How to Create Great Sub Plans

Teachers often joke that it’s easier to just go to work sick than it is to prepare sub plans and then later clean up the aftermath of a day out of the classroom. Sometimes this really is true, but you shouldn’t be going to work when you’re sick, and many times you just don’t have a choice.

Meetings, field trips, training, family emergencies, and all sorts of things can pull you out of your classroom. By setting up a thorough sub binder or folder at the beginning of the school year, you won’t have too much to do when the time comes to create a day (or more) of sub plans.

When creating sub plans, put yourself into the mind of someone who has never stepped foot in your school before. Hopefully, your sub will be somebody who is familiar with the school and with your students, but this isn’t always the case. If this is your sub’s first time subbing in the building—or even subbing at all—you want to make the experience as smooth as possible for them.

There is a fine line between including everything your sub might need to know and overwhelming them. Aim to be comprehensive yet concise. Following are some guidelines for setting up your sub folder, as well as ideas for lessons and activities for your plans.

Prepare your Students

Ideally, you will talk to your students about what should happen when there is a sub in the room at the beginning of the school year. Talk to all of your students about what you expect of them, and what the consequences will be if they are disrespectful to the sub.

Help them understand the daily classroom routines such as attendance or lunch selection, and teach them how to carry on with these routines when a sub is in the room. If you have kindergarteners or first graders, you might even want to have an aide or another teacher take over your classroom for an hour so your students can practice.

The better equipped your students are to carry on without you, the smoother a day with a sub will go. At any grade level, you can pick one or two reliable and responsible students to be a sub’s helper.

With older students, you should also be very clear and firm on your consequences for bad or disrespectful behavior with a sub. Pick consequences that make sense for you and your classroom, but these could include detention, a call home, an apology letter to the sub, loss of class participation points, or loss of classroom privileges.

At the high school level, I always warn my students that if the sub has to write a student’s name down for something negative, that student will automatically receive a detention. This helps give the sub respect and authority, and it helps the sub with classroom management because they can easily remind students that there is a consequence for their behavior. In my experience, very rarely has a sub had to actually write a student’s name down.

General Information

There are quite a few components to your sub folder that you should prepare at the beginning of the year. Once you have all of this information included in your folder, it will require little to no maintenance the rest of the year, and it will make creating sub plans later in the year much easier.

Daily schedule

  • Include the times the bell rings, and any sort of rotating schedule, such as specials.
  • Be clear about any extra duties—list what the duty is, where the sub needs to go, what time they need to be there, what they need to do when they’re there, etc.
  • Also include daily procedures and how they work, such as attendance, lunch, dismissal, etc.

General classroom rules and policies

  • The more you include here, the less your students will be able to take advantage of the sub and/or bend the normal classroom rules.

Tips/information about each class

  • It’s nice for a sub to have an idea of what to expect: Is the class loud and boisterous, but hard working? Does the class have behavioral issues that the sub should be aware of?
  • You can also include information about specific students, good or bad. For example: Sally is really helpful; you can ask her if you have questions or need help. OR Jasmine might give you trouble; keep a close eye on her and don’t be afraid to send her to the office if you need to.
  • Also include the level of your students, if applicable. For example, an “academic” level class could mean two very different things in two school districts.

Emergency procedures

  • This could include protocols for fire drills, lockdowns, evacuations, tornado drills, or any other emergency and safety information.

Students with allergies or special accommodations

  • It’s important for a sub to know if a student has an allergy or special medical condition. You also might need to give general information as provided in an IEP so a sub understands any accommodation a student might need. Be careful, however, that you only give out information on a need to know basis.

Updated rosters with student nicknames

  • Remember that students often switch classes, move, etc. so try to keep your rosters updated.
  • Include student nicknames, especially if they never go by their real name. It’s also a good idea to include pronunciations of names that are especially hard to pronounce.

Updated seating charts

  • These are important to make sure the sub can call students by name, and so they can accurately write any names down in their notes for you when you come back.

Extra activities

  • It can be hard to tell how long your sub plans will take because everybody paces things differently. Include a few extra 5-10 minute activities or lessons your subs can use on any given day if they have extra time to fill.

A way for the sub to contact you (if possible)

  • If you don’t want to or can’t be contacted at all, that’s fine, but if it’s possible for a sub to ask you a quick question, it’s a great idea to leave contact information. This can make the day easier for the sub, and it can make things easier for you when you return as well. In my experience, subs very rarely actually use the contact information, but it’s nice to have if needed.
  • Alternatively, provide the name and room number of a nearby teacher or two your sub can go to if they have a question or need help.

Emergency Sub Plans

The younger your students are, the more important emergency plans are. Obviously, these are plans that are designed to be used in case of an emergency when you have no time to put sub plans together.

If you have older students, it might make more sense to just let them have a study hall period in case of an emergency, but it is still a good idea to have emergency plans available. For elementary aged students, a sub can’t just let students have a free day all day long, so emergency plans are essential.

These should be part of your sub binder/folder, and they should be simple lessons that are still valuable, and that your students won’t consider busy work. They should also be something that would be valuable to students at any point in the year.

If your students won’t learn multiplication until January, don’t include a worksheet on multiplication as part of your emergency plans.

Where to Keep Your Sub Plans

Ideally, you’ll have time to set up your plans the day before. When you can, neatly organize your plans and label everything in a place that is easy for your sub to find.

If there was an emergency or you weren’t able to come in to set out your plans for whatever reason, you should always store your sub materials in a visible, easily accessible place. Tell some of your colleagues where your plans are in case they ever need to help out your sub; it’s a good idea to tell your department or grade head, your closest classroom neighbor, and the office secretary.

Sub Plan Lesson Ideas

In general, try to keep your plans simple enough that they don’t take you very long to write up and explain. Remember that your sub may not have expertise in the subject matter, so don’t include anything too complicated or that your students will need a lot of help with.

When you’re done writing your plans, read them back and imagine that you know nothing about your class. Would you be able to walk in that door and quickly understand and execute the plans? Following are ideas of some plans that typically work well.


This is a pretty standard sub plan, and it can work well if you include some component that holds your students accountable for the information or otherwise keeps them engaged. It can also work in a pinch when you don’t have much time to put plans together and you have some educational videos lying around in your classroom.

There is also a great twist to this that you can quickly and easily do the day before you’re out: record your own video. Say there are a few things you need to say to students, or some instruction you need to do before they can work on whatever they will be doing with the sub; record yourself so your sub can play it back for the students. This method also ensures no “the sub didn’t tell us that” excuses from your students.

Ongoing Projects

Giving students time to work on an ongoing project can work well. It’s easy to explain your plans, your students already know what they’re doing, and they’re motivated to work because they have a deadline for the project.


They might be considered boring or old school, but worksheets can be a great sub plan. They don’t involve any technology that a sub might struggle to get working, they hold students accountable, and they include self contained directions that students can follow.

Tests or Review Games

These are a good idea if the material is something that the sub is familiar with or if it is very simple material, such as vocabulary definitions or times tables. If, however, the material is complicated and you suspect students will have questions, then it’s best to save these for when you will be in the classroom if at all possible.

Actual Lessons

Don’t be afraid to ask your sub to do a little teaching, as long as it is within the scope of the average sub’s ability. Many subs actually get bored showing videos or doing mindless work day in and day out, so asking them to engage with your class and actually teach them something can be a welcome breath of fresh air for them.

Actual lessons are also great if you are able to request a sub who has experience in your field. This tends to work especially well when your sub is a retired teacher. There have been times in my classroom where I even let a retired teacher come up with the plans.

I talked to him ahead of time and told him what unit we were in and gave him freedom to teach what he wanted within that unit. It worked great because he loved being in his element teaching what he loved and it made my sub plans very easy to prepare. My students loved this as well because it gave them a different perspective on the material.

Include Keys

Include keys for anything that has a right or wrong answer, such as worksheets or tests. This will help your sub help your students as they work. You can also ask your sub to grade the tests or worksheets for you if they have time. Again, subs often get bored when they’re just sitting there watching students work all day, so they welcome the chance to grade assignments. This also makes things much easier for you when you return.

A Note on Expectations

Hopefully, your sub will do a great job and cover everything you asked them to, but any time you leave your classroom in the hands of someone else, you should realize that this might not be the case.

Maybe there weren’t enough subs and another teacher had to cover your class; maybe you forgot to tell the sub where the worksheet was; maybe the sub couldn’t get the projector working; maybe you just got a bad sub. If at all avoidable, don’t leave anything that’s extremely important to get done while you are out of your classroom, and don’t take anything that didn’t get done out on your students.

When you get back in your classroom, just be grateful for what did get accomplished and pick up from there.

Ask for Feedback

Ask your sub to leave you feedback if they have time. This can include information about how the day went, as well as specific feedback on your sub plans. They can let you know if parts of your plans were confusing or if there are certain elements of your sub plans that you might consider changing for the future.

Leave a Treat

Being a day to day sub takes a toll, especially when you routinely get woken up with a phone call saying you’re needed that same morning. It never hurts to thank your sub for their hard work with a piece of chocolate, a pack of crackers, or a K-cup they can use in the faculty lounge.

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