Differentiation – What to do with fast finishers and slow starters: My harrogate workshop


This is the write up of my session at Harrogate. It went very well, although I’d originally suggested a maximum of 20 participants, we ended up shutting the door at 35; mainly because there were no more chairs in the room!

It’s very, very simple. Anyone who has taught a group knows that students always have different levels and speeds for various activities, so the problem is this, what to do with the fast finishers while the others are still completing an exercise?

An added complication is that with certain classes, for example twenty-odd teens on a Friday afternoon, the devil really can make work so we want to avoid idle hands.

Solutions can include:

-Stopping the class and start correcting – but then the slower students never finish anything, a very frustrating feeling.

– Letting the faster ones wait – see above for potential danger!

– Letting the faster ones start the next exercise – you’re only putting off the problem

-Giving out extra worksheets – this equals extra work for the teacher too!

After discussing these we had a very lively session trying out some of the following ideas, they can be used either in relation to a text the class has just studied, or in relation to the lesson as a whole. They would also work at the end of a sequence of lessons or the end of a chapter for example.

I have them written on small cards and students pick them from a box at the front of the class when they have a free moment, or sometimes I write up a “menu” including a suitable selection, and all the students do whichever take their fancy after a reading comprehension, or for a revision lesson.  I also try and take into account different learning styles, and include things that avoid vast chunks of writing to help my dyslexic students.

FLAME TEST – rewrite the text/explain today’s lesson so a young child understands it.

NAUGHTY ELEPHANTS SQUIRT WATER – create a mnemonic aid to remember new/key words from today’s lesson. (Give aid to rest of class, they guess key word.)

TWEET IT – write a tweet (140 characters max.) to resume the text/what you’ve learnt today.

PICTURE THAT – draw something to represent key ideas from text/lesson (show partner, they guess).

ANGRAMS & Co. – Write anagrams, synonyms & opposites of new vocabulary, (class guess orginal word.)

THAT REMINDS ME OF…- Think of a personal anecdote related to the text and share it with the class.

SELL IT! – Write a slogan & draw a logo to represent what you have learnt in class/from text.

SPRINT IT! – How many words can you write in three minutes based on text/lesson? 1 point per word, minus 2 points per error.

SAY IT IN 20 – Resume text/lesson in exactly 20 words.

ADJECTIVE RECALL – what adjectives can you find in the text/did we use in today’s class? What other things can these adjectives describe? ( Give list of other things to partner, they must find adjective.)

STAIRWAY WORDS – start with a word from today’s lesson, then write another word vertically down starting with last letter, then across using that word’s last letter etc. (Can also be class game with two teams in lines at the board, first student writes a word & then hands pen to person behind and moves to back of the line.)

HAND IT TO ME – Decide on the 5 key words to resume lesson/text, each one represents a finger.

HAIKU It – write a haiku ( three line poem, first line 5 syllables, second seven, third five) to resume text/lesson.

SMELLS LIKE – write all the smells evoked by the text.

DEAR DIARY – write a diary entry from the perspective of a person from the text (or from an animal or inanimate object, e.g.  “I am John’s car…”).

ANIMALIZE HIM – Choose an animal to represent the people in the text, explain why you chose that particular animal.




All good ideas have been stolen from somewhere, although I can’t remember where each one came from, however  I have found some great sources amongst books designed for primary and secondary teachers in Britain, a refreshing step away from the world of TEFL. These include :

Beadle, P. (2013) Plenary, Wales. Independent Thinking Press

Beadle, P. (2010) How to teach. Crown House Publishing

Gilbert, I.  (2002) Essential Motivation in the Classroom, Routledge.

Gilbert,I. (2007) The Little book of Thunks, Crown House Publishing

Smith, J. (2010) The Lazy teacher’s handbook, Crown House Publishing.

Any questions? Send me a message!



About fabenglishteacher

enjoying sharing learning
This entry was posted in Conferences, fast finishers and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Differentiation – What to do with fast finishers and slow starters: My harrogate workshop

  1. Carol says:

    Thank you for sharing the above extensive list of great ideas!

  2. Daiva says:

    Thanks, really great 🙂

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