-Being very specific about my expectations of their behavior .
-Having a short assignment for them to work on after. Usually this assignment would either be related to what we would learn next or a current news article about what we had just learned.
-Allowing them to read or work on other classwork.
These all worked fairly well, but there were some kinks. The slower test takers would become anxious about not having time to work on the assignment if one was given. Not everyone brought reading material. Allowing them to work on items from other classes inevitably led them to ask each other questions about the assignment. And so on.
A few years ago a guidance counselor mentioned that she knew of a teacher who always ran all of her tests/quizzes like a standardized test: when students were finished, they simply turned their quizzes over, kept them at their desks, and had to wait quietly until time was up. Just for the heck of it I gave it a try one day with a particularly short quiz. It worked like a charm. Apparently still having their quiz right in front of them made them more mindful of not talking or even whispering, because they didn't want to look like they were cheating. There was no shuffle of books or papers as they got out something else to work on, no questions or requests for help... just respectful silence. And a few nappers. I began trying it with longer quizzes and tests, and still consistently received good results. An unexpected result was that they spent more time double-checking their answers, as there was no benefit to rushing and finishing early. Also, as they were sitting there waiting for others to finish, a few students would suddenly think of an answer they were stumped on, and since they hadn't handed their test in yet they could go back and fix it.
The con for me was that since I didn't collect their work as soon as it was completed, I had less in-class grading time (always trying to reduce that take-home load!), but the benefits to the kids obviously outweighed my inconvenience.
The con for the kids was that some of the early finishers had quite a bit of time to stare into space. Although, since I always require some kind of drawing of a dinosaur on my quizzes/tests, I started getting some pretty darn elaborate sketches.
As I was writing my first quiz of this school year, I had a brilliant-why-didn't-I-think-of-that-years-ago moment, and I put a puzzle on the back. I made sure the kids knew that it wasn't part of the quiz and that it was optional, and the results were amazing! After finishing almost everyone worked on the puzzle intently, keeping them occupied past the time when the last student finished. Success! So I will definitely be doing this with all future items.
The puzzles I've included so far have had a wide-range of purposes.
One included vocab words that had been introduced but we were still learning:
One was simply a word challenge:
One was a review of past information we've covered:
All of these were created either in MS Word or by using a free online puzzle generator - there are dozens of good ones to choose from.
This may be my favorite "new thing I've thought of" for this year so far. If you think this would work for your kids, give it a try and let me know how it turns out!