What to Do When Kids Finish Their Work Early

Middle School A-Z Writing Project

Those few minutes that exist between activities when some kids have finished their work and others haven’t is sooo chaotic, right?

Oh sure, just have them pull out their library books and read until you’re all ready to move on.


I mean, yeah, some kids in class follow the instructions of “bring your library book every day” to read if they finish something early.

…And then others NEVER have a library book. Or they just won’t read it. Or whatever. Then they have nothing to do for a few minutes (such a huge waste of time when you add it all up!).

Plus, at the middle school age, kids really do need a structure and a routine they can count on, along with a way to constantly spiral back and keep practicing Language Arts mad skilz.

So I came up with what I call “The A-Z Writing Project” because this little doozy pretty much takes care of 90% of the “I’m done / What do I do now” malarky.

Here’s the A-Z Writing Project itself. 

Here’s the student instruction sheet. 

In addition, the questions and prompts in the writing project itself range from creative writing topics to current concepts they’re learning right now to older concepts they need to re-discover and practice from two months ago… or even two years ago, like with parts-of-speech stuff.

Now exactly what, pray tell, is this A-Z Writing Project?

Well, here it goes:

The A-Z Writing Project is what I invented in response to the school district cutting our ELA class time down from 90 minutes to 60 minutes. Oh, and then they added in a mandatory 20-minute “guided reading” element- in sixth grade.

I know, right?

So then that only left 40 minutes for actual on-level standards-based English/Language Arts instruction. No time for those awesome bell ringers I had, which included free writing, scaffolding, review of older concepts I know the kids still needed help with, etc.

What to do with all the writing questions?


What to do with all the prompts and writing intensive bell ringers that forced the students to spiral back to previous concepts taught and learned earlier in the year?


Take all those bell ringers and turn them into a series of 26 separate and rather unrelated writing prompts. The dates were replaced with letters of the alphabet (A-Z Writing Project, right?) and I printed them out from PowerPoint (2 slides per paper).

I printed them in color and laminated them so they’d last a long time. I taped them in alpha order all around the room in a line, somewhat evenly spaced yet spread out, too.  

Anytime the students finish their work early, they just get up, grab their stapled packet of notebook paper, and go up to one of the letters and start writing.

(And yes, I have a little instruction sheet for the kids to use and follow here. I make them staple it to the front of the notebook paper so they always have it). 

It’s pretty common to see most of my kids sitting down working on an assignment and then several others quietly moving around the room as they respond to one or a few A-Z Writing Project questions.

Then when the slower ones are ready to move on, we all come back together as a class to continue. 

But what about those kids who always finish things early and always seem to be ahead and who always need something to do? What about the ones who literally never finish anything? Isn’t this just more for them to have to catch up with? 

Nope. It really doesn’t work that way, and it hasn’t been a problem because I don’t let it become one. As the teacher, you can always modify how many of the A-Z writing questions certain kids have to do based on their needs. It’s not that big of a deal.

So take a look at your timeline and grading period and all that jazz. Are you on a six or nine-week grading period? Quarters? Trimesters?

That’s ok. It doesn’t really matter. Here’s why:

With 26 questions to work on, it’s fine to give the kids a month, or a six week period, or whatever you want in order for them to complete the project. They can do one prompt a day, or if they are too busy in class they might not do any of the questions and then double up on another day. It always works out.

For those situations where it’s a fluke and you accidentally finish your day’s lessons with 5-15 minutes to spare and you’re like, “Crap! I knew I should have made copies of that extension activity, but I didn’t! Now what am I going to do with them???” …Check out this little doozy which can solve that particular problem in a flash! No prep required! 

Um… What about grading these?!!!?

I give the kids a due date and you’d actually be surprised at how many tend to get it done early and turn it in (they’re usually the ones with the library books!). So I grade them as they come in and it’s not a huge deal AT ALL!

I always let them omit one so I only have 25 to grade (25 x 4 = 100).

I count them up quickly to make sure all 25 are there. Then I just have a few “toughies” that I really actually read.

Just a few. We’re talking about short answers, small paragraphs, and I’m just scanning. So it takes no time at all. I can walk around the room “monitoring” during a quiz or an independent assignment or something like that and just sort of grade them as I’m moving around. It’s really quick.

Then when the next grading period starts, you just take down the current A-Z prompts and put up the next ones. Rinse and repeat. 

Yes. I have A-Z Writing Projects for all throughout the school year that I am happy to share!

So yeah… setting these up each grading period or each month has literally done away with kids wondering what to do next because officially, there’s always something for them to be working on and I don’t have to stop and explain it every day in every class. 

If this sounds like something you want to implement in your class, click here and I’ll totally shoot an entire PowerPoint copy of one of my A-Z Writing Projects to you that you may use right now in your classroom.

What are some things YOU do to alleviate the “What do I do now” issue?

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  1. Andrea says:

    Can I please get a copy of the Power Point for A-Z Writing? Thanks!

  2. […] you’re interested, click here to read my blog post all about just the A-Z Writing Project. To get the actual project and […]

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