8+ Tips for Secondary English SUB PLANS

Caught the flu from a family member? Don't sweat it (pun intended) - you've got more options for prepping your substitute teacher than you think.

Although I'm not a substitute teacher myself, I teach in a building that has a REALLY hard time getting enough substitute teachers, so I've *somewhat* been in that role by filling in for other teachers, both planned in advance or at the last minute. 

If you're in a middle or high school setting, you've probably noticed that the primary world seems to have cutesy solutions all over Pinterest for substitute teachers, and our sphere is more silent on this topic. 

News Flash: You don't need a cute "sub tub", or even a perfect printed pile of lessons on your desk when the other teacher walks in the door. But there are a few things that ARE essential before you're gone for any length of time. 

So here's a starter list of ideas to get you started!

Do this first (before you get sick)... 

1. Make your sub binder or folder. 
Pick a bright binder or folder and keep it in an obvious place - on top of, or near your desk - so that a sub could find it easily, even if it's not laid out front and center for him or her. 

Make sure your sub folder includes:
  • A detailed, annotated version of your daily schedule - including any notes about where to go or what to expect!
  • Copies of all your class lists/rosters, and/or any attendance forms you want to be used. Don't be afraid to annotate this list with any special notes about students, including allergies or behavioral FYI's. 
    • (Note: if your attendance is electronic, include directions for how to deal with that!)
  • Copies of seating charts, if you use them. 
  • Emergency paperwork, such as directions of what to do if there's a fire drill or other alarm.
  • Don't assume your sub is familiar with classroom or building norms! 
  • Technology instructions, whether that's how-to details about how to use your projector or rules about the technology that STUDENTS are allowed to use. 

2. Appoint one student helper per class period. 
Pick a responsible student in every class period who you can trust to follow your rules, and ask him or her to be the sub's appointed helper. This student could be trusted to pass out or collect papers, be a "runner" to the office, or perhaps verify if a classroom rule is true or not. 

Once you have that set up, be sure to write the names of your student helpers in the sub binder somewhere (perhaps with each class period list/roster). 

3. Post your classroom rules (either in general, or for Sub Days)
Laminate and post a paper on the wall/board that has student rules or reminders on it. Doing so can give the sub something to fall back on, and cue the students to be on decent behavior... 
  • Are there rules that you want to make sure are followed? 
  • Will students be rewarded upon your return if you get a good report?
  • Will today's activity be worth double the points? 

Options for Sub Lessons 

This is the more controversial part of my post because teachers have very strong and varied opinions about the "best" way to spend such a day of lessons. But here's my no-judgment list of ideas anyway.

1. Have a preprinted, stand-alone lesson in your binder.
A popular option among many teachers is providing a single, easy-to-teach and easy-to-complete lesson or activity that is mutually beneficial for the sub and students. 

Here are a few of my own sub-friendly lessons that would NOT require technology:
Here are a few that would require some tech, such as a projector:

...Enter the Controversy...

The suggestion I gave above is fine. It's what a lot of people do... BUT, you don't HAVE to leave behind a printed lesson, and you don't have to stay up late writing a quiz for the sub to pass out. (Gasp.) There are easier options, if you're willing (and allowed) to use them!

2. Give students a reading day. 
If you have an independent reading program already in place, OR if you are in the middle of a literature unit, why not just give students a reading day? They'd probably appreciate the "bonus" time to get caught up (or ahead) in their current books!

3. Give students a work day/ study hall. 
If they already have a project or assignment in motion, why not just give them a writing day and/or study hall? Most secondary students have enough homework on their plates that they'd use a study hall fairly efficiently (not to mention that they'd appreciate the "break"!)

4. Give a writing prompt and/or timed writing. 
In your sub binder, leave a writing prompt that the sub can write on the board, along with any directions you wish to give students. It can be a timed, in-class activity that they must finish and turn in within the class period, OR one that they start in class and finish (or proofread) for homework. 

Gone for more than one day?

When I'm going to be gone for a longer period of time, I'm thinking a lot about what I can comfortably ask another teacher to do... that is still good use of student time... that won't make me feel guilty for what I'm asking of the teacher. 

Here are just a few multi-day or multi-week lessons that are self-explanatory enough in someone else's hands!
  • Choice Writing Menus: Seasonal prompts that let students write in multiple genres on relevant topics... very self-explanatory and conducive to in-class writing time
  • Five Paragraph Essay Unit: Easy-to-follow single lessons that could culminate in an essay
  • Short Story Unit that puts some of the teacher role on students, instead of the sub!
  • Two Truths and a Lie: Creative writing with a twist
  • 15 Minutes of Fame, my best-selling public speaking project for a reason! Just read the teacher/buyer comments to see why it might work well in your absence. 
  • Why Grammar? Unit, if you want to weave in some nonfiction reading and writing

Have other ideas for substitute teachers? 
I'd love to hear them in the comments!

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