Easy Elementary Ideas & Activities for Substitute Teachers

 We all know the struggle when prepping for a substitute teacher. Whether it’s a planned day off, a sudden illness, or a professional development day, preparing substitute plans is something that most teachers hate doing. Doesn’t the whole rush to get things organized feel a bit overwhelming sometimes? Let’s be honest with each other, brainstorming engaging activities that your students can do without a lot of help can be challenging, especially when you’re not feeling 100% or your mind’s elsewhere. I get it! I’ve been there! That’s why I’m excited to lend a hand and share some easy activities for no-stress sub days. No need to spend hours prepping for your absence. These emergency sub plans will make planning for your long-term subs or short-term substitutes a piece of cake so you can focus on caring for yourself and those around you!

Use these easy activities for substitute teachers to be sure your students and guest teacher have the best day possible when you are away.

How to Prepare Easy Activities for Substitute Teachers

Getting ready for a substitute teacher doesn’t have to be a headache. I usually take a little time during the beginning of the year to prepare my substitute lesson plans. That way, when sick days arise, I don’t have to think twice about putting in for a sub.  The hard part is already done.  Below are the steps that I go through as I prepare and can be used for any elementary grade level. 

Create a Sub Tub or Sub Binder 

You don’t need anything fancy to hold your materials. Whether you choose a  Pinterest-worthy setups, a plastic bin, or a binder, do what works best for you.  I personally have found the best success with a simple substitute binder and plastic bin.

A sub binder like this is the perfect place to keep your easy activities for substitute teachers organized and easy to find.

I usually use a 2-inch binder for all the information and keep a well stocked bin with copies of the independent work – both hold all the materials needed and keep them all in one spot for quick and easy access.  What I love most is that with everything done, I can simply tell my admin or another classroom teacher to “grab the yellow binder” or “my sub basket is on the bottom shelf.”

Inside the binder, I include essential information that a sub would need.  Items like a class list, class schedule, emergency procedures, and a list of helpful students stay together in one section. This is also the place where I add a note to the substitute teacher and provide any additional information they would need like class rewards.

Detailed Lesson Plans

The first thing I include is an outline of the day’s schedule and which lessons are taught for which time block. I personally go in with the mentality that more is better. If they don’t get to everything by the end of class, that’s fine – I just want to avoid downtime! I break down each activity with clear instructions, ensuring the substitute can easily follow the lessons. Once completed, this goes into the binder too!

Leave detailed lesson plans along with your easy activities for substitute teachers to make sure the day runs smoothly for them.

I highlight the needed materials for each activity in the lesson plans. Then, I gather the needed materials, whether they be worksheets, books, or other supplies, and put them in the bin. I label these with a post-it note with the subject and time to help reinforce the schedule. Most lessons do not require a lot of materials. We don’t want to put a lot of work on ourselves.

For elementary students, I have found that limiting the amount of new teaching makes for a smoother sub day when possible.  Choosing activities that help your students review previously taught skills allows them to work more independently.  For this reason, I refresh my sub activities each quarter.  That way I can make sure that the substitute lessons provided align well any time of the year.

This quarterly check-in allows me to make sure all the information in the binder stays up to date too.  If there are unused activities in the sub tub I simply file them away for next year’s sub plans or add them to our early finisher activities in the classroom.

Classroom Procedures

After lesson plans, I then turn my attention to classroom procedures. Sometimes, think it’s an all-day recess when we are out. It’s important to have the expectations clearly laid out for the substitute or guest teacher to reinforce them with the kids. Once the kiddos realize everyone is on the same page, it helps them to step up as the leaders that they are working to become. 

Along with the easy activities for substitute teachers be sure to leave detailed classroom procedures as well.

While preparing the expectations, I make sure to include a copy of our classroom rules, how to take attendance, bathroom breaks, who may need to be pulled into small groups, and how they should transition between activities. This helps our students by giving them a sense of routine and consistency while we are away. 

Technology Instructions

For my older students, 4th grade and up, I may leave technology items. Whenever I am preparing, I try to think of all the hiccups that could happen during the day and troubleshoot them ahead of time. Sometimes the activities that I have planned are digital and will require the use of our devices. I make sure to provide clear instructions on how to operate my device and how to navigate to any digital materials needed. Then I explain where the students’ devices are located, how the devices work, where to find log-in information, and where to access the digital materials on the student sides. 

As well as including easy activities for substitute teachers it's also important to leave instructions for expectations when it comes to using technology in your classroom.

I also leave specific guidelines for student usage of devices so that everyone is aware of expectations and how the devices should be used for the day. 

If you’d like a more detailed look at how I prepare for a sub in advance, make sure to read my other blog post 10 Immediate Actions To Do Now to Prepare for a Substitute Teacher. It’s filled with practical tips and ideas that will help you get your sub plans in order before you ever need them.  

But make sure to keep reading here too, because the rest of this post will help choose what substitute teacher activities to include in your sub plans. 

8 Easy Activities for Substitute Teachers

Now that you’ve got the basics in place, let’s talk about ideal sub lesson plans! In my opinion, there are definitely do’s and don’ts when selecting activities for when you’re out of the classroom. If you’re not quite sure where to start or need some inspiration, here are some of my favorite activities. I even explain why I think they’re a clear winner for subs! 

1. Color By Code Puzzle Activities

I always make sure to include one or more of these color-by-code activities in my substitute teacher lesson plans. The math class periods fly by when my students are engaged in this activity! Since students know just what to do they can focus on the activity leaving the substitute free to answer questions as they arise.

With color-by-code puzzles focused on place value, addition, subtraction, and multiplication I know they can be used all year long. Students solve the problem and then color in the space with the color that aligns with their answer. 

This color by code activity is a fantastic addition to your easy activities for substitute teachers.

My students love working on these which is another reason they are great to leave in your sub lesson plans. You can easily use them for morning work, review in math class, or to fill in extra time. It’s an activity that is relevant to their learning, even if it’s just a review. 

Add a Color By Code activity to your sub lesson plans with this Addition Color By Code freebie! Or find more color by code resources in the Elementary Island store on TPT.

2. Math Races 

Playing a whole class game is another great activity that students love which makes them great for a sub day. For this game, choose a math skill you want your students to practice.  Make sure to leave the substitute a list of math problems they can use for this quick activity so they don’t have to come up with their own.   

One student from each team will come up to the board where they’ll solve the problem given by the substitute teacher. The one who correctly solves the problem first earns a point for the team. 

Get in some fun math skills review with a game like math race that's easy to include in your easy activities for substitute teachers.

You can also divide your class into smaller groups and give each group a whiteboard. Since groups are involved, I have them pre-planned out. This helps your substitute teacher stay organized and efficiently save time, ensuring most of the time is spent on skill practice rather than on who gets to be with whom in a group. 

3. Spelling Activities

Make spelling practice fun with these themed spelling activities that are perfect no matter when in the year you need to take a day! 

These activities have come in handy many times and take very little prep time. All you have to do is type in your spelling words once and the resource automatically generates a variety of practice pages for your words! All the pages were strategically designed to have students use different strategies to help them remember how to spell the words. 

Get in some spelling practice even when you are away when you add these spelling activities to your easy activities for substitute teachers.

Adding one of these engaging spelling activities to your sub tub is a great way to know that students will be working on their spelling words while you are out.

4. Seasonal Math Activities with a Writing Extension 

While you’re away, have your students review their addition, subtraction, multiplication, or division skills with a math craft! The students love them, and they’re a fun way to add a little out of the ordinary fun to your math block! 

To prepare, simply choose the seasonal math craft you’d like to use. In each set, there are two math craft options. For example, the winter craft packet has a snowman and a snow globe to choose from. Plus each set includes math problem pages for a variety of math skills.  It’s so easy to leave the craft page and a page of problems that align with the skill I want students to practice. 

Students can work independently or with a partner on the problems. That’s a choice you can make depending on the dynamic of your class. If I allow them to work in partners, I leave a pre-made list of partners in the sub plans for the substitute teacher.  This helps to avoid conflicts that may arise with some students. 

You know how much your students love crafts, so include these holiday math activities in your easy activities for substitute teachers.

Once each problem has been solved, students will check their answers with the sub. I always make sure to include the answer keys in my sub plans. Once approved, the students begin to color, cut, and assemble their craft. If possible, have a completed example so both your guest teacher and your students know what the end product should look like. 

To take it further I love to connect their math craft to a writing activity.  You can keep it math-related and have students write a word problem about their craft. But you can also use the craft as the jumping off place for a creative writing activity. Students can write a story with their craft being the main character. Students love this and I love to see their creativity soar! 

If you add the writing extension, don’t forget to add writing paper to your sub tub.  That way the substitute teacher will have everything they need.

5. Read Aloud and Story Elements Exploration

One of my favorite parts of the day with my kiddos is our read-aloud time. To keep the same routine while I am out, I always ensure that part of the day stays the same. 

Include a fun read aloud in your easy activities for substitute teachers.

I pre-choose a short story and have it ready with the rest of the materials for the day. The substitute teacher will read the story to the class. Then, afterward, the class will complete a reading response activity. 

For younger students in first grade and second grade, one of my go-to activities only requires that students get a blank sheet of paper. The students will fold the paper into four sections. Each section will be labeled with a story element, such as character, setting, problem, and solution. Then the substitute teacher and the class will talk about each one. As they move through each section, the students can draw or write down the elements of the story they read. You can leave a completed version of the elements paper to help guide your substitute teacher. 

Instead of story elements, my older students may be asked to draw their favorite part of the story and write a few sentences about it, or I might stop before the ending and ask them to illustrate what they think will happen next!

The other thing I do is give the substitute permission to do a second read-aloud during the day.  Since this is a time that students love and are generally well-behaved for, I want the substitute to know they can do this more than once.  I either leave some extra books for them to choose from or let them know where they can find a book of their choosing.

6. Seasonal Activity Packets

Meet your secret weapon for banishing downtime and keeping your students not just occupied but excited about learning! These no prep activities are the perfect way to add some seasonal fun into your sub plans while also knowing that students will be reviewing and practicing key skills. 

Holiday fun packets include everything you need for easy activities for substitute teachers.

I always keep these seasonal no prep packets in my sub tub or binder for when I am out. I don’t have to worry about my students having too much downtime and starting to get off track. This whole bundle is a lifesaver for any substitute because it provides ready-to-go, engaging activities that align with the skills and concepts students have been learning. You can rest easy knowing that your substitute will effortlessly guide your students through crossword puzzles, creative math challenges, writing prompts, word search puzzles, and grammar adventures!

You can find a variety of no prep packets for holidays and seasons in my store.

7. QR Code Activities

Whenever technology is involved, student engagement skyrockets! Making learning fun and game-like through the use of technology helps engage our learners. Not only does this help students with the learning process, but it also helps a substitute teacher with classroom management.

My QR Code Activities are a wonderful way to work on important skills while using technology. Each of the QR Code sets includes task cards with a QR code on it.  These task cards can be used independently, with partners, or for centers.  

Use these engaging QR code activities for no fuss easy activities for substitute teachers.

For each card, students work on solving the math problem or answering the question on the recording page. To check their answers, they use a digital device, such as a tablet, to scan the QR code to see if their answer is correct. If they’re correct, they color in the smiley face on their papers but if incorrect they color in the sad face.  It’s a great self-checking activity that not only saves me grading time but also allows students a chance to find their mistakes in real time. 

If you don’t have devices that have QR readers, that’s totally okay! Each of my activities has an answer key. Even if you do have QR readers, I always print out the answer key in case of technology mishaps and ensure my substitute teacher has quick access and does not have to figure it out as they go. 

8. BOOM Cards

If you still need to discover the magic of BOOM Cards, get ready for a game-changing moment for your classroom and substitute lesson plans. BOOM Cards are digital task cards that students complete on the Boom platform. Say goodbye to printing, cutting, and the hassle of recording sheets as you prep for your day out of the classroom. 

I love including BOOM Cards in my plans for my substitute teacher because they are hassle-free. My students can independently work on them and they stay engaged from start to finish. These cards are self-checking so students get immediate feedback as they are prompted to try again as needed. 

Boom Cards are a great addition to your easy activities for substitute teachers because they require zero prep from you and are easy for substitute teachers to navigate.

Plus you can find Boom Cards for many different skills and concepts.  That means no matter when you need them, Boom Cards provide a great activity.   

Learn more about BOOM Cards by reading BOOM Cards in the Classroom! When leaving Boom Cards for a substitute make sure that you leave detailed instructions on how students will access the Boom Card activities. 

Time to Prepare Easy Activities for Substitute Teachers

So what are you waiting for? Don’t wait until you are sick to prepare your sub plans. The key to being prepared for substitutes is being proactive. By creating a sub tub or binder now that is filled with everything a substitute teacher would need, you set the stage for a smooth substitute experience for your guest teacher and for your students. 

Choose a variety of activities that will help your students practice or review skills they have already been taught.  Add in something out of the ordinary, like a math craft, for instant engagement.  And. . . engage them with activities you know they love like read-alouds, games, and technology.  The next time you need to step away, your plans will be done and ready to go.  No stress and no worry! After all, a well-prepared substitute plan is the ultimate gift to your substitute, your students, and yourself! 

Save for Later

Remember to pin this post to your favorite teaching Pinterest board so that you can come back when you need ideas for your sub plans. 

Looking for easy activities for substitute teachers to use when you have to be out of the classroom? Check out these amazing activities you, your students, and your guest teacher will absolutely love and aren't just fluff. From helpful tips, lesson plans, and fun activities, your substitute teacher will thank you for this complete list easy activities for substitute teachers.


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