What Substitute Teachers Should Do When they Don’t Have Lesson Plans

Substitute teacher


As committed substitute teacher, you already know that a clear lesson plan will assist you in providing a quality learning experience for the students under your authority.

However,  imagine walking into a classroom to find that the teacher hasn’t left lesson plans for that day. What do you do?

Don’t panic! There is hope. I am a substitute teacher with over 20 years of experience and have been left without lesson plans hundreds of times.

Do  you want the confidence to teach a classroom without worrying about losing control? Then consider the 7 approaches that will make you a master of know what to do when no plans are available.

The duty of a substitute teacher is to help drive academic excellence regardless of limited resources that appear to make the outlook hopeless.

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Look for lesson plans on Teachers’ Desktop or nearby tables!

If there are no lesson plans, look around the room on nearby tables and shelves for materials and textbooks that might assist you in creating lesson plans relevant for that grade level. For example, if you come across math books opened to certain pages or math sheets stacked on the counter behind the teacher’s desk, you might just get an idea of what lessons where previously taught.

Don’t worry about repeating the same lesson plans. Going over the same material is way better than not being prepared to teach at all.

Ask the other teachers’ students to get ideas for lessons.

Colleagues and Students can be a substitute teacher’s most valuable resource when it comes to discovering ideas for presentation. Students can tell you about what they learned yesterday and the day before that. You can even learn about the entire daily class schedule.

Checking with other teaching staff members can be a valuable resource for substitutes teachers. Many times, grade level teachers can provide books, worksheets, and other materials to help you create a daily academic workflow.

Armed with this knowledge, you can come up with a lesson plan for each subject. As a result, you can keep students busy all day with little or no chaos and confusion.

Asking students and staff about what they are in the process of learning is one of the best ways to stay relevant to the regular teacher’s plans.

Have emergency resources on hand.

My experience as a substitute teacher has taught me never rely on teachers for preparedness. I bring along several academic resources for the unexpected. I have at the ready practical substitute teachers’ books and worksheets to pull ideas from.

For example, my books are full of STEAM subjects, including math, English, Science, technology, and social studies. From the front office, I can obtain Xerox copies of worksheets and distribute them for learning.

Having your own academic resources is a game changer and puts you in control every time you set foot into a plan less classroom.

Identify and discuss possible trends and have students to write a response.

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Substitute teachers must be communicative if they want to get to know students better. Don’t just follow the regular teacher’s lesson plans. Show students that you are more than a robot who come to do the teacher’s bidding.

Get to know the students but communicating with them. Talk about trends that have been happening in their world. There is always something new going on in the culture of young people. Stop what you are doing and talk to them.

I am sure you will get tons of ideas to build lesson around.  For example, you may discover that students are excited about trend occurring on Facebook or TikTok on which you can capitalize.

A Substitute Teacher can choose an Interesting theme as a classroom project.

Introduce a theme and establish a classroom project around it. Depending on the time of the year, it can be a Holiday theme, such as Valentine’s Day, Easter, or St. Patrick’s Day.

See how much students know about these holidays and assign a project around it. Divide students into groups and allow them to come up with some project regarding the holiday.

You can keep a focused, organized class the entire school day just from a temporary project-based learning approach.

substitute teacher

Allow students to play academic games on chrome books or iPads.

Many schools allow students to practice seat work on chrome books or iPads at various points during the day. If there are no lesson plans, take advantage of this technology.

For the sake of keeping order, I have allowed students to work on this technology throughout an entire school day. Games such as ABCY, Seesaw, Cool Math and Prodigy have been my best friends when it comes finding something for students to do.

Play a competitive academic game on the white board!

However, if you don’t have technology or emergency substitute plans, you can always resort to the old-fashioned way of teaching.

Call students up to the chalk board or white board and have fun. Play competitive games such as boys vs. girls in math, spelling, and writing sentences.

A Substitute Teacher must Engage students for each subject.

Write math problems on the board and time students to see who can work the problems faster. I have found that students love to compete against each other and gain a sense of victory.

If you find yourself in a situation where there are no lesson plans, there are a few things you can do. First, try to find a colleague who may have the lesson plans. If that is not an option, look for a guide worksheet stacks or in a textbook. Once you have a general idea of what the lesson should entail, focus on creating a lesson that is engaging and interactive. Finally, be sure to debrief with your students.

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