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Emergency Sub Plans: A Comprehensive Guide for Elementary Teachers

Inside: Everything you need to know about preparing emergency sub plans so that you can be prepared for an absence at any time.

After I had my son, I took a break from teaching to stay home with him. During his first year, I subbed at a couple of local schools. The WORST thing that happened to me when I was a substitute teacher was when I showed up to the class and there were no lesson plans. It’s surprising how many teachers do not have emergency sub plans in place. There was no information about any of the students. I had no idea where the class was at in any subject, which students I could trust to ask a question, or even what time the students had recess and lunch.

But, I get it. I’ve been on both sides. I was a teacher before I was ever a sub. Teaching is THE ONLY JOB where it takes more work to call in sick than to just suffer through a day of teaching with a bad cough or sore throat. While my husband would call in sick for symptoms such as these, I would tough it out sick AND pregnant- 99% of the time, just because I didn’t want to write sub plans. It’s no wonder so many teachers don’t use their sick days. And who has time to put together emergency sub plans when there are SO many other things to do? 

Not every absence is planned. Whether you wake up ill, you have a sick child, or you have an emergency, sometimes subs need to be called at the last minute. Even if your day-to-day lesson plans are explicitly laid out, there is no substitute for you as a classroom teacher. Sometimes guilt can keep you from taking a sick day or a much-needed break.

When you are prepared before an absence occurs, it can make all the difference. It is OK to take a break from your original plans and have emergency sub plans ready to go for any guest teacher who walks into your classroom. Let any sub that walks into your room know the expectations right away. Preparing for a substitute teacher can be easy when you have the right materials and organization.

This post contains affiliate links. See disclosure.

What should emergency sub plans include?

Simply put, to properly prepare for a substitute teacher, you will want to have a sub-binder with all the information for your sub and a sub-tub filled with worksheets and activities that are easily accessible. 

For the sake of terminology in this post, sub plans and sub binders are two separate things. The sub binder will tell the information that your sub needs to know about how to run your classroom. The sub-plans are the actual content that the substitute will be teaching, and a sub-tub is what you keep the sub-plans organized in. 

Having both a sub tub and a sub binder available is crucial for being fully prepared for a substitute teacher.

Here are 5 things that your emergency sub plans MUST include!

1) School Information

Answer the following questions for your sub: What are the school address and phone number? Who is the principal? What teachers there would be willing to help me if I have a question? These are all things that your sub would like to know! You should also be able to answer the following questions for your sub: What are the basic classroom procedures? What attention prompts do you use with your students? Which students can I trust if I have a question? All of these things will help the day run smoothly for both your substitute teacher and your students. 

2) Schedule

When does the first bell ring? When are recess and lunch? When are any other special activities? When is dismissal? These are all questions that your sub will be wondering if you don’t let them know. If your sub doesn’t know the schedule, it can lead to very stressful situations. I can say this because I’ve been there! You can’t trust the students to let you know what time recess is, after all!

3) Seating Chart

A seating chart is a MUST in your emergency sub plans. This way, the substitute can know who each student is. It will help the substitute to be able to call roll at the beginning of the day and to be able to call on students by name throughout the day. As a sub, I would always try to learn the students’ names as best I could to make the day go by more smoothly and so if I was called back, I’d be able to remember many of the names.

A seating chart also comes in handy when a student is misbehaving because they will be able to call them by name. (See also: 9 Ways To Get Students to Behave for a Substitute Teacher). This can also help with any special accommodations the sub will need to know about. As you can see, there are many reasons to include a seating chart in your emergency substitute plans.

4) Lesson Plans and Substitute Activities

Let the sub know what they will be teaching for the day, as well as tips on how to guide the students through the activities. Believe it or not, most substitutes actually LIKE teaching your kids. I always enjoyed being able to teach a lesson rather than just handing out busy work. That being said, the lessons should be simple and easy to follow, because the sub will be jumping right in with little prep.

Like what you see in these sub-plan lessons below? You can grab some free sub plans samples in my shop OR you can grab full sets of Ready To Go Sub Plans that include all the lessons pictured below (plus activities and more). Thousands of teachers have loved and trusted these sub plans in their classrooms! They can be found on my website shop and my Teachers Pay Teachers store.

Just in case, be sure to communicate with your team members. Let them know where your emergency sub plans are so that if you are unable to come in, the sub will have no problem finding them (even if they don’t see your clearly labeled sub-plans themselves)! 

5) End of the Day Form

If you want your sub to tell you how the day went, leave a form for them with all of the information you’d like to know! They are much more likely to give it to you this way!

Create Your Sub Binder

Contrary to what some may think, your sub binder is not just a place to stick in plans and worksheets. A sub binder lays the foundation for your classroom in a quick and easy glance for your substitute.  

Substitute teachers visit multiple classrooms, buildings, and even districts each week, month, and year. Needless to say, it is a lot to keep track of! This is why it is important to make a substitute binder beginning with a three-ring binder and sheet protectors.  You can use your binder to give your sub all the info he or she needs to have a successful day, week, or even longer-term sub job.

Your sub binder should have a cover, dividers, and tabs to organize, a note to your sub, schedules, school and staff info, class information, arrival and dismissal procedures, class rules and management procedures, emergency procedures, lesson plans, behavior incentives, seating charts, and room for substitute notes. 

Putting together the binder early in the year when you are healthy and prepared can make even a last-minute emergency an easy transition for a sub. You can see why this is a crucial part of your emergency sub plans!

The #1 Editable Sub Binder!

While this may look like a daunting task, it does not take as long as you think. And putting together your sub binder can be a breeze with my #1 selling Editable Substitute Binder. This sub binder has been trusted by thousands of teachers in their classrooms. It is a full template that includes everything your sub could possibly need to know all in one place. All that’s left to do is fill it in. Since it is all laid out, you won’t forget a thing!

Check out the Editable Sub Binder in our shop now to get started with your sub binder! If you are planning a maternity leave or other long-term absence, you’ll want to check out The Complete Short & Long Term Sub Binder Bundle.

The sub binder shown in the video is also the #1 selling substitute binder on Teachers pay Teachers. You can check it out there as well as all 1600+ reviews at the time of writing this post.

special offer $5 sub binder

Organize Emergency Lesson Plans in a Sub Tub

The obvious item you will need for your emergency sub plans is the plans themselves! After all, the sub will need something to teach.

What content should you leave for a sub?

Personally, as a teacher and, especially later as a sub, I liked to see the fun and engaging content left for students rather than just busy work. Above all, it is important to be sure the students are actively learning, even when you are not present.

When I was subbing, I noticed that oftentimes, I was just left with busy work that a teacher found at the last minute (or even worse- no plans at all!) On the other hand, I couldn’t blame the teachers, because I knew that sub planning was so difficult and that it was even more work to call in sick than just go to work. As a result, I decided to solve the problem of emergency sub plans once and for all, so that is why I created my Ready To Go Sub Plans.

These were carefully developed over several years of time so I could make the best sub plans possible! Eventually, the end result was fun and engaging educational activities that are NOT just busywork. Each subject includes a full lesson plan laid out for the substitute, simple enough that anyone could pick it up and use it right away. Because of this, both teachers and subs LOVE these emergency sub plans.

Getting it All Organized

However, it isn’t enough to just have the sub plans. You’ll want to have them organized so they are easy to use. In other words, you can get your sub plans and lesson plans organized in a sub-tub. Organizing daily plans in a cute bin like this one (pictured in this post and in the video) can help your substitute teacher stay on track with your plans and have all your materials in one easy-to-find place. You can use hanging file folders and tabs to organize the lessons by day, subject, and more. This will make it easy for you (or the sub) to pull out the lessons needed on any given day.

When you purchase any of my sub-plan bundles, you’ll get a sub-tub organization bonus that will help you get your sub-plans organized. The bonus is only available with the bundles and comes with the sub tub tabs, labels for your sub tub, and more! You’ll also save 20% by purchasing a bundle. Check out the bundle for your grade level below!

You will not regret grabbing your sub plans right now so you don’t have to worry about it later. The peace of mind of knowing you have something in place is priceless! Keep in mind, setting these plans up early in the year or term will help alleviate any rush of anxiety when you need a last-minute or long-term sub. Want to get more of a taste of how our sub-plans work?

Bonus Step: Preparing Your Students for a Sub

With all the materials you need to prepare for your emergency sub plans, you’ll want to remember that you first and foremost want to prepare your students for a substitute teacher. On one hand, this may seem illogical in the case of a last-minute sub-request, but preparing your students to understand substitute and classroom behavior expectations from the first day of school is so important. Setting clear expectations for your own classroom and following consistent routines and procedures will help your students behave for a substitute teacher.

emergency sub plans substitute punch card

Letting your students know there are rewards for good behavior both when you are present and a guest teacher is in your room can help them know how important it is to “be good”. For example, using social stories to help special education students that have difficulty with a break in routine or transitions can teach empathy for a substitute. Practice sub procedures just like you would with any other classroom expectation and routine.

The substitute punch cards included with every set of Ready to Go Sub Plans can help you build a routine that is especially for a sub. If the students fill out a card, they know they’ll get a special reward from you upon your return. Consequently, this will encourage students to behave properly for a substitute teacher.

You can grab the Substitute Punch Cards as a freebie in my shop!

Why are emergency sub plans so important?

You are so busy, so preparing for a sub before you need one may seem like just another thing to do. However, when faced with illness and writing sub plans, it may just seem easier to drag yourself to school. Don’t do it! You’ve earned your sick days, so use them. There are so many reasons that teachers don’t use their sick days, but it’s important to take time off for your family and health. Don’t let the stress of writing sub plans be a reason you go to school when you aren’t feeling your best. Every teacher needs access to emergency sub plans. that’s why I have a variety of FREE sub-planning resources to offer EVERY elementary teacher! 

Would you like to have your emergency sub plans already finished for you?

Because I believe it is THAT important to have emergency substitute plans, I have a few lessons pre-written for you and forms that are ready to fill out with all the information your sub will need! Click here for your free sub plans!

In this free sub plans sample you will get:

  • Editable Forms for your Substitute Binder (Sample)
  • Sub Plan Samples for EACH grade level
  • Sub Tub Label
  • Substitute Punch Cards
  • Substitute Teacher List
  • Seating Chart Pages
  • & much more!

This freebie will help you get your emergency sub plans started! If you LOVE what you see here and want all of your emergency sub planning checked off that to-do list for good, then click here to check out all of my Ready To Go Sub Plans!

Full days are available for Pre-K through 6th grades- you can purchase single days and up to a full WEEK or more! Bundle discounts are available when you purchase multiple days at a time! They are a great way to be ready for emergency sub days because EVERYTHING is done for you! (Besides making copies, of course!)

Each full day of sub plans includes everything included in the freebie, plus:

  • Copies for Students Page: A clear layout of what needs to be copied for either you or the sub
  • Substitute Plan Outline of Day: A full outline of all the lessons for the day, and which lesson plans should be referred to.
  • Lesson plans for the following subjects: ELA, Reading, Writing, Science, Math, and Social Studies
  • Worksheets: All worksheets to go with the lessons are included
  • Art Activity: This is a fun art activity that is also simple enough for any sub!
  • Brain Break Activities: Two options are given for each day (outdoor or indoor)
  • An Educational Game: These games review concepts covered during the day!
  • Answer Keys (for 1-6, Kinder sub plans include extra activities and coloring pages instead!)

Looking for Something Else?

Need sub plans for single departmentalized subjects, Special Education, maternity leave sub plans, or a bundle specifically for substitute teachers? I have those options in my shop as well! You can also browse all of my sub plans in the Wife Teacher Mommy Shop. In addition, you can find these resources in my Teachers pay Teachers store. 

Pam’s Emergency Sub Plans Story

You can do it, teacher friend!

To sum it all up, taking an unexpected day or leave from school does not have to be stressful. Preparing emergency sub plans early on in the school year can help your students and sub have successful days. You’ll also have an easier transition back to school to help you be the best wife, teacher, and mommy possible! You can do this! If you feel stuck, use this comprehensive guide to help with preparing your own emergency sub plans.

Don’t forget to save this post on Pinterest or share it with your friends on Facebook!

19 Responses

  1. You are a Lifesaver!! I no longer have to spend hours prepping for emergency absences. Thank you for your hard work.

  2. These plans are amazingly thorough and well thought out. I really liked the idea of sheet protectors, thanks.

  3. This is a wonderful product! I really like the set-up. The Thank You cards are awesome as well as the punch cards.

  4. I have been researching sub binders. The ideas in here are amazing. I love the punch card idea. There is also so much more that I never thought of including.

  5. These are super organized! I especially like the punch cards for substitutes to reward good behavior and the letter from the teacher to the class activity.

  6. ThankYou for being such a forward thinker. As teachers, we all want to be able take days off and not worry. You make it effortless.❤️

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