Effective Substitute Lesson Plans

If you want something productive to happen in your classroom when a substitute is present, you must leave a lesson plan. Just as you use a lesson plan to guide what you do each day, substitutes will turn to your lesson plan for guidance. The plan also gives them something to rely on when students question them about the validity of the work. The substitute can simply say, “This is what your teacher left, so you'll have to talk to him about it tomorrow.”

What to Include

In the same way you create your own lesson plans, you must determine what you want students to learn while you are gone and how much they should finish in one class period. Generally, you should realize that students will not give substitute lessons as much credence as your own lessons.

However, this should not keep you from having two or three important points that they should take away from the substitute's lesson. You can write these on the board before you leave or have the substitute write them at the beginning of class to reinforce their importance.

Do not try something new or complicated with a substitute. For example, do not try a simulation or role-play — these activities can easily get out of hand. The freedom inherent in these types of activities can often lead to disruptions that can be hard for a substitute to manage. You want to minimize activities that can lead to problems.

Typically, you should leave assignments that require students to copy some notes you have left behind or read quietly from their textbooks. Then ask them to answer some questions or complete some other type of written assignment. You could also ask them to take a short quiz on the information.

How Much to Include

As you create these assignments, you need to keep in mind how much students will complete in class. Again, it is better to overplan than to underplan. One of the worst situations you can put a substitute in is having too little planned. Leaving students without any work to do for a long period of time is just a problem waiting to happen.

Even if students don't complete all of their work in class, you should require them to turn in what they have done to the substitute. This allows you to see if they actually worked during class. This is just another way to have some accountability for the students and the substitute. There is an example of a substitute lesson plan and a blank substitute lesson plan included on the CD that accompanies this book.

Sometimes students will not turn in their work to a substitute for fear that it will be lost. However, this is not an excuse that you should accept. One of the only ways you can hold your students accountable is to see how much they completed while you were gone.

Emergency Lesson Plans

You should create a stock of emergency lesson plans in case you have to call in for a substitute at the last minute. These are usually left with the substitute coordinator in the office or with your fellow teachers. Make sure to leave the name of the person or people who have copies of your emergency lesson plans in your substitute folder.

Because you do not know when you will use them, emergency lesson plans will obviously not relate directly to what you are teaching at the time you will be out. Here are a few ideas for some emergency lesson plans:

  • Questions from a chapter in the book that you are not planning to cover

  • Worksheets that are self-contained

  • Worksheets that might be considered interesting or fun, such as crossword puzzles

  • Outside readings with questions

You don't know what your students will be scheduled to learn on these occasions, so stick with general activities that will give the substitute something educational to do with the students.

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