8 Ideas for the Last Minutes of Math Class

Nothing was worse than when I first started teaching and would finish a lesson, only to look at the clock and realize I had over 10 minutes left to "entertain" the class in front of me... scary! These days, after teaching for 11 years, I've gotten pretty good at time management. I know how long each activity should take, I make slight adjustments as the class period goes on, and I aim for the students to be busy and engaged up until the last minute.

But there are those rare days when I think clean-up/organizing is going to take a little longer than it actually does and I have 3 or 4 minutes left at the end of class. Now, to a non-teacher, 3 or 4 minutes sounds like it is a short amount of time. But to anyone that has ever been in charge of 28 middle schoolers in a classroom knows, 4 minutes is a l-o-n-g time to have nothing planned.

So, here are a few ideas of what to do if you ever find yourself with ~4 minutes at the end of class:

1. Summary Mash-up
I ask students to take quiet think time to come up with a title for the lesson we did today. Something funny, witty, or just descriptive. Then I have them think-pair-share. As they raise their hands to share the titles, I type them so they are displayed on the Smartboard (you could write them on the board too). After I've recorded everyone's ideas, I combine them all into one very long (and often funny) title.

For example, if you just did a percent lesson, students might say:
Percents Going Up and Down
What Percent Equals How Much Money
I Want 100%
Finding Percents Is Challenging

Then you mash them all together into something like:
Finding percents going up and down is challenging but I want 100% of your money.

It's a great way for students to reflect on what they just learned and summarize it into a sentence.

2. Tri-Bond
I borrowed this idea from a real board game with the same name. The rules of the game are to find what three things have in common. I write three math related things or numbers on the board and students have to find what they have in common. I usually just come up with ideas on the fly, but here are a few to get you started.
13, 29, 37  (all prime)
2/4,  3/6,  15/30  (all equal one half)
equilateral, scalene, isosceles (all types of triangles)
inch, kilometer, yard (all measurements of length/distance)
100%, 5/5, 1 (all equal one whole)
ones, ten-thousandths, millions  (all place value)

To spice it up, I give out stickers to kids with hands raised and correct answers. Everyone likes stickers! :)

3. Mental Math
I just start asking the class to try some mental math problems. I usually try to include some property that makes the answer obvious if you use the property.
For example:
"What is 5 x 3 x 0 x 7 x 8 x 2?" (0)
"What is 1 x 1 x 1 x 7 x 1 x 1 x 1?" (7)
"What is 5 x 4 x 3 x 2 x 1" (120, can lead to a discussion about factorials)
"What is 100 cut in half, cut in half, cut in half?" (13.5)
"What is 6 + 5 - 5 - 6" (0)
"What is 2 cubed" (8)
"What is 7 to the zero power" (1)
"What is in the hundredths place in the number pi?" (4)
"What is the volume of a cube that has a width of 5 inches?" (125 inches cubed)

4. Which One Doesn't Belong
Pop a few of these up on the board and have students share their ideas. This is a good no-prep math activity!

5. Petals Around the Rose
This game is fun, frustrating, and takes time. The idea is you tell the students the score of each roll, but never reveal how you get the answer. They are supposed to come up with ideas and test their theories. If they think they know the rules, you have them guess the score and let them know if they are right or wrong, but don't have them share the strategy just yet. Keep playing until students figure it out (it usually takes playing several times throughout the year before my students get it). If they say "I don't get it," or "What am I supposed to do?" I just keep repeating this line: "The name of the game is Petals Around the Rose and the name of the game is important."

6. Eleven
The goal of this game is to get the class to count to eleven. The rules are that in order to say a number, a student has to stand up and say it out loud. If two students say a number at the same time, you have to start over. You can't plan ahead before you start or communicate in any other way during the game. Sounds simple, but it is harder than you think to get to 11! The students love this one!

7. Would You Rather
This one isn't really math related, but sometimes you just want a fun brain-break. For this, I have students stand up and move to one side of the room or the other based on which silly/wacky/gross option they would pick. I get the questions from this book.

8. Estimation 180
Show students one of these and have them think-pair-share their estimates. Great quick discussion for the last minutes of class... plus it helps develop number sense!

So, next time you are left with a few minutes at the end of class, don't panic and don't let them just sit there. Try one of these ideas and let me know how it goes!


  1. Great ideas! Items so simple and easy to implement!

    1. Hi Jessica! Thanks for stopping by the blog. Let me know if you try any of the ideas and how it goes! :)

  2. Hello! This post was recommended for MTBoS 2015: a collection of people's favorite blog posts of the year. We would like to publish an edited volume of the posts and use the money raised toward a scholarship for TMC. Please let us know by responding via email to tina.cardone1@gmail.com whether or not you grant us permission to include your post. Thank you, Tina and Lani.


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