Top lesson plans for substitute teachers in middle school and high school.

Reading Time: 5 minutes


In a perfect world of substitute teaching, there would always be a great lesson plan for substitute teachers each time they step into a classroom. However, that can’t always happen—and you might have get creative.

If a teacher is unable to leave detailed instructions or a lesson ends early, we want our Kelly Education substitute teachers to feel confident and prepared. Here are some simple and effective backup sub plans to keep middle and high school students engaged.

Top middle school lesson plans for substitute teachers.

Read aloud.

Choose a passage from a book with an interesting plot and fun dialogue. Have the students take turns reading out loud, and encourage them to express themselves. This will teach reading skills and help them learn to enjoy reading.

Create a quiz.

Using recent material studied in class, have students create their own quizzes of about five questions each. Then, they each find a partner and give each other their quizzes. Every two or three minutes, give a signal indicating that everyone should find a new partner and repeat the process. This can be done several times. Again, this facilitates the repetition of things they have already learned.

Hot seat.

One student sits with their back to the whiteboard, and something is written, such as a math formula, historical date, literary term or title, or scientific term. The rest of the class gives the student clues to help them guess what’s written. Many students can take a turn on the hot seat.

Guess the person.

Each student has a sticky note on their back with the name of a historical person. They ask other students yes-no questions to try to figure out who the person is. Students have fun while learning about history.

20 questions.

In this exercise, a student thinks of an object but doesn’t tell anyone what it is. By turns, students ask questions that can only be answered “yes” or “no.” The goal is for the class to guess the object in 20 questions or fewer. This exercise teaches students critical thinking skills and the importance of thinking before they speak.

Write a song.

In this exercise, students choose a song they like and write their own words to it. The song could be related to a subject the class is studying, such as geography, history, science, or math. This lesson reinforces material the students have already learned in a fun, enjoyable way.

Write a thank-you note.

Present the scenario that someone has given the students a gift — something they really want. Each student can decide what the gift is, but they must write a thank-you note to the person who gave it to them. This teaches students to be appreciative and show gratitude, and it also teaches proper writing skills in an age where most written communication is through text messages.

Create a story.

Students create a story one sentence at a time. The first student says a sentence, the second student adds their sentence, the third, and so on. Each student builds on what has already been created.

Conduct interviews.

Divide students into pairs and have them interview one another. You could choose a specific topic — family, pets, travel — or have them choose their own. Then, they can “report” their interviews to the whole class.

The telephone game.

Students are divided into teams, and each team lines up in a row. A message is whispered to the first person on each team, who then whispers it to the next, and so on. The last person states the message, which often gets misinterpreted as it passes down the line. The goal is to pass the message on quickly and accurately. The element of competition adds to the fun.

This game teaches students teamwork and the importance of clear communication. Lessons can be learned regarding the trustworthiness of information on the internet and social media.

Top high school lesson plans for substitute teachers.

If I were president.

Present the students with a current issue or problem in the news and have them write about what they would do if they were president. This can be done individually, or they can collaborate in groups. This activity aims to get students thinking about what it means to be a leader.

Write a letter to your future self.

Students write a letter to themselves 10 or 20 years in the future. They can ask questions, explain what their life is like now, and discuss their plans for the future.

Create a crossword puzzle.

Students use graph paper to create a crossword puzzle, using words that are relevant to subjects they are studying in a specific class, such as history, math, science, or art. This is another exercise that reinforces things they have recently learned.

Write about anything.

Have a creative writing session where students can write about anything they like. The only requirement is that they write for a certain period of time.

Design a dream home.

Each student describes or draws their dream home. Encourage them to be as detailed as possible regarding location, layout, materials, colors, furnishings, and outdoor areas, among other details.

Geography exercise.

Give students a map of a continent or the U.S. without state or country names. Have them fill in as many names as they can. As a bonus, they can also write down the capitals of states and countries.

Character writing.

Have each student choose a celebrity, historical person, or character from literature and write a first-person account of something from that person’s life.

Class debate.

Choose a subject, divide the class into two groups, and have them debate the subject. This exercise teaches them critical thinking, respectful disagreement, and the art of persuasion.

Write a letter to a leader.

Have each student choose a local or national leader and then write a letter to that person. They can express what they admire about them, ask questions, and discuss what issues or problems they would like them to address. This gets students thinking about themselves as part of a larger community as well as about issues facing people locally or nationally.

Let’s go traveling.

The students all have two months to travel anywhere in the world to as many countries and cities as possible. Have them write about which places they want to visit, why they want to visit them, how long they will stay, and what they will do there.

Quick reminders:

At Kelly Education, we work to equip our teachers with what they need to be ready for any classroom setting when they are substituting, aka subbing.

  • If you’re unsure if an activity will work, check in with a school administrator or a neighboring teacher.
  • Keep in mind that there are many different types of learning styles, and you should do your best to consider each student’s needs. This can be challenging, especially if you’re in the class for just a day or two.
  • It’s important to follow teacher instructions, so backup plans are just that–the backup! The district is responsible for developing a set curriculum, planning instruction, developing goals for students, and evaluating academic progress. Students need to keep moving toward their goals.

If you’re like most substitute teachers, you’ll have a few favorite backup plans and be able to adapt them when needed. We hope these ideas are just the spark you need to be even more confident and effective in the classroom.

Looking for substitute teacher lesson plan ideas related to elementary school, check out this article.

Looking for flexible work that matters? Visit myKelly to learn more about becoming a substitute teacher or browse available jobs today.

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