Emergency Sub Plan Ideas and Tips Upper Elementary

5 Game Changing Tips to Help Plan for a Sub

Teachers everywhere dread planning for a sub! 

That's because there is so much that goes into leaving appropriate sub plans that include meaningful activities that meet the needs of your individual class.  From step-by-step directions to student information to behavior management tips, it can take forever and seem like so much work to do, especially when you are sick!

And what could be worse than actually writing the sub plans? Returning to work the next day to clean up what happened in your absence, especially if you get a less than glowing note about the day from the substitute.

5 Game Changing Tips to Help Plan for a Sub

It is not easy being a teacher, and it is especially not easy being a sick teacher planning for a sub. After 18 years of having to write sub plans for sick days, personal days, and professional development days, I know what works and what does not work! 

Read on to learn 5 game-changing tips that will make planning for your next sub much simpler AND will earn your students that positive glowing note from the substitute when you return to school! 

Tip #1: Teach Your Expectations

The first few weeks are jam-packed with routines and setting expectations. The kids learn how to do just about everything during those first few weeks. Add substitute expectations to that list of routines you teach your students at the start of the year.

This is important because you want students to know exactly what you expect while you are out. Teaching them before there is a sub eliminates confusion and cuts back on problems that may occur in your absence. I even create an anchor chart of classroom expectations for a substitute with the kids. then, when I am out I pull that anchor chart out and leave it front and center. This shows the kids that I have expectations and it also holds students accountable.

Recently, I started using digital slides to share my classroom rules and expectations with my students. On the last page of the slide, I have the kids sign their names as a contract of expectations. Then I print out the slides and staple to combine them into a book. Now this book serves as a manual to how your classroom runs. I leave this in the sub bin so every sub and guest teacher knows how our room operates!

Tip #2: Have a Secret Stash

reading sub plans for any book

We all have a million picture books in our classrooms! Some are the go-to books that we read aloud every year without fail, and some are ones that we still love, but do not read as often. Make a stack of about ten appropriate picture books for your grade level. You can even throw in some nonfiction picture books. Then make copies of generic graphic organizers and student reading reflection activities that can be used with any book. 

Leave the books and organizers in a cabinet or sub bin tucked away, just waiting for the day they will be needed for a quick reading activity in your absence.

Teacher TIP: Share the workload! Do this as a grade level so that you all have something easy yet meaningful to leave with a sub anytime and especially during an emergency absence. Take turns replenishing the copies so they are ready to go all year.

Grab these free graphic organizers that work with so many picture books for your next set of sub plans!

Tip #3: Prep That Info Folder

As you are putting together your teacher binder and schedules at the beginning of the year, make an extra set of copies. Use those copies to add to your substitute folder. Here is what I am sure to put in my subfolder at the start of the year:

  • letter to the substitute
  • class list
  • daily schedule
  • special instructions specific to my class 
  • medical/allergy information (follow your district's privacy policy)
  • individual student schedules
  • teacher name and room number of who is available to help
  • simple management system

Now place that folder in your drawer and show a colleague where it is for when you are out unexpectedly. Doing this at the start of the year makes planning for a sub any day much simpler!

Tip #4: Have a Simple Management Tool

classroom management for substitute teachers

For years every time I planned for a sub, I tried to explain my classroom management system in my sub notes. And every time, there was confusion. The children would say one thing to the sub, I was writing something else to the sub, and oftentimes the sub was just so confused that they used no management system at all. This led to less than great behavior in my absence. 

What I started to do was have a separate management system for when a sub was is in the classroom. I keep it very simple and explain it to the students at the beginning of the year when we go over our substitute expectations. Here is how it works. I place this paper at the front of the room when the sub is in charge and the students work all day to earn letters to complete the phrase “hard workers”. When I return to school, if the students have earned all the letters to spell out “hard workers” they will get a class reward. I keep the reward simple, like 15 extra minutes of recess or we'll do an extra art project together.

This works wonders because it is simple enough for everyone to understand.

Tip #5: Collect What the Kids Love

While it is very helpful to plan ahead for a substitute at the beginning of the year, it is also a good idea to add to a substitute stash throughout the year. 

Here is what I do:

After we play a grammar or math game in class, one that the students particularly love and know how to play, I will make copies and leave them in the sub stash or bin. I like to do this because they are tried and true activities that students know how to play and that can provide extra practice for different skills. This can be done for a wide range of activities. The next time you notice that students love a math game or reading activity, make an extra set of copies. You will be providing students with meaningful practice and engaging activities that will help eliminate problems when a sub is in charge. Try these free math games and see what I mean!

You can also use this tip with any activity that you consistently use with your students

In my classroom, we use the same format, structure, and type of close reading passage. The only thing that changes is the topic. The kids love them because they are high-interest topics that make them want to read! They know exactly what I expect that they do as they read the passage, how they are to answer the questions, and they love the creative component that goes along with each set. Since they know exactly what to do with these close reading passages, there is no confusion for them. The consistency holds them accountable for doing quality work in my absence, and makes it easier on the sub, too!

independent student reading tasks

Tip #6: Prep for Sub Plans at Start of the Year

Have emergency sub plans prepped and ready to go for the year with this seasonal sub plan pack! This will make sure that the plans you leave align with content learning and seasonal fun!

Bonus Tip: Have Clear Volume Expectations and Classroom Routines Posted

Voice Levels Posters and Charts for the classroom

One unexpected game changer that I have found helps to keep order when a substitute is in the classroom is to have clear voice-level expectations. At the beginning of the year, we spend a lot of time going over this management tool. We go over each level, when it can and should be used, and why it is important to have voice levels. Once the students understand these levels, we practice them and they become a habit. I add these expectations to my sub plans so that the sub can enforce these voice levels. It really does help to keep order in my absence!

Go one step further and print out all of your classroom routines, procedures, and expectations for your sub. I print the slides from my Back to School Procedure Slideshow. These are perfect to use as a handbook of how your classroom operates for the substitute or guest teacher.

Ok teacher friends, put these tips into action today and make the next time you need to plan for a sub snap! I hope you get that positive note upon returning to your classroom. Stay well!

Print and Go Sub Plans for the Year!

emergency sub plans for 3rd and 4th gade

You will also love reading:

Looking for meaningful independent reading activities that are perfect to leave with a sub? Click HERE.

close reading activities independent work

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5 Game Changing Tips to Help Plan for a Sub

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5 Quick Tips for Teaching Multiple Step Math Word Problems

5 Quick Tips for Teaching Multiple Step Math Problem Solving

If your students are like mine, you have at least a few who would be willing to give up the seat next to their best friend at lunch just to avoid math word problems. Sometimes even students with solid computation skills struggle with word problems. There are more than a few scripted methods for problem-solving with catchy acronyms, but they don’t always work for certain types of problems, making it frustrating for both students and teachers. 

Luckily, there are some tried and true tips that can help students persevere while solving complex word problems and even begin to love math word problems. Here are 5 tips you can use with your students tomorrow for any problem students may encounter. Problem solved, lunch seat saved!


1. Turn the Frown Upside Down


If there is any possible way to make the word problems feel more like freshly baked cookies than canned dog food, do that first. Many students think word problems are boring or unrelatable. Perhaps you have to use the math curriculum as mandated by your district. Make that curriculum work for you and your kids, by letting students use the same numbers from the book's problems, but work in pairs to write their own scenario that’s more interesting for your students. Students can use topics related to their interests, current school events happening like a fall festival, or something related to an upcoming local sporting event. After a few practice rounds together, your students will enjoy coming up with problems on their own. 

My students love creating word problems with partners. It is a great way to engage in meaningful math discourseDon’t have time to recreate the wheel? My students love these Text Me math problems and enjoy “texting” back the answers. They love them and do not even realize they are doing multiple step problem solving!


mutliple step problems solving activity grades 2-5

2. Embrace the Struggle


Acknowledge that some math problems are going to be difficult. Remind your students that they can do hard things and that it’s okay to make mistakes and learn from mistakes on the way. Point out and celebrate students who don’t necessarily get answers correct, but who do take risks or try a new way of approaching a problem. When students feel safe to take a risk, they are more willing to try out the scary word problem in the first place. This also lets your proficient students know there is more to math than getting correct answers. Being able to approach problems flexibly and explain your thinking are essential skills for math success too.


Teach your students about growth mindset and what stamina means and practice working on word problems for increasing lengths of time. Start each day with a difficult word problem. At first, you will be doing most of the work through modeling, thinking aloud, and calling on a student or two to help. Slowly lessen the work you do and increase the work that the students do.  You will see a HUGE change in students in just two weeks. The more students practice this with the whole class, the easier it will be for them to stick with a tough problem independently rather than just giving up.

Want to try it out? Grab these math goodies below to get started: Motivating poster, multiple step word problems, and math discussion stems to get all students actively engaged in the lesson!


3. Read and Restate


Imagine a friend texted you for help figuring out how much cocoa to buy for the hot chocolate fundraiser you’re both helping with. Before you reply you need to make sure you understand what she’s asking about. If you didn’t even know there was a fundraiser, you’d be pretty lost.


A trick to help students make sure they really understand a problem is to have them read it, then flip their page over or cover it up. Next, turn to a partner and in their own words explain the situation. They don’t need to remember exact numbers. The important part is they know what the problem is about and what they need to figure out. If students cover their page and aren’t sure what the problem is about, it’s a good idea to reread as many times as needed. Encourage students to ask questions in order to better understand what they need to do.

Once students know exactly what the problem is asking they can get to work on highlighting or circling the important numbers in the problem, create a plan to solve it and persevere until they have a solution that matches the problem.


4. Make it Visual


Many of my students are visual learners and need more than just words to make sense of a problem. And sometimes manipulatives can cause more confusion and distraction than necessary when it comes to solving multiple-step word problems. That is why I love to have students visualize the math word problems that they read. We go one step further and create a sketch or illustration of the word problem in their math notebooks. By bringing reading strategies into math, students understand that math word problems are about comprehension first, mathematics second.

In this problem, drawing a picture truly helps students to understand that they need to find the price of one laundry detergent bottle so that they can find the total of the three bottles that they need to buy. By creating a quick sketch of a store shelf it is clear that they do not know the cost of one bottle. Each bottle is drawn with a question mark for a price tag. This student now knows their first step is to divide $27 by five bottles.

drawing out problem solving activities for math

Kids love to draw so make that connection to math for them and watch their problem-solving skills improve greatly!

5. Check & Correct...Try something different!


Finally, to ensure all that hard work pays off, students must check their work for accuracy and correct any errors. One tip my students love is to work backward. That way they are performing the opposite operation and are less likely to make the same mistake twice or just gloss over their work. Students can also solve the same problem in a new way. This reinforces the idea that there are multiple valid ways to arrive at a correct answer.


Before turning in any work, students should ask themselves the following:

       Does my response answer all of the questions in this problem?

       Does the answer make sense?

Whether you’re a seasoned teacher or just getting started, your students will appreciate your thoughtful approach to multiple-step problem-solving. Even if you already have a system for teaching word problems, you can incorporate these ideas into your teaching to build confidence, grow stamina, and develop a love for learning while tackling the toughest problems.


Get started now with these Text Me MathProblems that will get your students excited to jump in and start learning!

You might be interested in reading:

Looking for more printable and digital critical thinking math activities? Click HERE.

5 Quick Tips for Teaching Multiple Step Math Problem Solving


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5 Quick Tips for Teaching Multiple Step Math Problem Solving

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