How to Prepare for a Sub {w/ FREE PRINTABLES}

A couple of years ago I did a blog series on my original blog about how to plan for a substitute teacher. More importantly, it focused on how to set up plans so that you were prepared in an emergency.

I have been meaning to update it and create a video tutorial to go with it for some time now.

This week I spent three days at home nursing my own sinus/ear/throat/migrain fiasco while tending to 3 little ones who were home sick with hacking coughs, ear infections, and just for fun we threw in a case of conjunctivitis as well.

I'm reprinting my original series below in an easy to read format and am hoping to have the video tutorial up next week.

My emergency sub plans can be purchased by clicking here: PRINTABLE EMERGENCY SUB PLANS FOR ANY DAY. I've also updated my SUB PLAN FREEBIES which are great from grades K-5. You can get them by clicking on the "my products" button on the right and scrolling down to the freebie section.

There are days when you have conferences, workshops or scheduled doctor appointments planned and you know you will be out of the classroom. There are days when you are feeling under the weather and suspect you will be out the next day. Then there are days when you are unable to attend school with little or no warning at all.

Once upon a time I was sitting in my living room feeling fine. Within minutes I was in the worst pain of my life thinking I was in labor and wanting to die. (In my defense, I was 8.5 months pregnant so labor was a possibility). Turns out it was a kidney stone and I was completely useless for about 7 hours.

In case you were wondering, they do not give epidurals for kidney stones...though I think the should.

Food poisoning, car accidents, family emergencies and toddlers who decide to projectile vomit their breakfast as you are set to drop them off at daycare are just a few other examples of times when you have every intention of being in class and have no notice or ability to prepare for your sudden absence.

This week we are going to put together a sub binder and resource center that will make it easy for you to be out of the classroom without the added stress of worrying about what will happen to your class for that day.

We will be able to put the majority of this project together right now. It will be a work in progress because some of the items that need to be included will come into play once school starts.

We are going to start today by “gathering” activities that can be used on any day of the year for each subject area. Today you need to gather at least 5 activities for reading, writing, word study/spelling and math. I have spent the past few days creating some activities for each of those subjects using the guidelines below. You can purchase the ones I made through my store, gather them from other resources or create your own.

Create a folder on your computer titled SUB PLANS. Be sure to save all of the files to this folder and back it up.

If you purchase my emergency sub plans then save them to this folder once you print them.

After you gather them, you’ll need to slide them into plastic sheet protectors (back to back) and create a tab for your binder labeled Master Copies. Put them into the binder and you’re all set until tomorrow.

Here are the guidelines:

  • You do not want these activities to be a complete waste of time or busy work, but in my experiences it has been best to not have a sub introduce a new concept. Review is important and this is a great chance to review key concepts.

  • The activities should be open-ended whenever possible. By this I mean that the students could continue to work on them for a substantial length of time without a specific completion point. You want to avoid having the students rush through an assignment that is designed to take 30 minutes in 5 and tell the sub, “I’m done.” Open-ended assignments will allow the sub to instruct them to “add to the list” or “find more __.”

  • Try to minimize the need for additional materials. You want both the children and the sub to have an enjoyable, stress-free day. Asking a sub to have children cut and glue could hinder this objective.

  • Find activities that can be repeated so that you may use them on multiple days. This is especially beneficial because the students become accustomed to the “sub routine” which makes future absences even easier.

If you are going to do a reading extension activity, be sure that each child has a copy of the text. Having a sub read aloud a book and then asking the class to complete a story map is setting the sub up for chaos. EVERYONE (rather they need it or not) will be asking to get out of their seat to see the book. It is also setting children up for failure and frustration if they are not able to recall details from the read aloud and do not have access to the book.

We use Treasures {which is a lot like Reading Street}. I typically have my students use a fiction story that we have already read to complete the activities. That way each student has a copy of the book. If I am absent later in the year and the students are very familiar with the routines and expectations, I let them use a picture book from my library.

If you do not have a reading series or a class set of books, my suggestion is to access reading A to Z and print a copy of the book for each student or use a story that you have already covered from your reading basal that each child will have a copy of. By selecting activities that go with EVERY book as opposed to a specific title, you can also differentiate instruction for the class but providing varied levels of text for each student. If you do not have a basal or class set of books then today would also be a good day to access the free trial membership to reading A to Z and print a copy of a few good fiction books to use.


Today we are going to work on the “SCHOOL INFO” section of your substitute teacher binder. You want your binder to be thorough and complete, yet simple to use so that a busy sub can find things easily.

Check with your school to see if there are any specific requirements.

Some schools actually put together this information for you so that it can be passed out to any sub that comes in. If that’s the case, your job today is quite simple.

If not, then here is what I suggest you include:

  • a map of the school (mark: your classroom, the office, the bathroom that they may use, and the teacher’s room). The kids can show the sub where music, gym, etc is. You just want to mark off anything that she may need to find on her own. I also mark where the sub will need to meet the class in the morning.

  • a directory of the staff members that she may need to contact (nurse, principal, secretary, social worker) along with where they are located and their phone extensions

  • a copy of any school-wide rules

  • instructions for emergency lock downs, fire and tornado emergencies and crisis evacuation plans

Create the SCHOOL INFO TAB for your binder and add the above info into that section.

If you are working on this in the summer, you should be able to complete this section before school starts. If at any time you find there is information that you are unable to include until school starts, simply write down what is missing on a post-it note and place it in the spot the info will eventually go in the binder.

Today we are going to add the CLASSROOM INFO section to the binder. This part may be a bit trickier because a good portion of the information needed won’t come into play until school starts.

But, it’s a catch 22 because when school initially starts you’ll be so crazy busy that it’ll be hard to find the time to do this. So we are going to get as much as we can into it. And for those items you don’t have access to right now, simply add a page protector and include a Post-it Note marked with a reminder of what you need to add.

Here’s what I include:

  • a photo directory: head shots with their names
  • a seating chart
  • class schedule
  • pull-out / in-class support schedule
  • classroom rules and behavior management plan
  • signals you use to get their attention
  • procedures for: attendance, lunch, recess, lining up, bathroom, dismissal and what to do when they finish their work
  • a list of 2-3 reliable students
  • a list of any medical issues that they would need to know about
  • any additional student info that would be helpful (who will require extra help, who may try to act silly and how to deal with it, etc)

I also a include a brief list of things that I know kids will try to get away with (using the electric pencil sharpener, asking to go to the nurse 80 million times).

Create a tab that reads, "CLASS INFO," add it to the binder, put these items in that section and call it a day.

Is there anything else you include?


Come on now all of your hands should be waving high in the air. Because I love you all so very very much, I've made you a few gifts.

Included in your "from me to you with hugs and kisses package" is:
  • an adorable cover for your sub binder
  • an even cuter template for your sub to fill out at the end of the day
  • an "at a glance" page for your sub that highlights the key things they need to know and serves as a directory

You're going to purchase the emergency sub plans kit, aren't you?

Because for only $6.00 you can save yourself tons of time and energy and free yourself up for more fun stuff

Click here to buy the sub plans.

Click here to print the FREEBIES for your sub binder.

Today you need to:
  • make a cover (or use my free one)
  • make a template for the sub to fill out (or use my free one)
  • gather a bunch of generic sub plans for science and social studies

My advice on the last part of your assignment would be:
  • Access the free trial at reading a to z dot com and print off some age appropriate non-fiction texts for both science and social studies. Either use their extension activities or create your own to go with them
  • Leave Time for Kids or Scholastic News for the sub to use during Social Studies
  • Find a few educational videos with science and social studies content...Magic School Bus is great for this.
  • Have the children write a list of questions they may have on a science or social studies topic.



When it comes to writing sub plans my advice is to prepare for a sub as if he/she has never subbed before...or been around children...or lacks ALL common sense. Chances are your sub will be a professional who will do a stellar job, but preparing for the opposite end of the spectrum will help to ensure that things will run well in your absence.

The bad news is that we are going to write very detailed plans for each day of the week.

The good news is that it isn't nearly as hard as it seems.

Start with your longest day. Yes, school starts and ends at the same time each day, but you know those days without prep certainly feel longer than others. By writing out the plans for this day first, you can make some quick changes on the computer and have your other days banged out pretty quickly.

In the lesson section I include specific instructions as well as a "script" for the sub to say to the students. This is not to micromanage the sub, but rather to make sure the little cherubs know that I have communicated the expectations to the sub and that he/she knows the drill.

It is very effective.

I try to think of the typical things a 3rd grader would do in my absence and include it in the "script." For example: "As a reminder, if your pencil breaks you will need to raise your hand. No student should be using the electric pencil sharpener."

The fourth column is for notes. I include page numbers that the sub could find more info on as well as notes about students who leave for services and teachers who come in for services. I also include any other info that pertains specifically to that time of day.

After you have created a very detailed plan for your longest day, save it to your hard drive with the name of that day of the week.

Next, edit the document to make the changes needed to reflect every other day of the week.

Print each set.


After you have planned out an entire week, make any copies that are needed for each day.

I like to use Post-its as tabs to divide the piles of work.

Place each day's worth of materials into one of the plastic drawers with the lesson plans on top. Let the sub know that she can write on this copy.

Label the drawers with the days of the week.

If you bought the kind like I have you will have a total of 6 drawers. I fill the top one with general activities that can be used in a pinch (word searches, crossword puzzles, math drills) and a couple of picture books the sub could read.

  • Include a copy of each day's plans in the binder.

  • I print out a couple of sheets of large labels with the students' names that the sub can use as name tags.
  • Include a note so that the sub knows where to find the materials for the day.
  • Show everything to several colleagues. They will be great resources in the event of your absence. They should know where to locate the binder and the materials.

By following all of these steps, you could miss an entire week without worry. A sub would simply need to start with the first day's plans and work through the days in the drawers. By keeping the masters in your binder, anyone could make additional copies as needed.

You case you decide to take of to Hawaii for a month or 2. Just saying.

Be sure to replenish the drawer as soon as you return. By doing so you will always be ready.

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