Let's be honest, even the most veteran teachers can quake at the idea of subbing. A substitute teacher has to show up and be ready for anything. Quite often, you don't even know your assignment until you arrive at the main office. What grade will you have? Will it be one class for the whole day or one subject for the whole day? What sort of behaviors and learning concerns are you going to face?
Luckily, there are some great lesson plan ideas that you can quickly tailor to a variety of situations.
Research has proven that even middle school students learn from and become engaged in picture books. As long as you have an age-appropriate activity that connects to it, then you are ready to go.
First find a few picture books that have great illustrations, are humorous, and are not too complex, since you could end up in a kindergarten class. Next, think of a range of activities for each of those books. Games, pictures, projects, worksheets... Also make sure that you have a variety of levels planned out. If you want comprehension questions after the story, then make multiple choice versions, short response versions, picture versions, etc.
Let's go through an example together. If you read the book Moo by David LaRochelle, you will find that young children and adults all laugh with this story. Every word except the last one is "moo," yet the pictures and font provide clues as to what each "moo" really means.
So how can you create a variety of activities? Kids can draw what other sticky situations the cow will get into. Kids can answer questions or fill out a sequencing worksheet about the story. Kids can write what they think the dialogue really is, since every word in the book is moo. Kids can write a new ending for the book. The choices are quite endless.
This is fantastic because it can be used for absolutely any subject, age or class. Active Voting is an activity where students do a movement or something silly in order to answer a question. Any question.
Perhaps you could say, "Put your hands on your head if you know..." Or you could call out, "Stand up and spin around one time if you know..." A favorite is always, "Cover your mouth if you know..." Then the ending is absolutely anything you want. For instance, "Sit on the floor with your hands on your knees if you can tell me one of the states of matter."
This sometimes involves a minute or two of research before the day starts. If you arrive at a third grade classroom and there are either no plans or plans that don't look like they'll last the whole day, take a look at the bulletin boards and current lessons to see what they are learning about. Multiplication? American Revolution? The water cycle? It doesn't matter. Any topic can be incorporated into active voting.
Every school has their own programs, but one day of your own lessons is not going to destroy any units. Come up with a long list of writing prompts. They can be silly, serious, or completely unrealistic. If you could have one superpower, what would it be? What is one time you felt really embarrassed? An alien spacecraft lands in your backyard, what do you teach them about Earth? If you're stuck for ideas, a quick Google search will yield you more writing prompts than will last a lifetime.
It is probably a good idea to plan ahead for how you will execute this activity. Maybe you have a list of writing prompts and they get to pick the one to write about. (Side note: To help curb surprise behavioral issues, allowing a student to pick their own topic always helps with maintaining their interest and therefore not becoming disruptive.) Maybe you have each prompt typed out on individual pieces of colored paper and laminated. Either way, this will even keep those "fast finishers" busy. Done so soon? Take another prompt.
No matter what you have planned, there will always be parts of substitute teaching that are daunting. However, knowing you literally have a bag full of tricks will ease a great deal of anxiety and also make you look amazing to any administrator that pops in to say hi!