No-Prep Activity Ideas

Whether it’s the end of the year or just another Tuesday, all teachers have days when they need a little time to record grades from the last lesson, gather materials, or talk privately to a student.  Here are a few ways to keep students engaged.

jpg_103005-office-suppliesTo alleviate students’ fears about “getting things right,” tell them they’re only required to participate, work cooperatively, and complete the task without teacher support or intervention.

Even though the work is not graded, collecting papers at the end of an activity encourages appropriate behavior and participation.  The “reward” for students is interactive time with peers, a break from structured right/wrong responses, and/or a chance to share with the group at the end of the activity.

1.  Free Write:  Put three words on the board and have students write a story starter that logically includes all the words, or any form of the words.  Remind students not to worry about spelling or handwriting during this creative time.  Before starting the next lesson, allow one or two volunteers to read their story starters.jpg_hldn041  Collect all papers and keep for possible later use.

►Sample word combinations:toy-magic-snow/shark-treasure-hiccups/invisible-kitten-surprise/boy-recipe-boom.

2.  Brain Energizer:  Students silently walk X number of laps around the desks.  Have children enter the line by row and start walking in the same direction.  Define the “rules of the road.”  EX:  No speeding, no passing.  The line leader keeps track of the laps as they pass a certain “landmark.”  As they go past the landmark the final time, students file back into their rows and follow the written directions on the board.

►When they get good at this, you can add marching, walking in the other direction, or having a leader introduce a different arm motion at the beginning of each lap.

3.  Cooperative Puzzles:  Quickly assign pairs or small groups.  Give students X mjpg_0627IDEAinutes to identify as many ways as possible to solve a problem.  Ask one or two students to share the solutions they came up with at the end.  Collect any papers.

►Sample puzzles: list of ten items for a camping trip/three ways to raise $50 for a charity/create a new classroom seating chart/plan a menu for a week of healthy school lunches/use only hands to form all the vowels/make up at least 12 math problems that have 7 as the answer/create a rhyme that could help teach the importance of one of the classroom rules.

4.  Eye Spy:  Set the timer.  Students will have X number of minutes to silently list all the things they can see that begin with a specific letter of the alphabet.  They must remain seated.  Spelling and handwriting don’t count.  You can quickly glance at lists and reward 2-3 students for their work.

►If you have more time, students can read items from their lists aloud.  Students cross off each item they hear someone else say.  Have the winning student collect all papers.jpg_Education-037-color

5.  The Classic:  Students read silently.  They may choose a book from their desks to read for pleasure, or the teacher can assign a specific reading selection.

►Students can be given a task such as locating six examples of figurative language, identifying 12 words with the long a sound, finding twelve, three-syllable nouns, or whatever.  Require students to write out their answers and provide the appropriate page numbers.

6.  Art Activity:  Turn on some classical music and let students express themselves with drawing.

►Sample ideas: draw a machine with 10+ parts that turns on a light switch/draw a desert (or other) animal in its natural habitat/make an advertisement to sell your favorite book.

FREE Online Resource for Mandalas~ This site offers diverse and interesting mandalas for coloring. Download mandalas from 6 themes (animals, countries, dragons, etc.) and three levels (beginner, advanced, and expert). Designs may be printed in black and white for students to color, or they can be colored online and then printed out. Great for connecting activities to a wide variety of topics!

BONUS IDEA~  Color intricate mandalas with diverse and interesting patterns like this one from Australia.  Downloads include 6 themes (animals, countries, dragons, etc.) and three levels (beginner, advanced, and expert). Designs may be printed in black and white for students to color, or they can be colored online and then printed out.  Great for connecting activities to a wide variety of topics!

Check out another great mandala website, as well as many other great FREE resources on this site and Pinterest!

Banish Bullying

We implement a well-known bullying prevention program at our school.  There’s also a plan in place for dealing with all kinds of inappropriate behavior.  Citizenship awards are given out each month.  And, there are even special lunch programs to encourage children to be inclusive.

Even so, this year reports of bullying are on the rise.  More and more students are being verbally “teased” or physically picked on.  Others complain about “drama,” a word children often use when they feel shut out or excluded by someone they once considered a friend.

Whatever name students give these behaviors, it all boils down to the same thing– someone is repeatedly being made to feel inferior or unsafe due to the actions of someone else.

Bully PicAfter searching for ideas that might help bring home the importance of being kind to one another, I stumbled on two blog posts.  The first article, “My Class’s Antibullying Campaign,” was at the blog Nerdy, Nerdy, Nerdy!  The author of that blog cited yet another post by Eric Johnson, “Erasing Meanness.”  Check it out at ‘Your Kids’ Teacher.

I carefully read both articles and then decided to give Mr. Johnson’s program a try.  The plan requires about 20 minutes a day, four days in a row.  It’s free, requires no special skills, and can be implemented in most any classroom that has online access to show videos.  Interested?  Start with the two blog posts listed above.

Here’s how the plan was used in our classroom.

Day 1 

DSCF4733Remove everything from the board, clean it really well, and then use big letters to write “mean” in the middle of the board.

Show the video “Anti-Bullying PSA: The Price of Silence.”

Ask students:

1)  What was the video about?
2)  What was  ___ (character) thinking?
3)  Why did  ___ (character) act the way s/he did in the video?


My students identified several roles in the video:  bully, victim, passive onlooker, and active onlooker.  They recognized that fear, powerlessness, ignorance, and a need for acceptance, as well as many other emotions, might have been in play.

Day 2

DSCF4736Before school starts, fill the board with synonyms for mean, hate, and bullying.  As Mr. Johnson suggests, I used only “black and blue” markers.  Some words were repeated.  I also enlisted the help of several K-3 teachers to speed things along.  The alphabetized list of words below will help you get started.

Picture listShow the video “Stand Up, Stand Out: No Checking, No Capping, No Bullying.”

Some speakers in this video have a slight Southern accent and/or use slang that may be unfamiliar to students.  This is a good opportunity to remind students about cultural differences and emphasize the lessons to be learned when listeners keep an open mind about the speaker(s).

Ask students:

1)  How do you feel about teasing others and being teased?
2)  Is “teasing” joking and kidding around, or is it bullying?
3)  Why do people “check” or tease others?


Day 3


Before school write “How do you want to be remembered?” on the board.  First, I “drew” the words using the edge of an eraser.  Then, I wrote in the letters using a thick, red line.  Empty areas were filled in with extra words.

Show and discuss the videos: “Being a Friend” and “Stop Bullying PSA.”

I love the third suggested video, “Don’t Laugh at Me” by Mark Wills.  Due to community standards where I teach, I reluctantly decided against using it at my grade level.

Ask students:

1)  Besides standing up to a bully, what else can you do– if you’re being bullied or if you want to help a victim?
2)  How can you make others feel wanted and important?
3)  Do you think it makes a difference when someone walks up to a victim after they’ve been bullied?  Why?


Encourage students to think about how they would want to be remembered by their peers if they suddenly had to move to another school.

Day 4

The teacher doesn’t need to make any changes to the board, today.

Show the video “Perfect” by Ahmir.

This video captured my students attention more than any of the others shown earlier in the week.  That said, it’s important to preview all materials used in the classroom to ensure that they are appropriate for your grade level and community.  This video mentions “drinking a nice cold beer.”  It’s the only such reference, and the performers are of drinking age.

Ask students:

1)  What happened in the video?
2)  Do you think this could really happen?
3)  Why do you think this particular song was used in the video?


Tell the students that the idea for these lessons originally came from an online article with the title, “Erasing Meanness.”   Ask them, “What do you think the author meant when he selected that title?”

Announce that today they can literally erase meanness by replacing unkind words with happier words of their own.  Allow students to use brightly colored markers to replace the words they choose to erase.

Meanness eraseWhen students comment that there are still lots of “black and blue” words, ask them, “What would happen if another group of students were also able to erase words?”  This should help them understand that  they can’t “erase” all meanness and bullying by themselves, but their efforts can make a BIG difference.

Show one final video, “Antibullying- You are Perfect.”  This video was made by students and can also be found on the blog, Nerdy, Nerdy, Nerdy! mentioned at the beginning of this post.

The situations in this final video resonated with my students and left them feeling empowered.  It was a great way to wrap up this week-long experience!

Final Thoughts

My grade-level teaching partner and I both taught these lessons on the same days.  At week’s end, two children who argue so much that they can’t even be in the same homeroom,  began playing together at recess.  Several “hands-on” students started doing a better job maintaining their own personal space.  The entire class behaved in a more thoughtful manner and there was an increase in daily acts of kindness.

Did it last?  For awhile.  I believe that some parts of some lessons stuck with some children– permanently.  There’s no test for mastery of this “skill.”  Teaching children how to erase meanness is an ongoing process that requires consistent modeling and reinforcement.

If you try this plan, when you’re done I hope you’ll do what I did… pass it on!

Additional anti-bullying resource links:


Click here for a FREE download of the lesson and resources described above.