The 8 reusable activities I provide below saved me so much time and stress as a teacher. At the beginning of the school year, I would make a bunch of copies of each of the activities and store them in an easily accessible place to be used throughout the year as needed. (Or, you could save paper by putting the activities in a sheet protector to be used with dry erase markers.)
Having activities like these already printed and ready to go means that you will ALWAYS have something meaningful for your students to work on, no matter what kinds of interruptions or emergencies come up.
Why You Should Have Reusable Activities
Having reusable activities on hand, ready to use is helpful in a huge variety of ways, including:
1. You’ll always have activities ready to go when lessons don’t go as planned.
I can’t tell you how many unannounced fire drills (or actual fires) interfered with my lesson plans. Instead of having 45 minutes to teach a challenging concept, the fire drill interrupted my lesson leaving me with only 15 minutes. So, I’d pull out one of the reusable activities to have students work on in the limited time I had left.
Sometimes a lesson just goes more quickly than I thought it would. In those situations, I still had valuable activities that students could do with the extra time.
2. You’ll always have activities ready to go for another teacher in need.
Emergencies happen. And although most teachers know the importance of having emergency sub plans ready, it doesn’t always happen. Having easily adaptable activities already copied and ready to go can be a huge lifesaver to your teammates. Instead of worrying about making sub plans, you can provide them with activities so that they are free to handle their emergency without worrying about making copies.
These also come in handy for those subs that seem to get through work so quickly. Having a couple extra activities on hand can help make their day go more smoothly.
3. You’ll always have activities ready to go on days you didn’t have time to plan well.
Although these reusable activities definitely shouldn’t be used all of the time, they can help be a stress reliever those weeks that you just didn’t have as much time as usual to plan. Knowing you have something meaningful that students can complete without having to plan for it or make copies can be a huge load off your chest.
4. You’ll always have activities ready to go on days the copier isn’t working.
This may or not be a problem for you, but it was my worst nightmare. It seems like anytime I had an amazing activity planned, the copier would be down. So I had to come up with something else to do instead. Having these reusable activities on hand can help save you on days like that.
5. You’ll always have activities ready to use that students can complete independently.
Every now and then something comes up to interfere with your lesson plans, and you need an activity right away that students can complete independently.
This happened at least once a month in my classroom. Sometimes it was because I needed to get to the bottom of a serious behavior issue. Sometimes it was because parents showed up 3 days late for their IEP. Sometimes it was because I got a surprise new student that I needed some time to prepare for.
Whatever the reason, every now and then it was nice to have ready-to-use activities that I knew my students would be able to complete independently. This allowed me time to take care of other pressing issues.
6. You’ll always have activities ready for those parents that always want more work for their child.
I hated requests from parents for “more work.” Sometimes, the family was going on vacation and wanted to get more work so they felt like their child wasn’t really missing out (although all teachers know that completing worksheets is not a substitute for being in the classroom).
Sometimes the parents just wanted more practice for their child. My go to answer was always “read together,” but that wasn’t always good enough.
Having the reusable activities already printed and ready to go make it really easy to give parents something for their students to work on at home.
My Favorite Reusable Activities for Upper Elementary
Below are some of my favorite reusable activities – and you can download them all for free! Teachers who have joined my membership have access to ALL of my reusable resources here. (You can click here for more information about the Teaching Made Practical membership.)
1. Reusable Sub Plans
Teaching is one of the few jobs where going into work sick is WAY easier than planning for a sub and taking a sick day. I went into work many times when I knew I should stay home and rest, just because I didn’t want to have to make sub plans. But that’s absolutely ridiculous, not to mention it risks getting others sick!
These reusable sub plans make taking a sick day – or two, or three – SO much easier because they can be used over and over again with different books. Simply make several days worth of copies and have different books ready, and you have emergency sub plans ready for as many days as you want!
2. Find the Fib
This is a great activity that used all year long. My 3rd grade students never got tired of it, because they got to tell a fib!
Read more about how to use Find the Fib – also knows as 2 Truths and a Lie – in all subject areas. You’ll also be able to download a free Find the Fib printable!
3. Graphic Organizers
I always had extra copies of my favorite graphic organizers lying around because they are so easy to adapt to almost any book you read!
Find some free point of view graphic organizers here.
Find some free character trait graphic organizers here.
4. A Blank Number Grid
Blank number grids can be used for a huge variety of things. I always kept a stack of these lying around in case my math lesson was interrupted or didn’t go as planned. Here’s 10 Ways to Use a Blank Number Grid in Upper Elementary, as well as a free printable.
5. Three Things
When teaching nonfiction, this activity that I call “Three Things” is a great reusable activity. Basically, after learning about a topic, students write down 3 things that already knew about that topic and 3 things that they learned.
This is particularly great for those students that constantly want to tell you that they already knew that – because they get a chance to write down that they already knew it! And then it also requires them to think about new things they learned.
I would often use this after watching a science or social studies video. Videos and movies sometimes get a bad rap in education, but having students do activities like this that require them to do a little thinking can make video clips much more meaningful.
6. Writing Paper
In my experience at different schools, writing is one of the most neglected subjects. Yet it is so easy to integrate into lessons!
I always had plenty of copies of this Reusable Writing Paper available, and looked for ways to integrate writing as much as possible into my daily plans.
This writing paper also has places to put a text feature. Most students will naturally go with drawing a picture, but I encouraged students to include other text features like graphs, maps, diagrams, or bullet points. And if all else failed, I asked them to at least write a caption for their picture!
Find out more about integrating writing while teaching other skills, including:
Integrating Writing while Teaching Point of View
Integrating Writing while Teaching Text Features
Integrating Writing while Teaching Character Traits
This is a great activity that can be used over and over again, especially when teaching nonfiction.
Basically, students try to come up with a word that relates to a certain topic for each letter of the alphabet.
This is great as a culminating activity after students have learned about a certain topic, or it can be used throughout a social studies or science unit.
I particularly loved to give this to students before starting a unit and have them write as many words related to the topic as they could to activate their prior knowledge. Each day we would add more words as we learned more about the topic.
8. Text Features Scavenger Hunt
This is the least adaptable activity, because it deals strictly with text features. But since text features were such an important part of our standards, I pulled this out several times a year. Students can use it over and over again with different nonfiction books. It works great as a text feature review, or as a center activity.
You can download this printable for free on the Text Features Page in my Members Area. Just look for the red “free” next to the resource “Text features Scavenger Hunt #1.” While you are there, download some of my other free resources in the Members Area. Any resource with a red “free” next to the name can be downloaded for free.
Just making extra copies of a few of these reusable activities at the beginning of the year will save you time and stress later on!