Emergency Sub Plans! Lesson Ideas for Substitute Teachers

for any teacher
Emergency Sub Plans

The Essential Guide to Emergency Lesson Plans for a Substitute Teacher at ANY Grade Level: NO MORE PANIC MODE! 


Let's paint a picture. You're a classroom teacher, and bam - a family emergency strikes, or perhaps it's just one of those pesky sick days that sneak up on you or even worse, your sick child tugs at your pajama sleeve with a feverish whimper. Panic sets in. Who's got time for prep work when life's unpredictableness hits? The good news: There’s a superhero cape waiting for our saviors of the school day – the substitute teacher. And our "bat signal"? Emergency lesson plans for substitute teachers that require minimal prep time and ensure our class runs smoothly while we're out!


Substitutes (especially the really good ones) are nothing short of superheroes!


Every seasoned classroom teacher knows the value of a good sub binder.

These treasured tomes, full of sub plans, are the lifeblood of a smooth transition from regular teacher to guest teacher. Because, let’s face it, scrambling to write substitute lesson plans at 6 am when you should be nursing a sore throat (or a sick child) isn’t a fun way to start the day. But imagine, dear readers, if there was a way to have ready-to-go sub plans irrespective of what grade level or subject you teach? 5th grade social studies? Check. High school students who think they can pull a fast one on the sub? Double-check.


Emergency sub plans are NOT just about giving students time to do busy work.

No, no. The best part about well-thought-out emergency lesson plans for substitute teachers is that they provide meaningful educational activities. Not just the "keep 'em busy" stuff, but genuine, actual learning experiences. And here's the great thing: with just a little bit of prep time in advance of whenever that day comes, and it WILL come, that you all-of-a-sudden need a sub, you can ensure that every single day, from full school days to just a class period, is productive and engaging, even during unexpected sub days.


Substitute plans, especially the emergency kind, are NOT a one-size-fits-all ordeal.

What works wonders for younger students might elicit eye rolls from older students. Tailoring activities by subject areas and grade levels might take a lot of time initially, but trust me on this, the peace of mind you gain is worth the hard work. I promise, spending a bit more time upfront means a lot less heart-racing panic whenever the unforeseen happens (and it WILL happen!).


And for our valiant substitute teachers, diving into a sub binder and finding a set of emergency sub plans that offer detailed instructions, down to daily schedules and methods for managing small groups, is akin to finding a treasure chest. The best kind of treasure? A day that runs smoothly, giving the sub not just a good laugh but also an opportunity to teach in different ways (and making them MUCH more likely to not even give a second thought about subbing for you the next time you need one).


Make things so simple for your sub; they'll jump at the next opportunity to sub for you!


You might think, “How much time does it really take to get a good set of plans ready?” The answer varies. Some might say it takes as long as prepping for the next day, while others might argue that it’s more like mapping out the school year. But here’s the kicker: if you can nail down a solid set of sub plans, especially emergency substitute plans, and make them easily accessible, you've done most of the hard work. From there, tweaks and updates come EASY!


The very last thing on your mind when a sick day arises or a family emergency looms, instead of frantically searching for something (anything!) to leave your substitute, you point them to your trusted set of emergency lesson plans for substitute teachers. Voila! Easy access, little time wasted, and a ton of gratitude from your substitute who now feels empowered and prepared!


Save yourself from undue stress, anxiety, and TIME (especially when you need it most) by preparing emergency sub plans NOW!


The prep work might seem daunting, but trust me, the dividends it pays in peace of mind and ensuring a consistent learning environment go a long way!


So, whether you’re a seasoned teacher, a newbie, or a high school substitute looking for a good laugh and some handy tools, stick around. The world of emergency lesson plans for substitute teachers is vast, exciting, and – most importantly – absolutely essential


By the end of this article, you'll have a slew of resources, tips, and tricks to ensure every sub day, whether planned or sprung upon you last minute, is a success. Plus, the additional resources and ideas will guarantee that no guest teacher walks into a classroom feeling lost.


Ready to dive in?


Emergency Lesson Plans 101: Crafting the Perfect Sub Plans for ANY Substitute Teacher!

Let's dissect the key parts of what makes these lesson plans the gold standard and how, with a little time and effort ahead of time, you can craft your set of emergency sub plans that will be the envy of the faculty lounge!


1. Relevance to the Curriculum: The best part about an A-grade emergency lesson plan is that it isn't just filler or busy work. It ties into what students have been learning throughout the school year, making every single day, even unexpected sub days, meaningful. Whether it’s an exploration of the Renaissance for older students or ELA sub plans for elementary level students, relevance ensures continuity!

2. Flexibility Across Grade Levels: Remember that sick day where your 7th-grade plans had to suddenly fit a 5th-grade class? Or when the middle school had to make do with high school material? If not, count your blessings, because it's only a matter of time until somehow, some way, it happens to YOU! The magic is in flexibility. While having grade-specific plans is a good idea, designing lessons that can be easily scaled up for older students or simplified for younger ones saves much time when you're in a pinch.

3. Clear and Concise Instructions: On sub days, our beloved guest teachers have a lot on their plates. Detailed instructions are their essential compass to navigate the school day. It's not just about "what" the students need to do, but "how.". For a substitute teacher, these easy access, step-by-step directives are worth their weight in gold! Bonus points if you're able to provide them with tips on which kiddos to keep an extra eye on or transitioning between activities!

4. Duration and Timing Considerations: The clock can either be a substitute's ally or adversary. Imagine this: it's barely halfway through a class period, and the class is done with their tasks. Or even worse yet, an activity you estimated to take a short amount of time now looks like it will spill over into the next day! Providing a realistic estimate of how long each activity will take, with a daily schedule and additional resources for fast finishers, can be a lifesaver for your substitute teacher.

5. Listing Necessary Materials: There's a special kind of chaos that can erupt when students are told to "grab materials" without specifics. The difference between a peaceful class and one that's, well, not-so-peaceful can often be chalked up to preparation. Your emergency lesson plans should include a list of materials required for each activity. This ensures that the substitute teacher has everything ready to go, right from the start!


REMEMBER! Your goal isn't to just fill time or give students busy work. The objective is to ensure that learning continues seamlessly, even in your absence. And that's the great thing about investing some time in a solid set of plans before you actually need them. They offer a structured yet fun way for students to continue their educational journey, regardless of who’s at the helm!


Tailored Substitute Lesson Plans for EVERY Subject: From Pythagoras and Poe to Profiles in Time 

🌎 For you History and Social Studies Maestros:

When it comes to the realm of history and social studies, help your sub with these immersive yet simple ideas for them to engage your students with while you're out!

  1. Map MasteryWhether it's the ancient lands of Mesopotamia or the bustling states of modern America, map exercises are a fantastic way for students to visually engage with geography and history. From labeling exercises for younger students to topographical analysis for the older ones, maps offer an endless treasure trove of learning!

  2. Profiles in Time: What’s a history class without its cast of characters? Historical figure profiles are a great thing, allowing students to dive deep into the lives of historically significant individuals. Possible examples of these ready-to-go sub plans could include a template for a biography report or even a creative assignment like writing a diary entry for a day in the life of a chosen figure.

  3. YouTube Time Machine: Find a topic-relevant video (always preview first!) that can take students on a historical journey and have the sub follow it up with a worksheet of questions to ensure they stay engaged and comprehend the material.


🔢 For the Math Whiz Substitutes:

Ah, the world of numbers! Help your substitute teacher transform into a math wizard and guide your students young minds through numerical challenges and logic quests.

  1. Educational Math Games: Who said math can’t be a fun way to learn? Games are perfect at any grade level for reinforcing concepts without the dread of busy work. Tailor them for your students, whether it’s basic addition bingo for younger students or algebraic riddles for high school students.

  2. Worksheets of Wonder: A classic that never fades but forgets the humdrum problems of yore; spice up your worksheets with real-life scenarios, puzzles, or group challenges for small groups, making math relevant to their world.


📚 For the Literary Guardians (English/Reading/Literature Teachers):

In the kingdom of language and reading, every word is a pathway, and every story is a journey.

  1. Comprehension Quests: Dive into the world of literature with reading exercises for your sub to implement that will captivate your students' minds! Choose engaging texts with follow-up questions that challenge students' understanding and opinions.

  2. Creative Writing SpellsUnleash the magic with creative writing prompts. Whether it's continuing the tale of a story they’ve read or crafting their own based on unique scenarios, students’ pens won’t want to stop!


🔬 For the Science Scholars:

The universe of science – where curiosity leads to discovery!

  1. Experiment Extravaganza: Simple, safe experiments can be a delightful inclusion in your emergency lesson plans. Detailed instructions turn any substitute into a confident guide for your classroom while you're out. From understanding plant growth to creating small, non-volatile reactions, make science continue to come alive for your students even when you're not there!

  2. Discovery Learning ActivitiesProvide your sub with simple and concise instructions on how and where to set up interactive stations where students can explore different science concepts through hands-on activities. Be it examining slides under a microscope or building simple circuits, keep your students on a journey of discovery even in your absence!

  3. YouTube in the LabHigh-quality educational videos can easily help supplement a lesson or introduce students to exciting new topics. Ensure these visual aids culminate with a questionnaire or group discussion that your sub (with helpful prompts written out for them) can lead to reinforce learning!


Crafting these comprehensive, ready-to-go sub plans doesn't happen at the snap of your fingers. It takes some hard, dedicated work and a bit of that educator’s magic touch but the peace of mind knowing that your students are in good hands and learning, even while you're attending to a family emergency or recuperating from a sick day, is truly invaluable!



Quick Magic: Interactive Activities that Require Minimal Prep Time for the Time-Crunched Teacher

The clock is ticking and there's little time to spare. You need to send out your emergency lesson plans to your substitute teacher ASAP! Well, here's the good news: not all engaging, grade-level appropriate activities require hours of prep work.


Welcome to the realm of low-prep, high-impact activities!


🗣 Lively Discussions, Debates, and Brainstorms:

  1. Guided Group Discussions: Kick start the class period with an open-ended question related to the subject area. For instance, a social studies prompt for your sub might be something like: "What were the main causes of the American Revolution?" Encourage students to back up their opinions with facts or logical reasoning. For older students, have your sub delve deeper with them by providing them some prompts which ask students to draw from previous lessons or independent readings.

  2. Class Debates: Have the sub divide the class into small groups and provide a contentious topic. Perhaps a science question like, "Is Pluto a planet? Debate!" The best part? Debates teach students critical thinking, respectful disagreement, and the art of persuasion. Be sure to provide your sub with some tips on how to keep the discussion lively and on-track!

  3. Brainstorming BonanzaHave your sub pose a question or problem (be sure to provide them with this), for example, a business challenge for a middle school math or social studies class, and let the students brainstorm solutions. They can use whiteboards, paper, or even online tools to map out their ideas!

🎲 Games, Puzzles, and More:

  1. Subject-Related Crosswords & Word SearchesThey're old school but are tried and true, especially when it comes to things like reinforcing vocabulary and concepts without much prep time. Whether it's literary terms or important historical figures, there's a puzzle out there for every topic. Many online resources even allow for quick custom crossword creation!

  2. Hot SeatA fun way to revise and test knowledge. A student sits with their back to the whiteboard as you write out a word (e.g., a formula, historical date, literary term - be sure to provide your sub with a list of at least 20 relevant words), and the class gives clues to the student until they guess that term. Have your sub rotate students every couple of minutes, ensuring that everyone goes!

  3. Quick QuizzesThese can be easily sourced from existing resources or quickly created using platforms like Kahoot! and provide an effective way of measuring your students progress and understanding of the material while you're out!

🛠 Crafting the Perfect Sub Binder:

A sub binder is a substitute teacher’s treasure trove. Make sure you have it stocked with:

  1. A basic daily schedule.
  2. A set of emergency sub plans for different grade levels and subjects.
  3. Additional resources like maps for social studies or reading lists for English.
  4. Detailed, yet concise and easy-to-follow instructions on classroom procedures.  

With these tools, even a single day’s notice (or less) can be turned into an educational adventure. And the best part is the peace of mind it offers both you and your substitute teacher filling in. No more panicking about that unexpected sick child or family emergency. You’re ready; come what may!



Scaling the Summit: Adapting Substitute Lesson Plans for Peaks and Valleys

So, you're a 6th-grade social studies teacher teaching your students all about Ancient Egypt. You've got a fabulous lesson plan centered on ancient Egyptian pharaohs all ready to go for the next day, but then the unexpected happens: a sick child, a family emergency, or maybe you wake up with a horrible fever and it’s just one of those sick days. As a classroom teacher, the scramble begins. You need to prepare your emergency sub plans. Now, here's the twist: the only available substitute teacher specializes in teaching 5th grade. Gasp! Before you panic, here's the good news: adapting lesson plans for different grade levels isn't as Herculean as it seems!


🔄 Understanding the Basics of Up-scaling and Down-scaling:

1. High School Students vs. Younger Students: A good idea is to create a sub binder (ideally, ahead of time) with two versions of your lesson plans: a detailed one for older students and a more basic version for the younger ones. For instance, while high school students might delve deep into the political strategies, beliefs, and values of a historical figure, younger students might focus on their personal lives and contributions.

2. The Art of Simplification: It's not about dumbing down; it’s about streamlining. Think of it as distilling the essence of a lesson. A complex middle school science concept can be made approachable for fourth or fifth graders through the use of analogies, stories, or fun demonstrations.

3. Engaging Activities for Every Age: Educational activities should be age-appropriate. Crossword puzzles can be advanced for older students and simpler for younger ones. A single day's lesson can be adapted in different ways to cater to the capabilities of the students.


📜 Tweaking the Details:

1. Detailed Instructions: The more specific you can be, the better. This ensures that the substitute teacher, even if they're a guest teacher unfamiliar with your class's daily schedule, can pick up right where you left off.

2. Time Considerations: While a high school class period might endure a lengthy debate on a social studies topic, younger students have shorter attention spans. Thus, activities need to fit within the time frame, keeping them engaged and ensuring learning.

3. Materials and Accessibility: Ensure easy access to materials for the activities. Maybe 5th graders use colored pencils, while older students might require access to online resources. Always specify in your sub plans where to find these materials, especially if prep time is limited.


🎯 Targeting the Core Skills:

Instead of spending a lot of time recreating the wheel, focus on the core skills or subject areas you wish to impart. For instance, if the lesson is about persuasive writing, high school students might write essays, while younger students create posters. The core skill, persuasion, remains constant; only the method varies.


Being adaptable is a teacher’s superpower. Every grade level brings its own set of joys and challenges. While an emergency substitute plan for a specific grade level is a great thing, having the flexibility to adapt it for various grades is the real cherry on top.



Bridging the Classroom Gap: Crafting the Perfect Feedback Loop 

Ok, you've prepared your emergency sub plans, detailed down to the minute for a full day of learning! You're confident that your students will not only be occupied but will thrive even in your unplanned absence. The day goes by, and you're back, eager to understand how it all unfolded. But all you find on your desk is a sticky note saying, "Day went well. -Sub." Your heart sinks. What did they learn? How did they behave? Did the substitute teacher even follow your well thought-out and intricately crafted lesson plans?


Well, you're not alone! Many teachers struggle with this feedback void. But don't fret; establishing effective communication with your substitute teacher doesn't have to be a monumental task. Here's a guide on how you can create and implement an effective feedback system that works, offering peace of mind and ensuring your students' time was well spent.


🔍 The Devil is in the Details: Setting the Stage Early

It's a GREAT idea to prepare a dedicated section in your sub binder specifically for feedback from your sub. This isn't busy work; it's a vital communication tool. Specify what kind of information you'd like them to leave for. For example, how were the students? Which parts of the emergency lesson plans were covered, and what, if anything, was omitted? How was overall student engagement? This preemptive approach will save both you and your sub a lot of time and guesswork.


🌟 Creating a Feedback Form: The Star of Your Sub Plans

Piggybacking off of that, instead of allowing a free-form approach, which might result in missed details, design a feedback form. Ensure it's part of every set of sub plans you prepare. Include checkboxes for tasks completed, a section for any incidents or notable behaviors, and a space for general comments. This strategy ensures you get the information you need without putting much time pressure on your sub.


🎭 The Role Play: Walking a Mile in Their Shoes

Empathy goes a long way. Consider spending time in the role of a substitute teacher yourself. Understanding their challenges first-hand during school days can be eye-opening and can significantly inform how you prepare your sub plans, making them more user-friendly and effective.


🔄 The Feedback Loop: A Two-Way Street

Feedback shouldn't be a one-way street. Let your substitutes know you value their hard work by leaving a section in the form for them to express any difficulties they faced or suggestions for improvement. This inclusive approach encourages honesty and could provide you with insights to refine your emergency substitute plans further.


📬 The Follow-Up: Building Ongoing Communication

If you had a good laugh or a positive experience with something the substitute teacher wrote, let them know! A quick thank-you note or an email acknowledging their efforts and valuable feedback strengthens professional relationships and might even make them look forward to their next day in your classroom!


🚀 Aim for the Stars!

While it may seem like a lot of prep work initially, establishing a clear, effective communication channel with your substitute teachers sets the stage for a smoother educational journey. Knowing that your students are in competent hands, following your plans, and that you'll receive a detailed account of the day's events is the best part!


Remember, the goal here isn’t to add more to your already full plate. Instead, it’s about working smarter, not harder. With these strategies in place, you can confidently step back when life throws curveballs, assured that your class remains a productive, stable environment, continuing to function like a well-oiled educational machine!


The Final Notes:  Wrapping Up with a Lesson in Preparedness

A classroom is much like an orchestra, with each instrument playing a crucial part. As a classroom teacher, your role is to be the conductor. You guide, instruct, and lead. Yet, life happens. There will be days when you need to hand over the baton to a guest conductor, a.k.a. the substitute teacher. And just as an orchestra needs a well-prepared sheet of music to perform, your classroom needs well-constructed sub plans.


Our Harmonious Recap

  • Planning for Those Rainy Days: Ready-to-go sub plans give you peace of mind. It might feel like busy work initially, but investing a little time in preparing these resources saves a lot of time later on (not to mention stress and anxiety). It's not about filling a full day with just any activities but ensuring these are educational activities relevant to each grade level.

  • The Breadth and Depth of Subject Areas: From social studies exercises for 5th grade to reading comprehension challenges for high school students, the versatility of emergency lesson plans ensures that every student, whether younger students or older students, has a meaningful class period.

  • Keeping the Fun Alive: The good news is that even on sub days, the learning environment can be dynamic and fun. Whether it's a fun way of exploring math problems or a spirited debate on historical events, there are countless ways to ensure your students keep engaged and learning in your absence.

  • Scaling the Heights and Dips of Learning: Every classroom has a mix. Some students might grasp concepts quickly, while others need a tad more time. Adapting lesson plans to cater to different ways of learning across grade levels, from middle school to high school, ensures your sub leaves no student(s) behind.

  • Open Lines of Communication: The orchestra metaphor holds here too. Just as a musician would give feedback on a score, the substitute teacher's insights post-class are invaluable. Was the prep work sufficient? Were there additional resources that could have been handy? Did they have easy access to everything they needed?


Striking the Right Chord

Sure, the goal is to ensure learning continues even in your absence, but it's also about making sure the substitute teacher isn't scrambling around spending time searching for materials or trying to decipher complex instructions. Clear, detailed, and concise instructions are the best part of any effective sub binder.


However, it's also essential to remember that flexibility is a great thing. If a single day's lesson doesn't go as planned due to unexpected disruptions or if students take a longer or shorter amount of time than expected, it's okay. The set of emergency sub plans is a guide, not a strict daily schedule.


To conclude, every classroom teacher knows the hard work that goes into each school day. The dedication, the planning, the sleepless nights – it’s all for the students. Yet, when life's unpredictable notes play, having these plans ensures your students' time is well-spent, educational, and enjoyable.


The harmony continues, even if the conductor changes for the next day.


So here's to fewer anxious mornings, returning from sick days to a classroom that is still on track, and making sure that every day, whether it be under your direction or that of a guest teacher, strikes the right note in the symphony of education!

Thank you for reading!  -Jillian


Related Articles






Receive a FREE Week of Lesson Plans!

Join my mailing list to receive exclusive offers and promotions, the latest tips, and news on product updates!
Don't worry, your information will NEVER be shared.

I hate SPAM too and will NEVER sell it to a third-party. EVER



Presidents Day Escape Rooms for 5th-8th Grade! (2024)

Feb 01, 2024

New England Colonies Fun Facts for Your History Class

Which Type of School Teacher are YOU? The 16 Types of Teachers

Nov 15, 2023

33 Fun Thanksgiving and Pilgrims Facts for ANY Class!

Nov 03, 2023