Substitute Teacher Tips for How to be a Highly-Requested Sub in 2023

Being a substitute teacher (also known as a supply teacher, guest teacher or cover teacher) is hard! The school district likely doesn’t give you any substitute teacher tips. You enter a classroom without knowing the students, their learning needs, backgrounds, or personalities. You are not familiar with the classroom routines and behavior management strategies and tools. This. Is. Hard. Stuff.

Thank you, on behalf of all teachers, for all that you do to keep our students safe and happy while we are unable to tend to them. You make a huge difference for our students. Read below to get some quick and easy substitute teacher tips that you can implement the next time you walk into an elementary classroom!

10 Substitute Teacher Tips

Below are 10 tips for substitute teachers at the elementary level.

1. Put Together a Substitute Teacher Bag

Every substitute’s teacher bag should have…

  • water bottle
  • healthy snacks
  • sweater
  • book
  • extra pencils
  • cell phone (on but on silent mode)

2. Dress for Success

Every school has its own culture and, as a result, its own unspoken dress code. As a substitute teacher, your best bet is to dress business casual. This could look like dress pants and a modest top or perhaps a dress.

One important tip is to think comfort! You want to have the flexibility to sit on the ground with students to listen to them read and walk students across the school to their special. As a substitute teacher, you need be prepared to be active; however, it is important to look professional at the same time.

3. Have a Toolkit of Quick and Easy Activities to Pull From

Have you finished up a lesson early and you have 10 minutes left before special or lunch? You have a room full of students who are looking to you to figure out what to do. Having a toolkit of sub activities in your back pocket is one of my favorite substitute teacher tips! Try one of these activities to help you if you get stuck in this type of situation!

Guess My Number

Pick a number. Give students a range of where the number falls with. If students are in Kindergarten, I might say the range is 0-10. If students are in third grade, on the other hand, I might say the range is 0-1,000. Students are trying to guess the number. When a student guesses a number, you either say higher or lower. They need to use their number sense skills to solve.

Word Maker

Invite students to work in small groups. Give each group a piece of paper. Put letters (e.g. 4 consonants and 2 vowels) on the board and ask students to make as many words as they can in a set amount of time. The group that creates the most amount of words wins.

Alphabetical Order

Do this activity as a whole group. Write a list of words on the board and ask students to put them in alphabetical order.


This is a vocabulary game. Split the class into two teams (e.g. boys and girls). Invite one person from a team up to the board. Give them a grade appropriate vocabulary word (e.g. stem in first grade and division in third grade) and have them draw a picture of it. Their team has to try and guess what vocabulary word the person is drawing. Time how long it takes them. Have the other team go next.


Pick a word, draw a line for each letter, and invite students to guess letters they think may go on the lines. The goal is to guess the word before drawing a full stick figure person.

Read Aloud

Read aloud a picture book to students. Stop and ask questions as you go through the book to keep students engaged and thinking about the story.

Emergency Sub Plans

Keep a toolbox of no-prep, high engagement activities in case the students finish the day’s work early. These emergency sub plans are a great option!

emergency sub plans

4. Show Up Early

Arriving 15 minutes early is a great way to leave a good impression. It will also help you start the day on the right foot because you’ll have time to get settled and read the sub plans for the day.

5. Create a Routine for the First 5 Minutes

The first five minutes will determine how the rest of your day goes. Make the most of this time! Remember to do the following things to ensure you have a smooth day:

  • Introduce yourself and write your name on the board.
  • Introduce and practice an attention getter that you will use throughout the school day.
  • Take attendance by saying each child’s name, making eye contact with them, and smiling.
  • Explain that the day will run a little bit differently because their teacher isn’t there, but you are confident that, with their help, the day will run smoothly and their teacher will be very happy.
  • Offer an incentive like free choice or a game at the end of the day to motivate students to behave appropriately. Clearly explain your behavior system and the expectations in order to get the incentive.

6. Have a Toolbox of Classroom Management Strategies

Below are some classroom management strategies you can use.

  • Introduce and practice an attention getter.
  • Explain your behavior system at the beginning of the day.
  • Offer an incentive for the students to earn at the end of the day.
  • Use parallel praise, which means you praise students who are making good choices rather than highlighting students who are not making good choices.
  • Introduce and practice an attention getter.
  • Explain your behavior system at the beginning of the day.
  • Offer an incentive for the students to earn at the end of the day.
  • Use parallel praise, which means you praise students who are making good choices rather than highlighting students who are not making good choices.

7. Leave a Note for the Teacher

One way to be a highly requested substitute teacher is to leave a detailed note covering an overview of the day, what was not accomplished from the sub plans, comments about positive behavior, and document any specific behavior challenges. Thank the teacher for sharing their students with you and explain how you look forward to visiting again soon.

8. Thank the School Secretary

Stop in the office before you leave, sincerely thank the secretaries with a warm smile, and exclaim that you enjoyed working with Mrs. D’s class. You may even want to ask if there are any days coming up that you can help with.

9. Say Yes!

Another way to be a highly requested substitute teacher is to say YES! “We know it is super last minute, but would you be able to come in and sub for Mrs. D?” YES! “Are you able to come in the Friday before vacation?” YES! “Are you able to come in the day before winter vacation?” YES!

10. Have Fun!

When you are having fun, you show enthusiasm and a positive attitude. Who doesn’t love to work with someone who is happy? It’s contagious!

I wish I had known some of these substitute teacher tips a long time about. This blog post talks about how subs can handle classroom management and become the most requested substitute teacher. After reading the post I am going to start keeping certain items in my bag so I am always ready to go. Other substitute teachers will love some of their outfit ideas too! #substituteteacher #subplans #teachertips

In closing, we hope these substitute teacher tips were helpful! If they were, download The Clutter-Free Classroom’s Guide to Preparing for a Substitute Teacher, check out these other sub plans posts, and learn more about these emergency sub plans that will help you be prepared no matter what!

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Grab this freebie and engage your students in a fun seasonal activity. It’s a great way to practice opinion writing.