5 Easy Tips for Handling Unfinished Student Work This Year

Teaching is no easy task. We are responsible for teaching life lessons, standards, and everyday skills. One of the biggest skills we teach our students is responsibility for their work. Because of this, unfinished student work is one of the most important things we can tackle in our classroom. How do you help unfinished student work get finished? With these five easy tips for dealing with unfinished student work. 


Tip 1: Decide What Is Important

I have said this before and I will say it again. You don’t have to grade anything which is one of many grading tips you should check out! Now, this doesn’t mean that the work we are giving students isn’t important. Sometimes, students just need extra practice. So, if you have a student who hasn’t done something that you’re not going to put in the gradebook, assess whether they need to do that activity or not. Again, this isn’t saying your work isn’t important, it’s all about picking your battles.


Tip 2: Have a Singular Turn-In Spot 

What if your student has the work done, but didn’t turn it in? What if they turned it in, but not in the right place? We are collecting work from centers, interactive notebooks, and more! If we had a turn-in spot for all of these different forms of work, we would have turn-in baskets everywhere. In addition, we are going to have students who are bound to get confused. That’s why you need a singular turn-in spot. Why should you do this? First, you won’t have papers all over the place. Piles can be easy to forget, so having one pile of papers makes your life way easier. Secondly, students know exactly where everything goes so you will have less unfinished or missing work. 


When I was in the classroom, I had my central location right next to their mailboxes so I could easily hand everything back. Plus, at my central location (here’s a little teaching hack for you) I had pencils and highlighters there for students to use. I had my students highlight their name before they could turn it in to cut back on “no name” papers. You can learn more about this one-location station in my Learning Centers Made Easy Course. 

Tip 3: Have a Designated Unfinished Work Area

I know, I just told you to have one place for all your work, but you don’t want to be finding unfinished student work  in the turn-in pile. An easy way to avoid this is to have an unfinished work spot for your students. When I was teaching, my students had a box they could decorate and inside that box they had a “Catch Up” Folder. Inside this folder there was a “finished” and “unfinished” side. When students were finished with their work but we weren’t going to turn it in yet, they would put it on the finished side of the folder. If they needed to do more work, they would put it on the “unfinished” side. This worked well to keep my students organized. Plus, it cuts back on lost papers because we know how desks and backpacks can be black holes. This also meant that students could go back and see what they needed to do. In addition, I could easily open up my chronic non-finishers folders and see what they haven’t done. 

Tip 4: Create a Catch-Up Day for unfinished student work  

We all have busy weeks and we all have a lot of curriculum to get through, but that new curriculum will be a nightmare if we don’t get the work done first. That’s why having a “catch-up” day is important. Now, this isn’t a full-day. What I would always do is have my catch-up day on Friday because we had “Fun Fridays.” In order to participate, my students had to have all their work done. This was usually enough incentive for unfinished work to get finished. Please keep in mind, finished means finished well and not rushed and a hot mess.

My catch up day and Fun Friday wasn’t a full day event, it was in the afternoon. We would do spelling tests and other assessments and center work in the morning. Then in the afternoon, we would have Fun Friday. If they weren’t done, they could go and get their catch-up folder and finish up their work. This not only helped me not give up instruction time, but it also lessened the amount of work I had to send home especially if a student was absent. Again, I could choose what was the most important work for my student to do and send that home so it was prioritized. 

Tip 5: Send the unfinished student work  Home (Carefully) 

I’m not a big fan of a lot of homework. I used to give a lot of homework which was more of a district thing. I am more of a fan of a flipped classroom which is when you give the student a video to watch at home of your lesson then they do the work in the classroom. This helps make sure you don’t have to re-teach in school the next day. Any work that I did have to send home, I would send an unfinished work note  (which you can get by clicking the link) along with the missing work. On the note, there were a few different options to check so the parent knew why the student had unfinished work. 

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This is a simple way to tell parents why the work  needs to be done. Now, I usually had to send this note home one time because it started a conversation with their student. Therefore, it was an easy way to communicate with parents. I never sent these home with students if the assignment was something they were struggling with. This was only sent home with work that I knew they could do but were simply leaving unfinished. An example of something I would send home would be center work along with the center. 


Between students missing school, having a bad day, lacking focus, and any number of “other” things going on, we are going to have unfinished student work . Instead of pulling your hair out trying to get it all done, you can follow these five simple tips which will help you battle unfinished student work. 

Until Next Time…

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