Tips for Creating Emergency Sub Plans

Emergency substitute plans may well just be a lifesaver. Whether your school administration requires you to submit them or not, it is always a great idea to have a set of emergency sub plans for at least one day (even up to a week's worth) for those times when you have to take time off unexpectedly.

You may have one of those mornings where a child wakes up sick, where you have a family emergency and have to leave for the day or just have one of those days where you hit a wall and need a day or two to clear your head.

A little forethought and preparation will give you the freedom to take care of what you need to without any added stress. Here are some tips for preparing emergency sub plans that will have you breathing a sigh of relief if/when the time comes.

tips for creating emergency sub plans

Tip #1 - Keep it General

The most effective emergency sub plan is designed to be used at any time during the school year. Even if you are a super planner and have meticulously set up every single day of your calendar for the year, avoid tying your sub plans to any particular unit. Even the most well-planned schedule hits a few bumps, and the last thing you want to be doing is scrambling the night before because of unforeseen circumstances.  

Tip #2 - Keep it Clear

Remember that you will not be there to give lengthy explanations, so keep all directions clear and explicit for both the sub and the students. 

Tip #3 - Keep it Clean

Avoid lessons that include a lot of photocopying. Your sub may come in at the last minute and may not have time to make a ton of copies. Remember to explain where you keep any ancillary materials needed for the plans, i.e., scissors, glue sticks, dictionaries, etc. 

Tip #4 - Make it Easy

If your emergency sub plans are in the third drawer in the fourth file cabinet, they are not likely to be utilized in a sticky situation, so post them where the sub or administrator will see them. You may also have a hallmate (or a trusted student) who can point them out if they are having trouble finding them. I have mine behind my desk labeled in big, bold letters.

Tip #5 - Make it Distinct

So, what should you include in your sub plans?  Think about those topics and lesson ideas you wish you had time for but can never really justify in your jam-packed schedule. With so many standards we must meet and assessments we must give, we often run out of time for anything not specifically on the curriculum guide. Sub plans can be that opportunity!

Some ideas:

Poetry: You can give students the characteristics of a sonnet, haiku, villanelle, or other types of poetry along with a couple of examples and then ask students to write their own poetry following the models. Here is a list of 30 Poetry Project ideas for any time of year!

Articles from The New YorkerTime, or another provocative source: You can make a class set, half set for partners, or have the sub read the article aloud to the class. Then leave a few thought-provoking questions to be answered by students or groups. Check out Kelly Gallagher's Article of the Week for resources and inspiration! 

A fun grammar, vocabulary, or frequently-made mistakes activity: Remember that cute idea or handout that you pinned on Pinterest or saved from a professional development session, but you never have time for? Here's the time!

A short story, poem, or informational text in your textbook that you don't have time for usually:  Students can read the selection and answer the questions at the end individually or in pairs. This is as simple as possible, with no copies needed!

Test Prep:  I teach 11th Grade, so SAT and ACT test prep is ever-present in our minds. For other grades and situations, you can substitute other kinds of appropriate test prep. I have tons of SAT/ACT multiple-choice test practice booklets that show up in my school mailbox every year. You can also use's ACT online test prep resources.

Tip #6 - Think About the Sub

Think about the people who are likely to sub for you in an emergency. If you work for a large school or district, you probably won't know the subs and their teaching style and history. You want the plans to be clear and easy to execute for anyone who opens your door. These days, subs are being pulled in from everywhere, so make everything as clear and easy as possible (see Tips 1-4) 

Avoid using technology (even showing a video) because it is possible your sub will not know how to use the technology. If your school is short on subs, one of your colleagues will likely have to cover for you, especially if it is just for one or two class periods.

And finally, let your sub know how much you appreciate them stepping in. Writing a thank-you note and including a $5 Starbucks gift card (keep a stack of these in your emergency survival kit) will go a long way in making you breathe easier during your personal time. 

Am I missing an important tip or suggestion? Share with us! 

1 comment

  • is a lifesaver for me when I’m out unexpectedly. They have tons of free reading passages of all types with multiple-choice and constructed response test prep questions as well as thought-provoking discussion questions.


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