How to Get Ready for a Substitute Teacher in Upper Elementary

Have you thought about the experience of a substitute teacher in your upper elementary classroom? They’re stepping into an unfamiliar environment. Then they must rely heavily on your notes as their guide. A classroom that’s well-prepared can transform the day for your sub and your students. Curious about how to ensure this smooth transition? This post shares practical ideas from real teachers on how to get ready for a substitute teacher in upper elementary.

In addition to my tips, you’re getting insightful ideas from Marissa of Creative Classroom Core, Rachel from Uniquely Upper, Rissa of Teaching in the Heart of Florida, Rach from 5th is My Jam, and Marianna of Creatively Comprehensive.

Keep reading below to discover key strategies to prepare your room and your students for a successful day with any sub!


Have These Ready for ANY Substitute Teacher in Upper Elementary


Have you ever wondered how a substitute teacher feels stepping into your shoes for a day? ๐Ÿค” Well, spend a few minutes thinking about how your class flows from start to finish.

These are the details your sub will need to know! But how do you get all this ready for him or her?

One of the BEST ways to prepare for a sub is to do it in advance! Here are some general tips on what you can have ready for any sub who walks into your classroom:


1– Provide your class schedule.
2– List your class rules and expectations + what the sub should do if these rules are broken.
3– Be sure to include your student roster.
4– Have the names of two nearby teachers that the sub can talk to if he or she has a question.

5– Go over the rules and expectations with your students before the sub arrives. (anchor chart๐Ÿ‘‡๐Ÿพ)
6– Leave treats or rewards that the sub can give to students for good behavior.
7– Make copies of engaging, NO-PREP, easy to use activities that the sub can grab in a snap!



I like having these items in the front of a Sub Tub or a Sub Binder. ๐Ÿ—ƒ๏ธ In fact, I go ahead and put this together during the beginning of the school year. You know you’re gonna have a sub at some point, so having these items ready will save your peace when it’s time for you to be out.

The tips below go into more detail with genius hacks on how to get ready for your substitute teacher in upper elementary!


A Post You Might Like:
No-Prep Activities to Keep Kids Engaged on Days When You Don’t Feel Like Teaching


Appoint Sub Helper Student Jobs


Even if you have the best laid out sub plans, you will probably forget something. ๐Ÿคฆ๐Ÿพโ€โ™€๏ธ Or something unexpected (that’s not an emergency) will come up.

In situations like this, I always had students who had the job of “Sub Helper” ready! This was one of my favorite ways to leave my class with peace and confidence in the hands of a different teacher.

Guest teachers love having this included with the substitute teacher plans! ๐Ÿ’–

substitute-teacher-in-upper-elementary


Next to the teacher’s desk, I had a poster board hanging on the supply closet door that had the names of my Sub Helpers along with a schedule. During my back to school procedures, I trained my students on what the Sub Helper’s job would involve.

Then I appointed responsible and reliable students to serve in this role while I was out.

They helped the sub with any extras or things that were not clear from my teacher notes. Not only did this work like a charm for the teacher, but it also gave my 4th graders autonomy.

Prepare Seamless Grammar Activities in Your Substitute Lesson Plans


Letโ€™s face itโ€ฆsometimes getting sub lesson plans together takes more work then teaching! You have to make copies, write notes, create a detailed schedule, and so much more! ๐Ÿ˜ตโ€๐Ÿ’ซ

Rachel from Uniquely Upper has the perfect solution to help ease some of the burden. Getting your sub to effectively teach grammar while you are away doesnโ€™t have to be overwhelming. Her grammar lessons and activities are: ๐Ÿ“š

  • well-structured
  • easy to follow
  • specifically tailored to fit your classroom needs

These are essential to have when prepping for a substitute teacher in upper elementary!

To grab some free grammar activities for your sub lesson plans, visit Uniquely Upper.


Rachel’s grammar curriculum includes a detailed outline of the grammar lesson, materials required, and step-by-step instructions for the substitute teacher to deliver the lesson effectively. In addition, it includes engaging activities and exercises that are educational and enjoyable for students.

The key to successful substitute lesson plans for grammar is clarity and comprehensiveness, which ensures that students can continue their learning without disruption. This also means that your supply teacher can confidently guide them through the grammar lesson. ๐Ÿ“

Include Flexible Activities That Work for Any Subject


Another way to prepare for a substitute teacher in upper elementary is to have activities that work with any subject, any time of the year.

Just pause and consider these challenges:

  • Do you always worry about what your classroom will be like when you must be out?
  • Will you be able to plan enough activities but not cash in on the educational value?
  • Will you be able to leave things that will be easy for your substitute to utilize?

Cast your fears aside, teacher friend! ๐Ÿค—

Rach from Fifth is my Jam has just what you need to keep your students on-task during any subject time. She has found the perfect way to keep her students engaged when she needs to be out.

Be sure to visit Rach’s 5th is My Jam to learn more about these drawing activities.


Her students love drawing, and especially love it if it relates to a subject they are learning about. Their favorite drawing activity is from a science set titled โ€œIf I Were a Constellation.โ€ It is a fun set of constellations writing prompts that also lend themselves toward no-prep sub work too!

These sets offer a fun way to engage your students academically, while also having fun and taking the stress off of you and your substitute teacher.

Keep Routines “Regular” With Year-Round Centers

In some ways, having a substitute teacher in upper elementary is less challenging than in primary grades. Your students are capable of doing more work independently and have the stamina to sit for longer periods of time.

Use this to your advantage by keeping their routines in tact when you have a guest teacher.

Marianna from Creatively Comprehensive finds that, if possible, keeping studentsโ€™ routines similar to a โ€œregularโ€ day can be key to your class having a successful day with a sub. Year-round centers that students have been trained to use can be a game-changer regarding routines!

Be sure to check out Marianna’s blog for 5 tips on using year-round centers.


There are times when emergency sub lesson plans are necessary, but on those occasions when you have a planned absence and can talk to your students about expectations beforehand, leaning into their regular routines can be beneficial.

Having centers or stations set up for daily ELA activities, such as word work or reading response, means that part of your sub plans are already written for you! Your supply teacher will appreciate not having to navigate complex lesson plans, and your students will benefit from engaging in meaningful ELA practice even while youโ€™re gone–win/win! ๐Ÿคฉ

A Post You Might Like:
Why You Need to Have Centers in Your Upper Elementary Class


Prepare Your Emergency Sub Plans Early


Letโ€™s face it, scrambling to put together substitute lesson plans when you can barely lift your head off the pillow is nobodyโ€™s idea of fun. ๐Ÿ˜ซ

Not to mention, itโ€™s hardly the best time to ensure a comprehensive, engaging day of learning for your students.

Rissa from Teaching in the Heart of Florida finds that preparing emergency sub plans at the beginning of the year can save the day. ๐Ÿฆธโ€โ™€๏ธ

Rissa’s blog post on how to prepare your emergency sub plans offer more detailed tips!


While the idea of preparing emergency sub plans ahead of time may initially seem like a daunting task, the long-term benefits far outweigh the initial effort. These plans offer a ready solution during those unexpected times when you canโ€™t make it to school. Here are some of Rissa’s benefits to having emergency sub plans ready in advance:

  • Your students stay on track with their learning
  • Emergency plans provide a framework for a substitute teacher in upper elementary
  • You get to rest and recover without the added stress of planning from your sickbed!!


Getting your rest is most important when preparing for a sub. You need to be healthy in order for your students to thrive!

Leave Thank You Notes for Your Sub


While planning for a substitute teacher in upper elementary can be hard, it is important to remember that being a substitute teacher can be hard too.

Moving from school to school, following lessons laid out by someone else, and meeting new students each day can be a struggle. ๐Ÿ˜ตโ€๐Ÿ’ซ Because of this, Marissa from Creative Classroom Core likes to leave a thank you card on her desk for the guest teacher, to let them know they are appreciated. ๐Ÿ’–



Marissa keeps a stack of the blank cards in her dayplanner, so they are ready to go when an emergency sick day pops up. You can grab a copy of some FREE substitute teacher thank you cards and find tips for substitute teachers on the Creative Classroom Core blog.

What Do You Do When Your Class MisBehaves for Sub? ๐Ÿฅบ

All the amazing tips shared above help you prep for a sub’s arrival, but what happens when he or she leaves?

Furthermore, what happens when he or she leaves a not-so-glamorous report about your students’ behavior? That’s never a fun situation to come back to! ๐Ÿ˜ฃ Here are five practical actions you can take when your students misbehave while with a substitute teacher:

  1. Prepare Apology Letters: Students write sincere apologies to the substitute teacher, taking responsibility for their actions.
  2. Write Reflective Essays: Students jot down their thoughts on why it’s crucial to be respectful and well-behaved, no matter who’s in charge.
  3. Create a Classroom Contract: The whole class comes together to set behavior guidelines, making everyone a stakeholder in maintaining a good environment.
  4. Put together a Future Sub Preparedness Kit: Have the students contribute to a “welcome package” for future subs. It could include the previous classroom contract, student interests, and basic sub lesson plan options.
  5. Rehearse Procedures: Spend a few minutes going over classroom procedures and expectations specifically for when there’s a substitute. Make it a mini-drill so they know exactly what to do next time.

This way, we’re turning a setback into a setup for better days ahead!

Classroom Management Tips for Subs


All the tips above help you prepare for a substitute teacher in your upper elementary class. BUT what about the sub? How can he or she be ready for you class? ๐Ÿ‘‡๐Ÿพ

classroom management tips for subs


Our 15 classroom management tips for subs boost any guest teacher’s confidence to work in your class. So be sure to visit and share this post on your favorite platform for all sub teachers to enjoy. ๐Ÿ˜‰

Then let us know in the comments your favorite hack to efficiently prep for a sub.

Continue to transform learning beautifully teacher friend ๐Ÿฆ‹

Tanya G. Marshall The Butterfly Teacher Transforming Learning for all students

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