Helping slow workers finish their classwork

In the school environment “fast finishers” can be tough to handle because they often cause explosive talking. But another equally challenging hurtle are those who don’t ever seem to finish their work.

Outstanding blog post to help those slower workers get classwork done. Free reources, anchor charts & student reward coupons  help kids and teachers get it done

The reasons behind not finishing are many : some kids are still weak in the skills that they need in order to finish, some kids don’t care about finishing, some kids don’t want to do the next task so the dawdle , some enjoy the constant pushing and encouragement to finish.

#1 Let’s start with those who lack in skills needed. 

  1. Offer to help on 1 problem and let them know that you want to hear them think through the next problem. (This gives some accountability for them to listen to you while you are helping.)
  2. When it is their turn to do a problem out loud ( the think through it)  don’t jump in and offer assistance too fast.
  3. Praise their thinking and willingness to work hard.
  4. Fill in gaps in the understanding

This is great modeling for the potential peer tutors who are seated near you and are probably listening in. These steps show the other children at the table how to help this struggler should the struggle continue. 

#2 Buddy Helpers and the GREEN Pen of Greatness

Give those fast finishers something meaningful to do. Allow them to assist a friend using the 4 steps above and this poster below.

Oh my gosh I tried this and LOVE it.  The empowers everyone in the room. Awesome post full of freebies

If you give your peer tutors a green pen you can watch this “helping bug” spread like the flu… just kidding spread like wildfire.  Maybe your slower finishers just need to motivation to get done so they can get their hands on a green pen!

Green Pen

The idea for the green pen comes from Amy Green. Brilliant idea!

  1. Teacher roams around with some green pens. 
  2. Completed work gets a green star. In my class we do hearts.
  3. Author of completed and accurate work can go on to other things of interest or take another green pen and go help/ look over the work of other friends in class!!!

(((purchase a box of green pens from Office Max {here}))))

#3 Helping Reluctant Finishers Get it Done: Using Motivational 1/4 sheet and Visual Timers

Now what do you do with a child that just does not want to finish? They have the skills, but finishing is not something that they care about. Or they don’t want to do the next assignment, so they are making a “meal” of this one!

  1. If this is habitual, call home.  It can be a quick call just letting mom, dad, auntie, or other family member know that it’s becoming a habit for the child to not finish even though s/he has the skills to do so.
  2. Offer the child a little help. Mention that you have noticed they are not getting their work done. This just isn’t how we do things. Remind them they can ALWAYS ask for help, but you have noticed they KNOW how, but just are moving slower than they should. Give them a 1/4 sheet of paper to help them keep track of finishing on time. Most kids love having the teacher “notice” this change of effort. You can place a sticker over each child. Kids love the dot marker. For some reason that perfectly shaped blob makes everyone happy. Or just make it simple and put a heart over every finished assignment. Motivate slower workers to get classwork done!!! Tons of freebies on this post from Teacher to the Core
  3. Utilize a visual timer so they can tell if they are running out of time. I love the classroom timers site!!!  Your students will be able to pace themselves better as they watch the fuse burn. The fireworks show is awesome at the end. Some kids need a visual aid to help them understand that they are running out of time. These free timers totally help
  4. Have something they miss out on if not done.  I will say I have kept a child in for 5 minutes of recess occasionally. Don’t throw things at me.  Listen, I think the “don’t take their recess away” movement is right! Seriously don’t throw things at me. But missing 5 minutes of recess really sends a message too. Staying in for 5 minutes in the course of an entire school year can yield a harder worker!

#4 Decide if not finishing is OK: Modified Work

Some of the kiddos in my room are struggling on every little thing all the time. This is because their age is not matching their academic age.  For example, I have a 1st grade 6 year old who is precious, but is at a mid kinder level. Isn’t it OK for him to finish half of the work and tap out? This is modifying. Seriously, if he can do 4 problems (even with help) wouldn’t that indicate that he could eventually finish them all? But the eventual part is the struggle. We don’t have “eventually” in the school day. A phone call home or parent meeting should happen first before work modification begins.  All parties need to agree on this. Once you all agree, have the child complete a given amount and then store the unfinished work.

Freebie parent note for unfinished work!!! Tons of freebies on this post from Teacher to the Core.JPG

#5 Have a Spot to Store Unfinished work:

I store mine in this Pacon paper sorter! In December I went back to work after the break and brought in the Pacon Paper sorter. I called it the work in progress condo. I can keep projects we are in the middle of in there and my students can keep their own work in progress there too! I adore Pacon as a company and this paper sorter is the best. Let me tell you why.

  1. It was inexpensive.
  2. It was so easy to put together, and I am ALL thumbs.
  3. It can be painted or covered in contact paper to customize.
  4. It easily stores the unfinished work of my slower finishers and the “in progress” work from my week-long intervention groups!!!
  5. This product is sturdy and isn’t too big! It fits perfectly under an easel or stands up tall along a bookshelf. It also sits beautifully on a counter top. You can also set it on it’s back to be accessed from the top. LOVE THIS PRODUCT. You must order one NOW

Pacon creates the best products for teachers. I used their paper sorter to keep and organize unfinished work, intervention work, and even guided reading materials

OK but get this… my class is a little “willful” this year. Out of 30 kids I have 14 only children and 1st born kids who “just” got their 1st sibling.  This year has been a struggle to keep them engaged in work vs. pretending school is one big playdate.  So, look at the brilliant idea I came up with to keep the talking down a bit!!!

I used the Pacon paper sorter to keep and organize unfinished work, but when I stuck it in between 2 table groups you won't believe what happened! Lord have mercy, just that little bit of space between desk groups has really cut down on the talking and has improved work completion too!!! Can I get an Amen? I am giving myself a high five right now!!!!  You can also stand the sorter up on it’s end.  I am going to buy another one and put it in my guided reading area to hold the awesome materials I keep on hand there.

Pacon  products are the best for teachers. I used their paper sorter to keep and organize unfinished work, intervention work, and even guided reading materialsWhat do I do with this unfinished work? I send it home on Friday.  I attach a note that says something like this: “This is work that your child was not able to finish in class. We discussed work modification, but I wanted you to have this at home in case you can have an older brother or sister or tutor help your child continue to practice the skills we are doing in class.”

Freebie parent note for unfinished work!!! Tons of freebies on this post from Teacher to the Core.JPG

If you like this idea you can grab the freebies below. 

Remember that high expectations, meaningful relationships, and a stimulating school day are little things that go a long way.  Kelley Dolling of the Teacher Idea Factory says you have to “sell the sizzle” in order to get things done.  I hope the sizzle of the green pen and the posters and freebies motivate your little stars to rock this out. 

Download all the freebies from my store on Teacher’s Pay Teachers by clicking the button below:

Download now new

Outstanding blog post to help those slower workers get classwork done. Free reources, anchor charts & student reward coupons  help kids and teachers get it done.

Make a teacher friend’s day- share this post and pass on great info and freebies! XOXO, Katie


  1. Sometimes with my kinders I find it is a fine motor issue so for reading comprehension they read it to me, answer the question orally and I write it...or we underline the answer in the story and they copy

  2. Great post! I love the idea of the green pens. Thanks for sharing some useful ideas.

    Teaching Tidbits and More with Jamie

  3. These are some great ideas, Katie, especially if awareness and acceptance of learning differences is established in the classroom ahead of time. You probably do this naturally but what makes a long-term difference and would ensure that stigma is dissolved and kids are not teased is if the tone of accepting all kinds of learners is set up from the beginning (but better late than never). I don't believe anyone wants to be a slow learner but that one obstacle or another impedes productivity. There are some activities teachers can use to build awareness and acceptance of how everyone has internal or external circumstances that impact their learning, and that all (apart from the bully, who needs a special kind of attention) styles are valid, and that we are all in a constant state of development. This way the "slow" learners won't compare themselves to others and believe they are "stupid" which I hear so often as an education specialist.
    Thank you again for your comprehensive and beautiful blog!

    1. Susan you are so right. That's why I didn't title this post helping slow learners. It's a pace issue and the pace issues kids have can happen for so many reasons. That's why I am such a fan of modifying the work amount. A child who struggles should not experience pain. It's just not right. I am so thankful for your comment! It's such a great reminder to all of us slow pace does not mean stupid.

  4. I really like the idea of the green pens and the stamping when assignment is completed. I'm a parent of a slow worker who is quite sharp and capable but just moves at her own pace in life. I'm going to share this with her teacher. And as for keeping a kid in at recess, I'm ok with it but it seems to have little effect on my kid, so then it becomes a punishment not a deterrent.

    1. When keeping a kiddo in, I rarely have them work. Rather I take a moment to talk with them about pace and working hard. This seems to build relationships and keep it from happening again. I bet your daughter would work really hard with the green pens in mind. I bet if you bought the pens your child's teacher would implement the idea right away.

  5. Interesting blog post. I love the Friday notes home. Have you had any parent say anything about the reference to the video games comments? I think it is something that needs to be said, seeing yours makes me braver to say it. - Thanks

  6. This is such an interesting article on how to help slow workers to finish their class work. Being a teacher at a Phoenix kindergarten I too have hard time with such kids. However, these tips are quite beneficial. I will definitely try them in my class!

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  8. Katie, this post is awesome! You gave some helpful ideas that we can use tomorrow. Thanks for sharing your ideas. :)

  9. Thank you for this post. Recognizing the different reasons why certain students are slow to finish is key when finding ways to help them. You have great ideas on how to address these different students. Holding students accountable as well as providing motivation helps students in their learning. I like the technique of wanting to hear them think through the next problem. The green pen idea is one that I will be trying in my classroom soon too! I think this is a great for both “fast and slow “ finishers. I give each of my students a yellow folder labeled , “Unfinished Work,” that they keep in their desk. In this folder the fast workers, will find extra work they can work on independently, while the slower workers, use it to store work they need to go back to. I also love your idea of sending unfinished work home on Friday’s with a note attached. I will be using this idea for those that have class work modifications.


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