5 Easy Low-Prep Substitute Teacher Activities

Have you ever felt overwhelmed thinking about what activities you can leave for a substitute teacher when you have to be out of the classroom? It’s so stressful trying to come up with hands-off lessons for the sub but still engaging and educational for the students. Well, have I got good news for you! I’ve gathered my top 5 go-to sub activities that are super simple to set up but keep your learners learning in your absence. These activities are ones I use again and again because they require virtually no prep, take minimal instruction time for the substitute to implement and best of all – my students always have fun with them! Read on to find out which easy substitute activities have helped me rest easy about prepping for my days out of the classroom.

The Sub Tub that Never Happened

You know, those beautiful crates wrapped in ribbon with a matching label “SUB TUB”. I envisioned it would sit somewhere near my desk so that the next time my little one or I fell ill, I could sleep with ease knowing the day was planned. There would be days, maybe even weeks’ worth of quality activities for my students to stay engaged while I am gone. And it would be so effectively organized, that even the most inexperienced sub would easily be able to follow my plans.

I have always intended to create one of those. But, in reality, I am more of the “Drive to school in the AM while sick to throw together plans” kind of teacher. One day I just went in with strep throat (I didn’t know I had it for sure) and pushed myself through a half day (without talking AT ALL) until I had to surrender and go home.

One time I did throw this bin together but it didn’t last…

And while I still don’t have one of those decorated sub tubs (yet), I have gotten better about having a handful of prepped activities to throw together for an unexpected day off. The best part? I can use the activities more than once throughout the year. So it doesn’t feel as daunting to prep since it’s not for single use.

Create Your Own Bingo

Bingo is such a simple and versatile game to play for any subject but especially math! Addition and subtraction bingo are my go-to games. I love using this game early in the year with my class. It’s so easy because my students make their own boards and I keep them for any time we want to play in the future. But don’t worry, even if your students don’t have boards, they can make their own using the bingo template provided.

Here’s what you need: a set of flashcards for calling out the numbers, some counters for bingo chips, and prizes like bookmarks or candy (optional).

The best part? Bingo can keep your students engaged for a solid 30+ minutes while helping them improve their fact fluency. It’s a win-win all year long!

I’ve included a create-your-own bingo board you can download for free. If you prefer pre-made boards, I have all sorts of bingo games you can find in my TpT store here.

Skill Scavenger Hunt

This easy activity is perfect to pair with phonics but you could do any skill. Have students fold a piece of blank paper into sections. Write one of the phonics patterns you’ve already worked on like VCe or long e vowel teams. Students spend 15 minutes or so looking through the books in their book box for words that fit the pattern. Then, share out with a partner/group and/or the whole class. I love this because you can use it with ANY phonics skill you are working on. All you need is blank sheets of paper!

Blank paper is one of my absolute FAVORITE tools for the classroom. Read more ways I use it here.

Writing Ideas Spinners

Did you ever buy something for your classroom and forget to use it? These spinners sat in a closet for WAY too long. I finally brought them out and couldn’t believe the instant engagement. They could be used for so many things but writing was the first thing that came to mind. I drew 2 circles on the board and labeled one “characters” and one “setting”. Students came up with all of the ideas and then they each got to come up and spin a character/setting to write about.

Of course, you don’t need to buy the spinners, I have included writing ideas spinners in the free substitute activities for you to use as a pencil and paper clip instead. I love this because it works on generating ideas instead of just giving a prompt. It’s engaging and lends itself to some very creative writing! I always add time to share our stories, too. This entire activity can take a solid hour! 

Make a Book Quiz

Have your students grab their book boxes and a sheet of blank paper. As a class, have students brainstorm questions that they might be asked about a book: Who are the characters? Where did the story take place? What was the problem? What happened at the end?

Then, students pick one of the books from their book box and make a 5 question quiz about it. They can simply use the questions that the class brainstormed together. But, they must look for the answers and write them on the back. After they made the quiz, they can partner up with someone from their reading group and swap books. When they are finished reading, they can take each other’s quizzes.

Review Game: Jot, Draw, Pass

This is a perfect review activity. Students get into small groups and you pick a familiar topic. For example, after I teach about polar bears, I ask students to write or draw about things they learned. I set a timer for 1 minute. Have 1 student draw at a time. They write and draw as many things as they can and then pass it when the time is up. If you want to add some friendly competition, count up how many different ideas they recorded, and the team with the most wins. 

You could leave the substitute a list of topics you’ve covered this year and play 3-4 times. Or, this would pair great with a content area book or kid’s news magazine (I typically always have an unread Scholastic News on hand) to work on comprehension.

The truth is, there is no such thing as “no-prep” for a sub. It does take a little time to prep substitute activities. But with these, you can continue to use the same activities and incorporate whatever skills you are currently working on. As much as sub plans stink, writing sub plans while you are sick is worse. Your future self will thank you if you take 30 minutes now to make some copies and print out some plans that are ready to use in case of an emergency! Don’t forget to download the FREE Substitute Activity Plans and Templates.

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