Educators talk about them all the time and fret about them nearly as often: what to do with those students who finish their work early.
The TeachThought team came up with 27 ideas and I thought I'd amplify that a bit, but first a bit of time travel to the past.
Donald H. Parker began the work that became the SRA Reading Laboratory. I'm old enough to remember that self-paced reading program and I remember racing through the readings and the tests that accompanied each reading to get to the next level faster than anyone else.
When I saw the Level-Up suggestion from the TeachThought team, I immediately thought of SRA and that meant I had to do some research. McGraw-Hill is no longer updating SRA, but with a bit more diligence I found a history of the reading laboratory.
The first several pages are fascinating reading but then you must get to the page that Audrey Watters quotes in her 2015 blog post about SRA cards:
He further notes that they spent a week learning the system they devised because he gave credit to the thirty-two students who helped him figure it out.
So when you think about planning level-up activities, think first about implementing some sort of a learning portfolio system so students can track their learning and then give them the opportunity to design their own level-up activities.
Some of the TeachThought suggestions are fairly rudimentary and, depending on your students, might work really well. Number 18 is "Beads: Allow students to bead something." I confess that I was dismissive when I first read that, but, as so often the case, I saw it a bit differently when I came back to it to try to figure out why it was included. And then I thought about creating patterns and inviting students to bead those patterns. Or having students create patterns and beading those. Or developing some sort of a class programming language and having students use beads to "write" simple programs. Or. . . the ideas kept flowing and they will for you as well. Just keep it simple or you'll make yourself crazy trying to gather all of the materials students might need.
Oh, by the way, the class programming language? Personally I think that's pretty genius and in my next blog I'll have some more specific ideas about that. This blog post already has enough rabbit trails.
The TeachThought team had some other ideas related to chatting, texting, reading jokes, journaling, or troubleshooting. The chatting corner leads to too much noise simply because kids are kids. Texting could be a problem because of school or district policy. Reading jokes could lead to noise as could designing a game. Journaling is a good idea but kids will want ideas for a journaling topic. Troubleshooting and planning for a new level could also be good ideas though kids will need and want more direction. So let's say the noise issue isn't an issue; there are ways to manage that anyway.
Maybe you have an erasable board on which students are able to keep a list of topics in which they're interested. Maybe it's something they pull from newsela (Gr 2-12), Student News Daily, PBS Newshour Extra (Gr 7-12), CNN Student News (Gr 6-12), and others.
The students can use that board as idea starters for writing jokes, writing stories, designing games, etc. Or, if they want to chat but you're worried about noise, have them table top text. This is a strategy I learned through Discovery Education. One student writes on one side of the paper and the other student writes on the other. They can use different colors of ink. They can pose and answer questions. And, hmmm, it's possible that their table top texting could become the basis of an interview for a PSA or the PSA itself, or a script for a readers theater, or. . . .
Letting early finishers try something in which they're interested and covertly using strategies that might help them learn something they don't realize they're learning can most definitely lead to something powerful, profound, and positive.
By the way, though the SRA Reading Laboratory became something that educators seem no longer interested in buying, you have to admit that there is something to the basic premise. And maybe, just maybe, your students can use the basic idea to create something for themselves, their classmates, or maybe their younger siblings. You just never know what might happen when you let them pose and try to answer, "What if. . . ?".