50 Ideas, Methods and Concepts for Substitute Academics

If you’re looking for inspiration for substitute teachers, look no further! Whether you’re a seasoned sub or a total newbie, we’ve got you covered with these 50 tips, tricks and ideas from our very own WeAreTeachers HELPLINE! and around the Internet.

1. Follow the plans.

“Follow the teacher’s plans to a tee…they took the time, energy, and effort to leave those plans for a reason.” —Terri Y.

2. Go in early.

“Go in a little early! Let them know it’s your first day & that you are excited to be there! Say, ‘Any advice or first-day directions?’ Introduce yourself to the teachers in the adjacent classrooms and say the same things.” —Sandy M.

3. Fill your time.

However, if you finished those plans and the kids are getting antsy, here are 24 awesome ideas to make sure your students are engaged and learning, even when you only have a few minutes.

4. Fill those last few minutes.

Need even more ideas for substitute teachers to fill time? These are perfect for the awkward few minutes right before the bell rings.

5. Try a math filler.

Try one of these quick popsicle-stick math time fillers from Journey of a Substitute Teacher.

6. Take attendance.

“Take attendance after you get the kids started on the work, so they have time to get things completed.” —Terri Y.

7. Stay on task, and leave a record.

“Follow the lesson plans as much as humanly possible, leave detailed notes for the teacher about what got done or didn’t get done, which students were awesome and not so awesome, and leave your number if you really enjoyed the class.” —Dawn M.

8. Stay professional.

“Be pleasant in the faculty room if you eat there. Never say anything negative about the school, teachers, or students.” —Donna N.

9. Dress in layers.

“Some rooms are freezing, and some are hotter than heck!” —Edith I.

10. Turn on a movie.

We’ve gathered the top Netflix educational shows that you can pull from. Stick with G-rated!

11. Don’t be afraid to be picky.

“I have a list of teachers I won’t sub for because no matter what, they always seem to have ‘that’ class. In other words, not very good behavior management which means subbing for them is a nightmare.” —Eric D.

12. Manage the classroom.

Even substitute teachers have to manage the classroom. We love these classroom management tips, especially for substitutes, from The Cornerstone.

13. Bring your own supplies.

Either in a backpack or a “just-in-case” bag. Check out suggestions for what to stock up on. And check out our list of favorite teacher bags to hold everything you need!

14. Create a mobile desk.

“I have a mobile ‘desk.’ I carry extra paper, pencils, post its, paper clips, pens, pencils, band-aids, Tylenol… Anything I might use because I don’t like entering a teacher’s desk if I don’t know them.” —Jennifer G.

15. Act confident.

Even if you don’t feel it. “Fake it ‘til you make it!” —Tanya M.

16. Solicit student help.

“Find a trustworthy student to help locate or explain certain procedures.” —Heather R.

17. Read books about substitute teachers with the students.

We love The Berenstain Bears and the Substitute Teacher and Miss Nelson is Missing.

18. Be honest.

“If I didn’t understand the math lesson (2nd grade for example), then I would just teach them something math related. I may have them grab rules and count by two’s, five’s, measure items in the room, etc. I always leave a note for the teacher letting them know who was a big help, who I had issues with, what I got through on their lesson plans, and what I didn’t understand and improvised. Sometimes teachers know what needs to be taught and how, but it’s hard to explain on paper. I’ve never had a teacher tell me I should have just figured the math lesson out instead of teaching math my way.” —Hannah T. 

19. Listen to a read-aloud.

These days, you’ll find the biggest selection of read-alouds on YouTube. We’ve gathered our favorites here.

20. Be flexible, and tell the students they need to be flexible.

They may say they don’t do things a certain way, and I just tell them to be flexible, and we’re going to switch things up today!” —Lloyd C.

21. Make feedback fun!

Check out these free, adorable “While You Were Out” templates from Teachers Pay Teachers. 

22. Bring some fidget toys.

Even the best of students can use a little bit of help. These DIY fidgets are easy to bring along with you.

23. Be strong early on.

“Don’t be a pushover. Assert your authority early. You can always become a little more lax later, but they need to know they are not going to get away with stuff while you are there.” —Jillian E.

24. Bring a game.

“Have a backup plan if possible. My plan was Boggle. It’s educational and quick to put on the board. It can be played as a whole class, teams, or small groups.” —Katie W. Check out our favorite educational games for the classroom!

25. Advertise yourself.

“Make up a flier you can put in the teacher’s mailboxes to let them know about your experience and how to get a hold of you to sub. If you want to sub at one school in particular, put it in every mailbox.” —Jen M.

26. Be social.

“Eat in the lounge and be the one to introduce yourself to teachers as they come in.” —Jay O.

27. Ask for help if you need it.

“If you don’t understand a lesson, ask one of the other teachers. Not all teachers leave enough material planned. Have some extra activities that you can use as fill in.” —Leah W. 

28. Try collaborative art.

Get the entire class involved on the same project with one of these collaborative art ideas.

29. Prepare with videos.

Check out the YouTube Channel How to Be a Great Substitute Teacher. There are videos on starting class, discipline in different grades, and more!

30. Draw boundaries.

“NEVER let students take anything off the teacher’s desk unless you know from the teacher what he or she allows, and ALWAYS leave a note for the classroom teacher!” —Laura R.

31. Try rewards for good behavior.

“I carry some small prizes. In middle school, I use mechanical pencils. When I ask for them to help clean up, the most helpful ones get a prize! They remember and will cooperate better the next time.” —Seorin Y. 

32. Use the sub tub.

Many teachers leave a sub tub with emergency activities, lesson plans, outlines, student information, and more. Use it!

Source: Wife Teacher Mommy

33. Assign classroom jobs to students.

“I always give the disruptive kids jobs! It helps them to focus.” —Jody H.

34. Try a team-building activity.

Team-building games and activities are a great tool for helping students learn to work together, listen carefully, communicate clearly, and think creatively. You can get to know them too with one of these team-building games.

35. Work the room.

“Being up and circulating always helps. Proximity is my best weapon for disarming mischief.” —Eloise P.

“Madeline Hunter created the term sponge activities to describe ‘learning activities that soak up precious time that would otherwise be lost.’ The best sponge activities are fun and engaging and have an academic component without seeming too ‘school-ish.’  That’s my favorite way to use an extra five minutes!”

37. Dress the part.

“I always try to dress professionally but comfortably. I like to be dressed as nicely as the best-dressed teacher.” —Lori Z.

38. Take them on a virtual field trip.

Substitute teachers can still go on field trips without stressing about parent permission slips and bus assignments. Take them on a virtual field trip to the zoo, museums, aquariums, and more.

39. Build relationships.

“Build relationships with the students. You most likely will see them again at some point and will be happy when you remember their name and something they told you.” —Colleen F.

40. Stay confident.

“It’s all about your attitude. You can’t let them sense fear, nervousness or uncertainty. They feed on it!” —Jesse B.

41. Keep it clean.

“Keep the room at least as tidy as you found it. Especially if you plan on going to that school regularly, you don’t want to be known as the messy sub!” —Megan F.

42. Document feedback.

“I always bring a set of blank notecards so that even if the teacher doesn’t have a ‘feedback sheet,’ I can fill them in on how the day went. And thank them in the note for letting you have their class (no matter how the day went!).” —Kim C.

43. Leave a business card.

“Leave some sort of business card… more than just scribbling your contact info on a note. When I would get a call for a new school I hadn’t been to yet, I always left extra cards and said they could pass them out to others. Now that I am a teacher, I love when subs do that! It is so helpful. I am always looking for a sub who can keep the class going while I am gone, instead of taking my chances with a random sub!” —Jessica L.

44. Teach an old-school recess game.

Substitute teachers may have to do recess duty too! Get the kids outdoors and having fun with one of these games you played as a kid!

45. Take control.

“Take control of the class so that you can get all of the lesson plan done. Lessons stack from day to day, so getting that day’s plans done helps the absent teacher in a tremendous way. When I was a sub, so many teachers praised the fact that I actually taught the lessons, and once word got out that I ‘got it all done,’ I got called every day.” —Angelique P.

46. Leave the room better than when you found it.

“It is courteous if you can grade papers or some type of feedback on student academic performance and straighten the desk up leave everything there just make it look neat.” —Kimberly J.

47. Use the aides.

“From a special education viewpoint, be firm, but please do not be so firm that students engage you in a power struggle. If there are aides, trust that they know the students and routines well. Let them help you.” —Jennifer W.

48. Incentivize the students.

“When I sub, I usually do a Madlib or two as an incentive to get the room ready at the end of the day. You can find free ones online. Madlibs go a long way and are a great tension or ice breaker. It only takes about 5 minutes, and the kids get super into it!” —Madison T.

49. Learn from others!

Follow this teacher’s blueprint for surviving as a sub!

50. Bring stickers!

“I used to bring stickers. No allergy issues. I also brought a book to share and some brain break ideas to fill extra time.” —Lauren S.

What are your tips for substitute teachers? Leave in the comments below!

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