I have seen many plans over the years that give students an opportunity to show their work ethic and social skills by completing creative tasks together.
My sub plans were not like this. I spent most of my years in a middle school with large classes of 35 squirrely, defiant pre-teens and teens, and sub planning for me meant finding ways to fill the class period with tasks that removed opportunities and reasons for students to act out. Sub days were a kind of a treatise between me and my students, in which there was an unspoken agreement that if I left plans that weren’t pure torture, my students would work independently and quietly to complete them.
Get sub plans for Spanish classes now!
Sub planning for challenging classroom dynamics
This is a post for my readers that, like me, need sub plans that will keep the kids and the sub emotionally and physically safe in your absence. And remember—what works in the most challenging classrooms will work in most classrooms.
Plans with technology
If you have the luxury of being in a 1:1 school or otherwise guaranteeing good access to devices for your students in your absence, great! There are loads of websites that they can work on independently for the duration of the class period (Señor Wooly, Textivate, and Fluency Matters E-courses are some of my faves!).
I, however, was not allowed to leave any materials that involved technology for subs. ZERO TECHNOLOGY. No videos, no chrome books, no songs…nothing. So here’s what I did:
Here are four tips for creating technology-free sub plans for challenging classes:
- Assign tasks that will be completed independently and silently
- Allow opportunities for creative expression
- Make room for student choice
- Leave low-stakes assignments
- Over plan
By low-stakes, I mean assignments that will not count toward the students’ grade in the course in a significant way. I never left summative assessments, and I never left assignments that absolutely had to be completed in order to me to move forward with the course material upon my return. I rarely left assignments that students would have to finish later if they didn’t in class. A low stakes assignment to me means:
- Not an assessment
- Graded for completion (When compared with what classmates completed… A/100 – It is obvious that you were working diligently the whole period. C/75 – It is obvious that you were not working for a majority of the period. F/55 – It is obvious that you did nothing.) This goes in the Work Habits category of my gradebook.
- Doesn’t have to be made up If you missed the class, you don’t have to make up the work. If you didn’t finish the assignment, you don’t have to finish it.
There are many reasons for this–often, subs do not follow instructions correctly (sometimes because the teacher leaving the instructions is not clear and sometimes due to user error–no judgement! I subbed for a half year when I first moved to AK and screwed up lesson plans more than a few times!). Things don’t always go as you expect when you create the plans–the copier might break, the office might not get plans to the sub on time, the school might not find a sub, the students might deceive the sub (“Señora Bex always lets us work together on tests!”)….the list could go on forever!
Leave low stakes plans so that you can pick up right where you left off before you had to miss class.
“Idle hands are the devil’s playthings” — this could not be more true than in classrooms, especially when there is a substitute teacher.
If you have 45 minute class periods, leave enough independent tasks to fill 120 minutes. When you are confident that no student will be able to finish what you have put together, make a list of Fast Finisher tasks just in case.
A wasted day?
You might be thinking that this sounds like a total wasted day. It sounds like busy work. And…well…you’d mostly be right. I would never put a video of my sub day plans in action on my NBCT application. I would never earn a Teacher of the Year prize based on a classroom observation on those days. I hated missing class, and I didn’t do it often. But when I did, I knew that I was setting my students up for success–which quite frankly meant not getting a referral. If I could find ways to expose my students to comprehensible input that was even moderately compelling, all the better.
And so…adding to the portfolio of sub plans that I have shared over the years, here are some adaptable sequences that you can modify with original content to meet your students where they’re at when you have to miss class:
SUB PLAN SEQUENCE 1
- Read three-four stories (enough to fill the front and back of a page, double sided).
- Illustrate all stories.
- Translate one story.
- Write five quiz questions about one story (in Spanish).
- Write a personal reaction to one story (what you liked or didn’t like and why, what it made you think of, etc.).
- Simplify one story.
See this example here (PDF or Doc).
SUB PLAN SEQUENCE 2
- Read a fictional text (possibly a class story or character description)
- Illustrate a storyboard or write a summary in English.
- Read an informational text.
- Highlight the main idea of each paragraph. Write one follow-up “want to know” question about each paragraph. “Quiero saber…
- Imagine a story or situation that brings the two texts together.
- Illustrate the story or situation.
- Describe what’s happening in Spanish.
See this example here (PDF or Doc).
SUB PLAN 3
- Complete a 1-3-10 free write.
- Draw a picture of your free write (five minutes)
- Do a Wordoku or Logic Puzzle (your choice!)
Need more materials?
- Glyphs are great for sub days
- Use old free writes to create content (all the stories above were free writes from one of my classes in 2010).
- Base story on content on things kids like–zombies, trends, etc.
- Leave puzzles — although without a product to show, it’s hard to hold students accountable for work completed/not completed
- Spend part of the period doing choice reading
- Leave [almost] fool proof emergency plan instructions!
7 replies on “Sub plans for challenging classes”
I’m curious about the link here between urban schools and challenging classes. I wonder what about the urban school structure, curriculum, teaching, and system sets up kids to engage less? I worry that race is a part of this and it’s not being named.
I don’t think you can identify any one factor that is the only factor. Poverty and the inability of parents to have an active role in their child’s education play a huge part. How do you come sit in on Bob’s class to make sure he’s behaving appropriately when you go to your 2nd job as soon as you finish your 1st job? That being said, I think there is an inherent bias against ‘urban’ (usually meaning poor & high diversity) schools. One of the classes we had to take for my education program was an ‘isms’ class that made us examine our own biases and the issues different people face in different environments, and I really wish it was mandatory everywhere.
I hear what you are saying! Students face challenges in every community. My place was and always will be in urban schools–which yes, in my case, meant poor and high diversity. I am speaking from my experience, which demonstrated that my students in an urban setting needed WAY more structure in the absence of a familiar, trusted authority in order to be successful than did my suburban students.
I disagree entirely; I don’t think that race is a factor at all. I think it has everything to do with the poverty, violence, and abuse (physical, substance, etc.) that is often endemic in urban centers. This was absolutely the case in my school, in which 95% of students qualified for free or reduced lunches and almost everyone had lost someone they knew to gang violence. Many of my students experienced homelessness, and many more lived in homes with parents that were either absent physically (often working 3 jobs) or in capability due to addiction, which was rampant. These problems seep into the classroom–irrespective of the race of the people they are affecting
Just what I needed today! Thank you!
I needed this SO bad my first couple of years! I am going to add this article to my readings for Methods classes- what do do when you can’t come to work AND what not to do. (Because I did all of those things- left tests, left content, etc.) Plus, this is PERFECT for my unexpected sub day- when I go to do an audit on diversity and inclusion in my school!