Anchor activities

Teaching strategies

Anchor activities in modern classrooms

Anchor activities – self-directed learning activities undertaken when students finish tasks sooner than others or when they arrive early to class.

A group of students sitting around a large table being supervised by a teacher assistant.

Also commonly known as ‘early finishers’, anchor activities maximise learning time and minimise downtime by providing learning opportunities that are largely self-directed. Anchor activities are tasks that students complete when they have spare time (such as if they arrive to class early or finish a class activity before everyone else).

Anchor activities give students something fun to do when they otherwise might be distracting others or getting up to mischief. For example, students might enter the classroom 10-15 minutes early at the start of the day. After storing their bags, they could work on their anchor activities until the official start of class. The purpose of anchor activities is that students spend their spare time working on something that has educational value instead of disrupting others (including the teacher). Mornings are peak periods for teachers; parents, other staff and students all vie for their attention in the short 15-minute gap between opening the room and the start of class. Meanwhile the teacher’s main concern is preparing for the lessons ahead. Anchor activities help to free up the teacher during this peak period.

Anchor activities give students something fun to do when they otherwise might be distracting others or getting up to mischief.

Probably the most common anchor activity is reading. Students can improve their reading fluency and comprehension as well as reinforce their grammar, spelling, punctuation and writing skills all while reading an engrossing text. Anchor activities, resources and texts should be interesting, exciting and engaging in order to maximise participation. As they are not technically part of the compulsory class lesson, student participation of any kind in anchor activities should be rewarded and praised. This encourages more participation in the future. The ultimate goal is for students to want to go on with their anchor activities without being directed and supervised.

Anchor activities work particularly well with high-achieving students who are often motivated to expand their skills and knowledge under the right conditions. These students may have specific interests such as a certain genre of novels which can be utilised for motivation. Goal-oriented students may enjoy working toward macro and micro-goals. These students enjoy ticking off lists and seeing their achievements publicly listed (such as on a star chart). Some students enjoy competing with their peers. These students can work in pairs with a friend. For students that are less enthusiastic, try an alternative approach – do they have a niche where they can become the class expert? A well-designed system of anchor activities will incorporate the needs, interests and motivations of each of these groups.

A major benefit of anchor activities is that they help with transitions from one activity to another. The difficulties with transitions are that not all students finish an activity at the same time and not all transition at the same pace. Transitions are known ‘hot spots’ for behavioural issues; students can move around the room or chat with a friend as the teacher sets up the next activity. However, anchor activities are a great way to keep students calm and in a learning frame of mind.

A major benefit of anchor activities is that they help with transitions from one activity to another. The difficulties with transitions are that not all students finish an activity at the same time and not all transition at the same pace.

Anchor activities need to be more than worksheets, textbooks and reading materials (although they can incorporate these things). Here are some ideas for setting up a system for anchor activities. The activities and tasks should:

  • be related to the educational goals of the program or improve core skills such as reading, writing and maths
  • improve student performance in measurable ways (that students can see and tell their parents about)
  • be useful, meaningful, interesting, organised and systematic
  • be easy to manage so students don’t need teacher guidance (except initially)
  • provide students with choices and control over their own learning
  • incorporate a goal-oriented reward system, such as a sticker/star chart or certificates
  • have a structured method for providing students with extra credit, grades or marks
  • be interesting to the student (for example, reading, art, cultural, extension or career-related activities)
  • include buy-in and support from parents, as well as regular communication with home
  • allow students to regularly achieve micro-goals leading toward bigger goals
  • publicly acknowledge the achievement of goals, such as a progress chart on the wall or by displaying work samples
  • include regular feedback from teachers that improve student skills and drive motivation
  • embed the development of metacognitive skills
  • utilise technology such as online learning platforms, videos, games and quizzes
  • be aesthetically inviting (for example, activities placed in ‘secret’ colour-coded pouches in the ‘student access centre’)
  • provide other zero-cost benefits to students who engage with them, such as sitting in a special chair when reading.

Hint: anchor activities are usually located in a single common area often called a ‘student access centre’ (SAC), but you can call it anything you like. Teachers sometimes take great pride in decorating their SAC to make it as attractive to students as possible.

About the author

Image of the managing director of ITAC.


Adam Green is an advisor to government, a registered teacher, an instructional designer and a #1 best selling author. He is completing a Doctor of Education and was previously head of department for one of the country’s largest SAER (students at educational risk) schools. Adam is managing director of ITAC, an accredited training provider for thousands of teacher aides every year.

Source: Teaching Skills and Strategies for the Modern Classroom: 100+ research-based strategies for both novice and experienced practitioners. Amazon #1 best seller in the category of Classroom Management.

Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to check his article for accuracy, information may be outdated, inaccurate or not relevant to you and your location/employer/contract. It is not intended as legal or professional advice. Users should seek expert advice such as by contacting the relevant education department, should make their own enquiries, and should not rely on any of the information provided.


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