick a fork in you?” Or “Give it up, high-five!” Maybe even…  “Did you flush?” Things I would love to say, but would probably get me in trouble. So, I’ve devised a plan to never hear those words again and to never be tempted to respond in such an honest, but unprofessional manner.

“I’m done.”

In the 1984 blockbuster, The Karate Kid, Daniel’s first encounter with Mr. Miyagi was quite amusing. Daniel finds Mr. M (The handyman) trying to catch a fly with chopsticks. He asks him to fix the faucet. Mr. M. responds, “Aye.”  Then Daniel asks, “When?”  “Afta’,” Mr. M. responds. “After what?” Daniels continues his pestering questions. And to his shock, Mr. Miyagi shoots out, “Afta’ Afta’!” Yes, the name of this idea spawns from The Karate Kid. Sue me. Here’s the clip if you want to see it.

This is not brain surgery and I’m pretty sure most of you already have a really cool system in place for kids that finish work early. Please share in the comment section. I guess what I wanted to accomplish with The Afta’ Afta’ was an easy system that required little/no paperwork (Friends Don’t Let Friends Make Worksheets) and gave students a choice.

The Afta’ Afta’

Done? Do this.

Check unfinished folder/projects for unfinished work

All work finished? Cool, now you can…

Write More

(Students can continue with works in progress)


Read More

(Continue books in progress- independent reading/reading workshop)


Sketch (All of my kids get a sketch book)

When I was in elementary school, drawing was for indoor recess or after school.  It seemed like we had to engage in the serious stuff of school (reading, writing, math) before we could draw. Of course that is just silly because imaging is a huge part of comprehension and learning. I value drawing  in my classroom by not only allowing my students to sketch during school hours, but also using the sketchbook for many lessons throughout the year.


Depending on my class, I might make an Afta’ Afta’ schedule.  I started a schedule a couple years ago because I wanted some variety. I didn’t want the kids to always gravitate towards one area during the Afta’ Afta’.

Monday: Writing/Reading

Tuesday: Reading/Writing

Wednesday: Sketching/Reading/Writing

Thursday: Reading/Writing

Friday: Sketching/Reading/Writing

The Afta’ Afta’ is also a very good meaningful go-to for unexpected/expected wait times.  I often use The Afta’ Afta’ when the class is using the bathroom after lunch.  As soon as my students return from lunch, they immediately transition into The Afta’ Afta’. They know once the sound settles; I will begin to call tables for the bathroom.

You can also use it when you’re waiting for….

  • Assembly
  • Visitor
  • Party
  • Bus

This time is also a good time to meet with kids individually to make up a test, extra help, or maybe discuss a behavior issue.

Do you have a worksheet-less system for Math? Any quiet single player games?

Please share.

"I'm done."

This piece was originally submitted to our community forums by a reader. Due to audience interest, we’ve preserved it. The opinions expressed here are the writer’s own.

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Filed Under

  • Classroom Management
  • K-2 Primary
  • 3-5 Upper Elementary

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