Planning for a Substitute Teacher: Tips and Ideas for Elementary Teachers in 2023

Stomach bugs, fender benders, food poisoning, migraines, emergency pet visits, and your own kids’ illnesses are all unexpected reasons why you may suddenly and unexpectedly find yourself unable to make it into school with very little notice. These things happen! That’s why it’s so important to have emergency sub plans prepped and ready to go. The tips in this post for planning for a substitute teacher are also key. They will help you feel prepared and confident when you need to take a day off.

Are you guilty of driving into school with a bucket in your lap, suffering though the school day, or writing sub plans from the bathroom floor? I’m right there with you!

Instead, imagine being sick and simply picking up the phone, calling for a substitute teacher, and enjoying a day of rest and relaxation to get well. Think pajamas, soup, and Netflix in bed. Does this sound too good to be true?

Luckily, this dream is absolutely possible. It just requires some early preparation and planning at the beginning of the school year, but then you will enjoy the benefits all year long with peace of mind knowing that you are prepared if you unexpectedly need to be out of school.

Learn more about planning for a substitute teacher below and be sure to download the free guide for how to plan for a substitute teacher!

Emergency Sub Plans for Elementary can be quick and easy with no prep printables, an organization binder, and templates. If you need ideas for substitute teacher activities for math, science, social studies, reading, or writing (ELA) then you will love this post. First, second, third, fourth and fifth grade teachers will appreciate the free ebook and worksheets that will have you ready for a guest teacher on a moments notice.

5 Tips for Creating a Sub Binder

New (and even experienced) teachers sometimes struggle with knowing how to prepare for a sub or even what to include in a sub binder. The key is to include everything a substitute would need to know to effectively run the classroom in your absence, but to present it in a way that makes it easy to find specific details as they need them.

I prefer to create a sub binder. I find that it lends itself to quick editing when you need to update the information throughout the year. You can make a substitute binder easier to navigate by:

  • using labeled tabs to divide the sections
  • color coding like information by using colored paper
  • including a table of contents
  • starting with a “day at a glance” or “important things to know” page
  • writing the information in an easy-to-scan method using bullets, text features (bold, underlining, italics), using colored pens or a highlighter

Are you wondering what to include in a sub binder? The list below is available as a printable in my FREE guide to preparing for a substitute teacher. Download it now!

Learn how to plan for a sub, write substitute teacher plans & make a sub binder. These tips, ideas, photos & free printables explain how to plan, prepare & organize your classroom for a substitute teacher. It's perfect for Kindergatren, 1st grade, 2nd grade, 3rd grade, 4th grade & 5th grade.

5 Tips for Writing Good Sub Plans

When it comes to preparing and planning for a substitute teacher, my advice is to plan as if the person coming in has never subbed before… or been around children… or lacks ALL common sense. Chances are the guest teacher will be a professional who will do a stellar job, but preparing for the opposite end of the spectrum will help to ensure things will run smoothly in your absence. This involves writing sub plans that are thorough and easy to read. Here are some suggestions:

1. Create a template.

Create a Template. Set up a table with four columns (time, subject, details, notes) and as many rows as you need for each part of your day.

2. Start with your longest day.

Start with your longest day (little to no prep) and save the document as “Sub Plans for a (insert day of the week).”

3. Fill in each column.

Fill in each column with the time, subject, details, and notes.

  • Time: Write when the lesson, event, activity or transition occurs.
  • Subject: Simply label what happens at this time (math, art, etc.).
  • Details: Describe what will happen in depth.
  • Notes: Add in additional information that will be helpful.

4. Fill it out throughout the school day.

Continue to do this for the remainder of the subjects and activities for the day. I find it helpful to write my substitute teacher plans in semi-real time. By that I mean I set up the template in the morning and fill it in during the day as time allows while the kids are eating snack, doing self-selected reading, at lunch, etc. Not only did it make the task manageable, but it also allowed me to be very thorough in composing my substitute plans.

5. Create plans for the other days.

Once you’ve completed writing the detailed substitute lesson plans for your longest day, you can use it to create plans for the other days. Begin by opening the document and saving a copy with a new name for another day of the week. Edit the document by adding, removing or shifting things around to customize the plans for that day. Repeat the process for all days.

Tips for Selecting Activities when Planning for a Substitute Teacher

If you know in advance you are going to be out for an extended period of time, it is best to continue with the systematic instruction in place. However, for the sake of creating a collection of emergency sub plans, it is often much more manageable to use quality activities that the students are capable of doing without additional instruction. This is a great opportunity to review past skills and reinforce ongoing concepts.

You can take the time to put together your own, but if you are interested, I also made the process VERY easy with some amazing collections of printable and digital sub plans that can be used over and over again.

Providing the students with activities they have seen before, yet can be varied with each use, is ideal. This will increase students’ level of independence, which will increase the time they are on-task and decrease the potential for behavioral situations that occur when students are off-task.

How to Save Time Planning for a Substitute Teacher

I have put together a collection of reusable resources and templates that are perfect to leave with any substitute teacher. There are sets of substitute plans for each grade level that require no prep other than printing and copying the pages or assigning them using a platform like Google Classroom. The only other materials you might need in addition to the emergency lesson plans are a book (any book will do) or a link to a book being read aloud for the reading activities, dice for some of the math activities, and a pencil. These downloadable packets include plenty of reading, writing, word study, math, and science activities to cover you for a week or more. There are 40+ resources in each grade level packet, so you’ll be all set!

sub plans resources1st grade sub plans resources2nd grade sub plans resources
3rd grade sub plans resources4th grade sub plans resources5th grade sub plans resources
Learn how to plan for a sub, write substitute teacher plans & make a sub binder. These tips, ideas, photos & free printables explain how to plan, prepare & organize your classroom for a substitute teacher. It's perfect for Kindergatren, 1st grade, 2nd grade, 3rd grade, 4th grade & 5th grade.

Here are some additional resources to help you with planning for a substitute teacher and assembling lesson plans…

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