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Emergency Sub Plans and Guest Teacher Tips

Raise your hand if you have ever dreaded taking a day off because you’d have to create sub plans. My hand is definitely up! While sickness or meeting or appointments are unavoidable, I used to struggle to take a day off because I knew sub plans would be a time consuming task. 

Not only are sub plans time consuming to create, but I never want to “waste” a day of learning with busy work. That means I’ve always tried to leave engaging lessons that are easy for guest teachers to implement but still impactful for students. I’m not going to lie… this is a tall order and not an easy task to accomplish! 

Use this bundle to prepare upper elementary emergency sub plans. Also includes practical tips to help you prepare for a guest teacher.

Thankfully, through many years of teaching, I’ve perfected my sub plans and made taking time off easier. Last year, I even had a guest teacher tell me that my plans and organization were the best they’ve ever seen. That compliment was the highlight of my week. 😉 

Note: Many school districts now use the term “guest teacher” for substitutes. I use the terms interchangeably in this text!

How to Prepare Emergency Sub Plans

Aside from a streamlined process for typical sub plans, I always have emergency sub plans at the ready for those unexpected days off because it can be really stressful if you don’t have any pre-prepared lessons when you have to be out in a pinch. This is why I highly recommend having emergency sub plans ready at all times. It will save you stress and keep things running smoothly when you are finished (especially if your emergency makes it challenging for you to prepare plans).

For emergency sub plans, think big idea! What are the common skills you are practicing throughout the year? In math, this might be multiplication facts. In reading, this might be comprehension and inference. Make sub plans around these skills because the plans will then be applicable no matter when you need to use them.

I created this emergency sub plan bundle that includes FIVE days of editable plans, plus dozens of extra activities that your students will love. Whether you are making emergency sub plans and need PRINT AND GO or want to mix and match activities to make the perfect guest teacher plan, this is the ultimate sub plan resource! While there are only 5 days of written plans, there are more than enough activities to last well beyond 5 days!

These sub plans include five FULL days of prewritten, completely editable plans with daily…

  • Morning Work
  • Math (Including Different Math Warm Up Page Daily)
  • Social Studies Activities
  • Science Lessons
  • Reading (Informational, Fiction, Comprehension, Fluency)
  • Writing/Grammar

I designed these substitute teacher plans to provide meaningful, engaging, differentiated, and varied tasks in your absence. They include the ability to edit the templates and use the activities in whatever sequence works for you and your students. Your kids will absolutely love these activities, and your sub or guest teacher will appreciate the engagement and ease of use.

How to Prepare Your Classroom for Sub

Here are several more easy and quick ways to set yourself up for success with subs… and eliminate stress later!

When I know I am going to be out, I have a few things that I do to make sure that my classroom is ready for the substitute. Here are a few things I recommend doing to prepare for a guest teacher:

#1 Lay out and clearly label everything needed for the day.

Make sure everything that will be needed for the lesson is laid out and labeled. This includes copies, extra paper, pencils, markers, etc. I put all of the papers needed in stacks with binder clips, and then put a sticky note on top with simple instructions. For instance, “Math activity 2:45-3:30.” For any supplies, I like to put them inside of buckets and label the bucket as well.

I also like to create a place for returning items. For instance, I include a basket for the sub to place completed assignments or anything else a student may have turned in while I was gone. Leaving a couple of paper clips or binder clips behind is helpful as well.

All of this labeling and organizing helps the sub run the lesson more efficiently. 

#2 Provide helpful documents and items in a substitute binder.

If you complete this step at the beginning of the year, you will have a good chunk of your sub preparation done for the school year! Create a sub binder or folder with all your essential information for the day. This includes:

  • Important numbers and extensions (front desk, co-worker, classroom next door, etc.)
  • List of student names, allergies, and other important information
  • Essential class rules (bathroom rules, seating rules, lunch rules, etc.)
  • Class schedule, including any time they may need to be at a lunch, recess, or before and after school duty
  • Seating charts (these may need to updated throughout the year)
  • Attendance rosters (if your sub will be taking attendance on paper)
  • Individual student accommodations that they may need to be aware of

#3 Consider classroom management. 

I always leave behind instructions for my classroom management system so that the sub can easily implement it. You can also consider leaving out an incentive for students or implement a special guest teacher management system for these days. 

If there is something that a guest teacher might find tricky to manage, you may want to make a note of it. In my classroom, I have a lot of different seating options, fidgets, and stuffed animals that students are allowed to use throughout the day. They know the expectations, so they usually follow them well even with a guest teacher. However, if you think it may be difficult for a sub to manage, consider eliminating those “extras” for the day.

#4 Leave a thank you note.

Lastly, leave a little thank you! This can also be something you pre-prepare, such as a typed thank you that you make copies of. I buy a small bag of chocolates at the beginning of the year to have on hand as well. This simple touch can go a long way. As we all know, subs can be hard to come by (especially right now). Giving a little thanks can help lift up this teacher's day.

How to Prepare Sub Plans 

Alright, now it’s time to tackle the bulk of sub planning! How will you meaningfully fill the time and keep students learning while you are away? Deciding on what to include in your sub plans can be tricky. You want the tasks to be simple to set up, easy enough for students to complete independently, but also be so much more than busy work.

Pro Tip: Always leave answer keys for guest teachers!

To Teach or Not to Teach?

Asking subs to teach entire lessons with brand new concepts and information can be daunting. Sometimes it works out well if you have a simple scripted math curriculum lesson to teach or are in the middle of a novel study, but what if you have to be gone on the day you are due to introduce long division? Don’t even think about it! 😉 

Whether you are gone for a day or a whole week, reviewing is my go-to sub plan. Reviewing really doesn’t have to be busy work. Consider providing enrichment resources for these concepts to allow them to take the learned concepts deeper. I like to use Math Projects, Reading Projects, or Logic Puzzles for this.

If you are gone for just a day, have students review content from the previous day, week, or month! If you are gone for an extended period of time, have students do a major cumulative review of content from the year. 

Here are a few easy to prep, sub friendly lesson ideas to include:

#1 Digital Assignments

I listed this one first because there are tons of options for digital assignments. I don’t recommend doing back to back assignments on the computer. However, these are great for middle and end of the day assignments when everyone is getting a little bit restless, and they help break up the day, too! You can view all of my digital access resources here!

Websites such as Kahoot!, Quizizz, and Blooket allow you to put games on independent or “homework” mode. This means you don’t need the sub to set-up or start the assignment. You can also use more traditional learning platforms like IXL. Just make sure you upload a link to your LMS and give the sub clear instructions on where students will find the assignment.

You can also use Google Forms to create engaging online assignments. For instance, you can set-up a Google Form escape room. You can also embed videos in a Google Form. Have students watch a TedEd or a Pixar Short and then answer questions. This keeps everything in one place, so students don’t have to wander on the internet looking for things.

Pro Tip: If you want to really simplify things, record yourself giving instructions to students! They can watch the video on your LMS platform or have a sub play the video on your projector.

#2 Engaging Alternatives to Worksheets

There is nothing worse than leaving worksheet after worksheet after worksheet for guest teachers. It’s boring for them, it’s boring for students, and it leaves so much room for students to become disruptive.

Luckily, there are many easy, print and go alternatives to typical worksheets. You might consider these super easy to prep alternatives to worksheets for subs:

Math Concept Pictures: I have these FREE for a ton of different math skills including multiplication, place value, addition and subtraction, and more! Students solve several problems and then create a personalized picture based on those drawings. Math + Drawing = Win! You can download each one here: Addition Aquarium, Place Value Park, Gingerbread Multiplication Village, Winter Wonderland Snow Globe Multiplication & Division, and Differentiated New Year's Party.

Using Pictures to Teach: These are so much more than worksheets, super engaging for students, and are available for SO many different skills. I encourage you to leave two – one for the whole class to do with the substitute and then one for them to do with a partner.  This Using Pictures for Reading Skills bundle will cover you all year long. You can also read these posts to learn more about using pictures to teach.

using pictures to teach reading skills upper elementary
digital reading skill practice upper elementary

You can also download this FREE winter version of using pictures to teach reading skills.

Rapid Read and Review: These are print and go, but they have SO many different tasks, a wide variety of ways that students engage with the texts, and COLORS! There is something about annotating with colors that students love. This Rapid Reading Review bundle has fiction, informational text, figurative language, and grammar activities.

Candy Math: I always have mini bags of Skittles on hand for a variety of reasons, and this is one of them! Candy Math is another print and go activity, but it’s SO engaging for students. With so many different skills covered, there’s something for any time of year. See Candy Math in action here!

Error Analysis, Math Projects, and Reading Projects are all engaging alternatives to traditional worksheets too!

#3 Task Cards

If you want to mix up your sub plans, task cards are another easy way to do so. I prep a TON each year and can use them over and over again. They allow students to get up and move around, engage with smaller texts or individual problems, and keep them highly engaged. Just like with printables, I suggest making sure there is depth to the cards and an activity to go with it. This post has eight exciting ways to use task cards to learn more.

How to Prepare Students for a Sub

Last, but definitely not least, you want your students to be prepared for having a sub. The best way to prepare students is by having the conversation early-on about how to treat guests in the classroom. Then, reinforce this conversation right before you’ll be gone, if you know in advance.

For instance, you want to mention that any teacher or staff in the room should be treated respectfully and listened to. You can reinforce this when an office staff member or co-teacher comes into the room. If students are talking over the adult or other behavior, have the conversation with them once the adult has left.

If you know you will be absent on a particular day, you should let your students know and review expected behavior before the day is over. I like to write a letter with the expected behavior on the board as well, and leave it there for the next day.

You should also let students know that you will ask the sub for feedback about how the day went. This lets students know that even when you are away, you are still connected and involved in the classroom.

I know planning for a sub can be tricky business, but hopefully this helped you generate some ideas! My best advice is to prepare any items you can in advance to make any planned or unexpected days off just a little bit easier.

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