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Five ways to have rockin' sub days

March 29, 2014

We all love getting a day off now and then, but we all hate making sub plans. Most of the time, I would suffer through whatever illness was ailing me so that I wouldn't have to go through the hassle of creating plans! Here are a few things that helped to make my sub planning easier and sub days to go more smoothly:

Create a detailed, organized sub plan binder.

I love my sub binder! It took me quite awhile to create, but it helped sub days to go smoothly. In my binder, I have tabs for

  1. Lesson plans
  2. Class rosters
  3. Seating charts
  4. Class policies
  5. Discipline
  6. Emergency info. 

I leave my emergency plans in the (1) tab, and I temporarily replace them with specific plans when I know that I am out on a planned absence.

(2) and (3) are updated as needed (whenever a new student is added/removed or seats change), and (5) and (6) are set up at the beginning of the year and updated if necessary. Along with the class rosters, I include photos of each of my students so that a teacher can identify a student even if s/he was unable to catch the student's name. I also took pictures of anything that I referenced (ex: "drawing supplies are behind the sliding whiteboards on the left-hand side", "hall and nurse passes are at the front of the top right desk drawer") and labeled them in order to make things around the room easier to find.

Leave work for Fast Finishers

Have ready-to-go "fast finisher" activities available and easy to access. For me, this meant a bin of laminated folders with worksheets on them that students can grab and complete at their own pace. The bin was always out on one of my tables, and students knew about it.

Celebrate the good stuff!

Create a positive management system. I left "Superstar" tickets that the substitute could give out to any student that behaved in an admirable way. The tickets were placed in that class's prize drawing bag that was used to select Singing Ninjas and for bi-weekly prize drawings (5 winners/class--most of the prizes were candy).

Leave simple assignments

Leave plans that require nothing (or little) more than simply monitoring the students.

Lesson plans for sub days that I avoid:

Don't leave plans that require the substitute to speak the target language, even if you have a pre-arranged, TL speaking sub (you never know when s/he might cancel and be replaced by a non-TL speaker).

Don't leave plans that require them to teach lessons.

Don't leave plans that require them to use technology, no matter how simple it seems.

Don't leave plans that require them to administer assessments, because they all too often neglect to maintain the integrity of the testing environment and administration.

Don't leave plans that allow students the opportunity to get rowdy (cooperative learning activities, games, etc.).

Leave sub plans that work

Keep it simple! Here are three kinds of sub plans that have worked for me:

(1) Storyboard based plans where students read a story, answer comprehension questions, re-write the story, and then illustrate a storyboard if they have time. See examples here, here, and here.

(2) Reading-based plans where students read a story, answer comprehension questions, examine info graphs, write responses, etc. See an example here and my emergency plans here (the reading isn't included, but you can at least see the plans). 

(3) Mad Libs based plans, where students fill out a Mad Libs reading and then share their creation with classmates in an extremely structured manner. See an example here. To see more sub plan ideas, visit my sub plan category archives for ideas of activities that I've posted that could work as sub plans.

Leave more work than is needed

Leave more than enough work for the class period, and grade it based on completion (if your sub will have planning time, leave instructions for him/her to do this for you--an A if it's finished, a B if it's mostly done, a C if they got some work done, etc. I put this grade in the Work Habits (formerly 'citizenship') category.

Sub Day Success

By implementing those five strategies, I minimized the terror of sub days. What strategies do you use to help sub days go smoothly? What kinds of plans do you leave?

"Substitute" by Ramsey Beyer,

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