I don't like to waste a minute. When I was teaching, even the apparent "downtime" was planned. If you have just one hour a week with students, every second counts. So how ight you make use of 5 minutes, whether at the start or end of the lesson, or between finishing one activity and starting the next? Here are my suggestions, some of which may be more appropriate to some age groups than others.
Give out homework
This is best done at the start of the lesson, not at the end as is usually the case. The reason is that it gives you more time to make sure everyone understands it and that everyone has made a note of it.
Plan your work
It’s good to allow people 5 minutes before the end of the lesson to plan what they’re going to do next lesson, especially if you’ve implemented project-based learning. Planning for next lesson also involves planning homework: if you want to crunch some numbers next time, you’re going to have to ensure that you obtain those numbers!
Print out and log off
This takes around 5 minutes sometimes, and is best done not in the last 5 minutes of the lesson, but 5 or even 10 minutes before that. The alternative is to have the kids flying out of the room while their work is still flying out of the printer. In fact, I always barred any printing in the last 15 minutes of the lesson.
Q & A for revision
This is a good activity for the start of the lesson, once the students have settled down. What do they remember from last time? How much do they understand? (You can gain some insight into that by asking questions that require them to apply what they learnt to a new situation.)
This is where you ask a student or group of students to show their presentation or video, but instead of having them deliver a commentary, you and the rest of the students ask them questions about it. Eg why did you do X? Would Y always happen?
Q & A for terminology
A quick test or Q & A related to terminology is always useful, and can be done if there are a few minutes left before the end of the lesson.
Check your comments
As far as I am concerned, there is no such thing as being at a loose end. If a student has finished her work earlier than her friends, one thing she can do while waiting for the next class activity or the end of the lesson is check the comments you’ve made on her last piece of work.Is there something she can do right now in response?
Help a friend
If someone is struggling in the class, perhaps a student who has finished (for now) could spend a few minutes with them to help them out. Note that this should not involve doing the work for them, and you may need to give students a brief lesson in how to give peer support — and how not to.
Update their e-portfolio
Another activity while waiting for something else to happen is for students to update their e-portfolio, or whatever equivalent you have in your school. For example, if they corrected some work in light of your comments, perhaps they can upload it if they are happy with it. Indeed, they should check when was the last time they updated their e-portfolio: once every few months is probably too infrequent.
I’m a firm believer in encouraging students to read. If you don’t have a collection of books and magazines available in your room, they can read articles online. It would be a good idea for you to collate a few useful blogs, news and magazine websites for them to choose from.
I’m sure this is not a definitive list, but hopefully it will prove to be a good starting point. Do let me know if I’ve left something out that you’ve found works well.