Mini-Lessons to Upgrade Downtime

Using Instructional Time Wisely

Teenage students (14-16) at desk in classroom
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How many times have you finished a lesson, looked at the clock, and found you had about ten minutes left in the period--not have enough time to start a new activity, yet too much time to feel comfortable letting students sit and talk?

Your discomfort with this downtime is certainly justified, for if you teach a one-hour class that meets five days a week, ten minutes of downtime a day add up to six weeks of instructional time lost each year. If this seems hard to believe, check out the table located at the bottom of this page.

With so much instructional time at stake, it behooves us to plan carefully for possible downtime at the end the period. To make the job easier, I have gathered a variety of activities and related internet links.

Although the activities may be completed in 2 to 15 minutes, some may require instruction the first time they are used. However, once students can manage the activities independently, you will be free to confer with individual students making otherwise wasted time even more productive.

Time Lost to Downtime

10 min. x 5 days =50 minutes/week
50 min./week =7 1/2 hours/9 week qtr.
7 1/2 hours/9 week qtr. =30 - 1 hour classes/year
30-1 hour classes/year =6 weeks of classes/year!


Using the acronym SCAMPER you place an object in view and ask students improve something altering attributes using the following changes:

C ombine
A dapt
M inify or Magnify
P ut to other uses.
E liminate
R everse

Set a time limit, and have students share their new creation. Sharing helps rigid thinkers loosen up and provides reinforcement for creative thinkers.

2. List Making

Have students make lists like those in Edward de Bono's in his thinking skills materials.
If you are unfamiliar with de Bono's material, be sure to treat yourself to it, as it's effective and great fun.

3. Guessing

Mystery bag - Students ask yes or no questions to guess what's in a bag.

Fun with Numbers - Students must guess the questions to the answers you write on the board.

Brain Teasers - Some ideas for brain teasers and lateral thinking puzzles.

4. Creating Mnemonic Devices

Show students the top ten list of mnemonic devices and challenge them to create their own for your the day's lesson, or other important material in your course.

5. Discussing Unusual Topics

Use topics from The Book of Questions, by Gregory Stock, for discussion ideas.

6. Reading Poems Aloud

Gather a collection of poems you can read aloud to students or have students read their favorites.

7. Examining Optical Illusions

Put optical illusions on transparencies to end the period on a light note.

8. Writing Cryptograms

Challenge students to decipher the codes of literary cryptograms.

9. Think of New Ways

Add to the creative list of 101 Ways To Say No.

10. Solving Word Puzzles

Challenge students to solve word and crossword puzzles found in you local newspaper.

11. Solving Other Kinds of Puzzles

Exercise reading skills with mini mysteries..

You will find an abundance of other types of puzzles are available at

1. Reading Mini Plays

Scope Magazine often contains short plays which typically take 15 minutes to "perform." Many thanks to Susan Munnier for this suggestion!

2. Journal Writing

Download the following four lists to have a ready supply of over a hundred journal topics:

Journal Topics Encouraging Self Understanding and Clarifying Thoughts and Positions
Topics dealing with various aspects of "who I am, why I'm that way, what I value, and what I believe."

Journal Topics Exploring Relationships Topics dealing with "what I want in a friend, who are my friends, what I expect of friends, and how I relate to family members,teachers, and other significant people in my life."

Journal Topics Prompting Speculation and Viewing from a Different Perspective Topics causing the writer to predict or see things from an unusual perspective. These may be highly creative, such as "describe the events of yesterday from the perspective of your hair."

Academic Journal Topics
Generic starters for the beginning, middle and end of a lesson make writing journal topics that compliment your lesson a cinch.

3. Following Written Directions

Challenge students with read only directions for folding origami figures.

4. Following Oral Directions

Have a student read oral directions to the class which require students to write, draw and or calculate. I'm searching for these. If you know of a URL for some, please let me know!

5. Solving Puzzles

At the Puzzlemaker Web site, you can make eleven different kinds of puzzles, print them out and run off a supply to cover emergencies.

6. Writing Haiku

Give students a short handout on the structure and examples from Haiku Headlines of the Day. Then challenge your class to write a haiku about the day's lesson or a current event. If you have time, have students read them aloud just before the bell, or save that for another day.

7. Using Icebreakers

Use icebreakers to help students get to know one another and to build good feelings within the whole class or on teams.

8. Writing Limericks

As with the haiku, provide a handout containing the structure of a limerick and a few examples of limericks. Then challenge them to write their own.

(Please note: Some of the haiku and limericks on these sites contain material inappropriate for the classroom. )

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Your Citation
Kelly, Melissa. "Mini-Lessons to Upgrade Downtime." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Kelly, Melissa. (2023, April 5). Mini-Lessons to Upgrade Downtime. Retrieved from Kelly, Melissa. "Mini-Lessons to Upgrade Downtime." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 3, 2023).