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Ready or Not, You're Subbing Today: Emergency Lesson Plans for the English Substitute

Alarm clock © by Nico Kaiser

It's 6 a.m., and you receive the "Can you come in today" call. Of course you say "yes" and then you hear: "The teacher left no lesson plans. Can you manage?" This is the moment when you realize you need a diverse collection of emergency lesson plans. For any substitute teacher who ends up in a middle school English classroom with no lesson plans, we have a creative writing activity which will be a "must-add" to your growing collection of emergency lesson plans.

The Story Starter. Place the students in groups of three. Give one sheet of paper per group. Each student will have a turn to be the writer, the time-keeper, and the idea assistant. On the board, write a story starter. The wilder, the better! And less is more. Here are a few of our favorites:

  • Suddenly, before he could...
  • The door slammed shut behind...
  • Just before the bell rang,...
  • Water was seeping in through...
  • Ever so slowly, the shadowy figure...
  • Everywhere she looked, Sue saw...
You have choices with how to use the starters. You can place all the options in view and allow students to choose a starter. Your other choice is to reveal one starter at a time and make all groups use the same one. If you have a basket, you could even write the starters out ahead of time on slips of paper; fold them and put them in a basket or container and let each group select a starter randomly.

Once you have the starter you will use, then the task begins. Let the students know that they will be writing a story and they must begin with the exact words from their starter. Students can decide which peer will start as writer, timekeeper, and idea assistant. Once those decisions are made, start the clock!

Each writer is allowed 2 minutes to write before the timekeeper calls time. (You can adjust the time for the length of the class period.) Then, the paper passes to the next student in the group. That student is now the writer, and s/he gets 2 minutes to add to the story. The others in the group assume the roles of timekeeper and idea assistant. You continue this cycle until each student in the group has served as writer and has added to the story. If time permits (and if the students are really becoming invested in their story), you can go around the group more than once. If you're bold enough (and we think you are), join a group and contribute. The funniest part comes when each group has to read its story aloud! Small recognition awards can be given to the most creative, the most touching, or the funniest stories. You decide.

The wrap-up discussion allows you to engage the students in these thoughts:

  • What makes an interesting story?
  • Is it easier or more difficult to create one clear story with more than one writer? Explain your opinion.
  • What are the benefits to collaborating with others when you write?
  • In your opinion, is it the beginning, middle, or end of the story which has the greatest impact on the reader?
  • If you were given a chance to revise your story, what would you change?
Post the questions, and require students to write silently in their journals about each one. Then, you can lead the closing discussion by allowing students to share their responses.

A more challenging variation of this creative writing activity is called Final Five. It has the same instructions; you just supply the students with the five words which must conclude their stories.

For more helpful information, more emergency lesson plans, and great advice, bookmark and visit it often.

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