Great Sub Plans (15 Things You Can’t Forget)

Sub plans are a necessity and whether you’re a teacher or a substitute, they can make or break a day.  You might be a taking the day off, or filling a role as “teacher for a day”,  but careful preparation can make an otherwise anxious situation better.

While I have plenty of advice for substitutes and may address it another day, this article will address the classroom teacher who finds themselves in need of an urgent replacement for a day or two. Sub plans will definitely be needed!

More importantly, they aren’t hard to make!

Teachers have all been there. Something comes up unexpectedly and you need to organize quickly. Your substitute teacher will appreciate your notes and guidance.

What Are Sub Plans

Sub-plans are notes for short term teachers. They can range from pages that are too detailed to vague summaries and a “good luck”.

Neither is ideal.  I have created both types of sub plans and they weren’t always good.

Finally, after several years, I found a way to create sub plans that worked for me and my substitute teacher.  In general, sub plans will be a page or two of instructions and activities.

The most basic sub plans will include:

  • A roll-call sheet
  • Seating chart,
  • Bell schedule
  • Subject list with instructional times
  • Worksheets or class activities for the day
  • Notes about students who need extra attention

But the next level would be some specifics.

  • Who to call if you need help (neighboring teachers)?
  • Whether food or phones are allowed in class.
  • Who should or shouldn’t sit next to each other?
  • A general idea of classroom culture.

Sub plans are expected by both your administration and by the substitute teacher who will be filling in. If there are no sub plans, the teacher may provide feedback to the office which will reflect badly on you!

Where To Find Sub Plans

Sub plans aren’t hard to make. In fact, they are easy and can be hand-written or typed. You can even prepare “emergency sub plans” and keep them in your room.

Sub plans should be made by you (see my tips below), but if you can find the energy a great resource is “teachers pay teachers“, where they have plans for all subjects and plans for a day or for a week.

Even if you use a paid version of sub plans, you’ll still need to provide the substitute information about your specific classes.

What If I Don’t Make Plans For The Substitute

If a teacher walks in the room without plans there is no telling what will happen with the students. But that’s not the worst of it.

Chances are, the kids will be wild, the neighboring classes will notice, other teachers will be upset, and the administration will be informed generating a “conference”.

Even parents may find out about it when kids get home and are asked, ”what did you learn in class today?”

Your substitute teacher will get over it (but may never return) and your kids will have a “free-day”.  The person it hurts the most is the teacher! Sub plans not only help the sub but they will help you!

Prepare The Best Sub Plans –  15 Things Substitute Teachers Need

1. Seating Chart and Roll Call

Almost nothing is more important than calling students by their name. Give your substitute a head-start by making sure they have this information.

It’s even better if kids have name cards on the desk.  Older students won’t have these so the seating chart is important.

Older kids will switch seats and names with their friends. They may go by nicknames or a name not listed on the roll-call so make sure your sub plans explain the seating chart and students in the class.

2. Classes

Substituting for junior high and high school is much different than elementary school.

Older students are usually expected to work independently and quietly. Then they change classes and do it again.

Unless you want the substitute to actually teach the class, you will probably just list the assignments for students to compete.  I would suggest that you always assign something that needs to be completed before the end of class.

If the students know they can take an unfinished assignment home it’s likely they will spend much of the time doing something else.

3. Heads Up For Problem Students

It is okay for a teacher to point out potential problem students but a teach should never write anything demeaning or hurtful.  One way to do this, for example, is to mention that “Henry”  tends to need a little extra help or instruction, or “Mary” may need a time out if she gets frustrated.

No need to say “so and so” has a temper problem or is a bully.  Just making the substitute teacher aware that certain students can use extra guidance is enough.

Along this same line, you may want to include a few names of very trustworthy students.  Students who will tell the truth even when the rest of the class is trying to pull something over on the sub.  And they will!

4. Other Special Needs (Health issues, disabilities, tutors etc)

Every class has a few students who may need special care or attention.  They should always be listed prominently in the plan (not public) since they frequently include things like peanut allergies or diabetic injections.

Schedules of special need pull out programs or in class tutoring should also be readily available.

5. Computer Access

Students know a lot more about computers than the adults in the room.  For this reason screens should always be visible to the teacher or at least easy to monitor (for computers, check out my list of free typing games for kids).

The substitute needs to be given important passwords and chances are if the students are using the computers they will each have their own passwords.  Subs need those too.

6. Backup Sub Plans (For When Teachers Leave Unexpectedly)

Very seldom, but sometimes, teachers have an emergency and must leave quickly.  In that case, yes, it’s good to have something ready to go.

Usually, when emergencies happen I have known other teachers on prep periods to come in or even a principal might help out.  Because it is an emergency and last minute, it is usually difficult to find a regular substitute teacher.

So yes, have something put together that is a “placeholder”.  You will already have your lesson plans for the day so the substitute will just have to wing it with what you have.  

7. Expectations Of The Substitute Teacher

Substitutes who do not interact with the students are substitutes that I never request again.  In your plans be sure to encourage the substitute to work the room and get to know your students.

You might even share some unique personalities in the room – always being positive of course – as a way of introduction to your class.  I never really expected a substitute to correct the student work unless it was done as a class activity.

You should however ask for a note summarizing the day and noting problems or success.  I can see a substitute teacher reading the newspaper if they have a classroom full of older students who are working independently but they shouldn’t. 

Finally, let the sub know how the room is to be left.  Is trash to be collected?  Chairs up on tables?  Sometimes the custodian likes things a certain way so be considerate of him or her and let the sub know.

8. Print Outs

It is a good idea to have a file or box full of “busy work” pages.  While “busy work” is normally frowned upon, with a substitute teacher it is absolutely a short-term necessity (something like blackout poetry is a good activity for young students).

What would this include?  Crossword puzzles, word searches, coloring sheets, math drills, all of which should have some relevance to the topics being studied under normal circumstances.

These particular types of worksheets are designed to be individually completed.  If the sub is particularly good you can encourage group work or more interaction with students at least.

9. Emergency Plans

The last time I was in a classroom new laws required a posted list of emergency plans.  Much of this has to do with shootings on campus of course, and yet knowing the fire drill, medical help, administration calls, and what action to take during other crisis moments is important.

Be sure to point it out in your plans, describing where it is posted.  If not make sure it’s on the desk.

10. Classroom Rules

Most teachers have learned to post simple rules of behavior on the wall and good teachers have consequences clearly stated.  If you find you have to write them down on the plans, you might consider posting them. 

Direct the substitute to review them as class begins.

11. Ongoing Projects

Students who continue with projects already begun are most likely older independent workers.

I would suggest that students about 4th grade and older can be expected to pick up an activity and work on it with little supervision.

Include these types of activities in your plans if appropriate.

12. Get to Know the Neighbors

While not common, it is thoughtful to include the names of the teachers in adjoining rooms. Perhaps the teachers have a team or group who teach the same grade level.

At least share the identity of one who would be helpful.  

13.  Game Closet

If you don’t have one, get one.  It might be your rainy day go-to but every classroom should have a collection of games or puzzles.

Make sure the substitute knows where it is and which ones are available while you are away.

14.  Candy? Rewards? Prizes?

Many times a substitute teacher will arrive with their own bag of tricks.  This is usually a good thing.

However, if your school has a no-candy “policy” be sure to let them know.  Some subs are like grandparents and they like to spoil the students while the teacher is away.

15. Extra Teaching Duties

While I am not sure how recess “duty” is handled now, it used to be assigned on a rotation basis.  If you have any outside the classroom responsibilities be sure to give the sub instructions and to where and when.

Many times the children were left unsupervised on the playground while the substitute enjoyed coffee in the teachers room and was later embarrassed for not knowing.


Leaving sub plans for a teacher has always been important.  It’s important for the substitute of course but also for you the teacher.  You need to feel confident that your students are being well cared for.

Lesson plans are the primary thing to prepare and many schools require you to have them submitted to the administration office a week ahead

the Friday before.  If you know you are going to be gone ahead of time you can actually plan a bit differently than usual and leave instructions that the substitute will love you for.

Many of the 1-15 items need only be done once and then placed in your substitute folder on your desk.   The actual day of school that you will be gone, shouldn’t take that much time to fill in the actual lesson information.

Be sure to update student information frequently in case you have new students or ones who have moved away. When you are organized and have planned ahead you can relax knowing your class is well cared for!