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Classroom management tips for substitute teachers

Estimated Reading Time: 5 minutes

The unexpected can strike in even the best-prepared schools, so it’s helpful to have a good mix of tools and tricks ready to go when you start an assignment. Here are a few ideas that can help in challenging classroom environments.

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Create a survival pack

When you head out the door, have a bag packed with essentials for the unexpected. Ideas for your sub-survival pack can include:

  • A small plastic ball
  • Books of short stories or one-minute mysteries
  • Pencil puzzles (word finds, etc.)
  • Art supplies
  • Paper, pencils, and a pencil sharpener

Each classroom has its own personality. If a group is tough, a quiet activity might be required to gain ground and minimize disruption. Once you’ve brought your students down to earth, you may be able to attempt a group activity or classroom game.

Books beat the ‘blahs’

If the classroom is in orbit, a thought-provoking read-aloud be calming. If you are a short-term sub, you can’t start reading a massive novel, but short, engaging reads magically capture the attention of a class. Here are some thought-provoking short stories (for middle and high-school students) that can draw in your listeners and spark lively discussion:

Here are books that contain great stories and read-aloud ideas:

For younger students (grades K-2), here are some books that will help keep them engaged (since they may get bored during the read-aloud). Afterwards, have students draw a picture and write (as much as they can) about their favorite part of the book or what they learned:

Creative improvisations

If the class is ready for a group activity, try one of these:

  • Ad Libs: I have enjoyed these funny fill-in-the-blank stories and have used them with a variety of ages. Also called “Mad Libs,” they are easily available online… or you can write your own! These one-page wonders make grammar practice fun. Depending on class climate, complete these in small groups or in pairs. Read aloud and vote on the winners.
  • Story starters: Grab a story starter out of your survival pack or allow the class to write these. For example, give a prompt along the lines of: “Once upon a time, there was a dragon and a bird…” Then, have students finish that story on their own and share it with the class or a partner after everyone has finished. Before starting, set your guidelines and choose a theme for your story, if desired.
  • Self Essays: Have students write a paragraph to describe themselves to someone who has never met them. Reading them aloud can be optional.

There are also tons of other valuable classroom resources available online to find more creative ideas for a new classroom.

Classroom games

Even if you have a detailed lesson plan to follow, it’s great to be prepared for rainy-day recess and other unexpected occurrences. Here are some indoor games to try — remember: be sure to keep the classroom quiet and under control.

  • Silent Ball: Get a small plastic ball out of your survival pack and give it to one student. That student points to another student and sends the ball over. If the student doesn’t catch the ball, they’re out. If a student talks at any time during the game, they’re out. The last one remaining is the winner.
  • Four Corners: Number the corners in the classroom. One student stands in the middle of the classroom. They close their eyes and count down from 10 to one aloud. Other students choose a corner. Then, the middle person chooses a number from one to four with their eyes still closed. The people in that corner sit down. The game continues until only a few people — or just one person — is left.
  • Reverse Charades: Teams of players work together to have one person on the team guess as many words as possible in one minute.
  • ‘Mirror’ is a fun, simple, quiet game. Each student gets a partner and they take turns mirroring one another’s movements. The sub can switch partners after a few minutes so that the students have a new person to play with. There is also a version of this game where the kids circle up (with the teacher) and one student stands in the middle. The rest of the class has to mirror whatever that student does. After 2-3 moves, the student picks the next one to be in the middle and it continues.

Try some of these creative ideas on your next day subbing, and you’ll be sure to get ahead.

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