We’ve all been there: you wake up feeling terrible, and you have no idea what to get a sub to do with your class. So, you drag yourself to school because it takes more effort to come up with a lesson plan. I’d love to help you stay home and look after yourself the next time that happens, so I’m sharing ideas for emergency sub plans.
Let TED do the teaching on sub days
TED Ed has some excellent lesson plans for poetry, and I’ve curated a list (with links) that you can use whether you’re in the middle of a poetry unit or you’re looking for something quick and easy to add to an emergency sub plan.
I also have links to some longer Ted Talks that focus on social justice – and could lead to some great group discussions and/or written responses.
Activities your sub can do to with any text
These are great critical thinking exercises that can be used over and over again, so you can use them as emergency sub plans AND when you are in school too! I’ll explain them here, and then you can grab the detailed instructions if you want them.
I like to provide sub plans that include a critical thinking activity because when students feel like they’ve been given a doable challenge, rather than boring seat work, they are less likely to act up for the sub.
The 3, 2, 1 Strategy
This is so simple, but so effective. And the best part is it can be used in so many situations. Here’s how it works: you give students something to read – it can be a chapter from a novel, a scene from a play, a short story, and essay, a poem, etc. Then the sub will ask them to record:
3 important points or elements in the text: This will change based on the type of text. If it’s nonfiction, for example, you can ask students to record the three most important points to support the thesis. If it’s fiction, maybe you’ll ask them to record three important plot elements, or elements that support the theme.
2 excellent quotations: What makes them excellent? Again, this can change with the genre and/or your focus. You could ask students to choose the best quotes to support the thesis, the best ones for developing theme or character. Or you could ask them to choose quotes that contain examples of beautiful language or ones that made them stop and think.
1 question or observation that they’d like to share: Students can pose a question that they have about the text. This could be something that they need clarification on, or that they’d like to ask the group. They can focus on the text, or they could make text-world connections.
This is something your sub could ask them to do with a text they’ve already read, or one you assign. It’s best that you have a stash of short stories, articles, or poems that a sub could use, and I’ve included some of my favorites in the handout I’ve created for you.
The 5 Most Important Elements Strategy
Use this activity with any text to get your students actively learning even when there’s a substitute teacher. This simple strategy puts the responsibility on the students to decide what is important and worthy of discussion in any text they are reading together.
After they’ve read a short text or a section of a longer one, each student will choose five elements from the text that they believe are most important to understand the story 9or poem, or article). Then, they work in groups to come to a consensus on these five elements. Once they do, they find evidence to support their choices, choices they will have to defend when they have a full class discussion.
I love this activity because the students are forced to take a close look at the text without a teacher showing them where to look – and they almost always come up with the same things I would have.
This strategy works well for a sub day because, as with the 3,2,1 strategy, it includes some collaboration with the students. They enjoy the chance to work together, and your substitute won’t have to spend the whole class getting them to sit quietly at their desks.
Key facts and assertions
The activity is similar to the first two in that students will need a text to read and time to discuss the key elements. However, this time they will work together to make assertions (interpretive statements) about the text. Ideally, they will need to have done this with you before a substitute tries it, so this would be an excellent activity to use later in the year, when students have done a similar activity already.
I hope you’ve found something that can help on those days when you need emergency sub plans – or something you can use yourself when you need a break from lesson planning.
Looking for more versatile activities that can be used by you or your sub?
Let me know if you have any questions!
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