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5 Lessons to Leave for a Substitute Teacher in Middle School ELA

Do you dread having to prepare substitute lesson plans? If so, you’re definitely not alone. In order to keep the classroom running smoothly while you’re away, you’re expected to put together a detailed plan of what your students will do in your absence. What other profession requires you to map out your missed days in such a specific manner? It can be a lot of work to formally write out the substitute lessons. This is especially true if you’re used to doing all of the planning in your head! To make it easier for you, I’m going to tell you about 5 engaging lessons that you can easily leave for a substitute teacher in middle school ELA.

1. The Missing Teacher

The first substitute lesson I want to suggest is the hilarious and fun missing teacher activity, where students are put in charge of investigating the reason you’re not at school. Were you arrested? Did you skip out on school to spend the day reading at the library? One of my favorite parts about this activity is that it makes for a good laugh when you hear all of your students’ funny speculations upon your return. You might be surprised to see just how well they know you…

For this activity, students will create their own missing teacher posters. They are encouraged to stretch the truth based on what they know about you! I get students to include basic descriptive information about their missing teacher. I also have them draw a picture of the missing teacher at the top of the poster. At the bottom, I have them suggest where the teacher might be found, or what they might be heard saying or seen doing, for example. I also get students to use their imagination to create a missing teacher case file with evidence collected, witness testimony information, suspects, etc.

This is an entertaining activity that your students will have a lot of fun doing, while also developing their writing skills at the same time.

Missing Teacher Emergency Substitute Lesson

2. Soundtrack of my Life

When we have to miss time from school, we want to feel confident that our students are going to be engaged and productive in our absence. Ideally, we also want to make sure that the work we assign for these days doesn’t overwhelm us with grading upon our return. I like to use the soundtrack of my life writing assignment for this reason. It involves two things most students love doing: discussing their favorite music and writing about themselves! You won’t need to spend time grading these. Instead, you can get your students to share their responses aloud as a class when you return.

For this assignment, students will create a mix-tape for their life by choosing ten songs that they connect with or that represent them. I like to start off this activity by using a hand-drawn video (by the talented John Spencer) that introduces and explains the activity. Students might imagine their lives as a movie, for which the songs they choose will play in the background, or they might select songs with themes that represent their beliefs, for example. In any case, they will need to explain why they chose each song as well as the thought behind the way the mixtape is organized.

Soundtrack of my life as a creative substitute lesson

3. Nonfiction Article & Assignments

When it comes to planning ahead for absences, you might be interested in having content ready from a program like the nonfiction article of the week. This full-year nonfiction program comes with 40 individual lessons that work incredibly well for a substitute lesson.  Each one includes a teacher slide show that guide the students (and the substitute) through each aspect of the lesson. They will begin with a pre-reading discussion. Then, they will read a high-interest nonfiction article, complete a reading response sheet, and watch related video clips. Finaly, they will complete a creative assignment.  It’s often enough content to get students through a day or even two.

Instead of spending hours preparing substitute lesson plans, you can let this resource take care of all of that for you. Since the nonfiction article of the week program comes with 40 articles, there’s no stress if you need to be away for longer periods of time. For each day that you’re away, your substitute can use different articles and their corresponding assignments. Each of these highly engaging assignments is more than enough to fill a single class.

You can try a free sample lesson for your next absence by clicking the image below. If you just want to grab an individual lesson for a single day off, you can do find those all by clicking here.

Nonfiction Article of the Week Free Download Substitute Lesson

4. Grammar Challenge

Grammar challenges come with short mini-lessons for teaching a specific grammar topic. Then, they prompt students to develop their understanding of these skills in groups with fun escape-style challenges. They work great as substitute lessons; however, they do require a bit of prep work on your part to prepare the challenges. If you’re able to prepare ahead of time, these are ideal, as they provide students with substantial and engaging grammar lessons in your absence. These are also great for improving students’ critical thinking and problem-solving skills.  If your students have access to a device, there is no cutting involved, so that would also be an even lower-prep option.

Before diving into the challenges, your substitute will use the grammar instruction presentation slides to introduce a grammar topic before sending them off to read a creative backstory for the grammar challenge that day, then students complete the escape room-style challenge. Students will also be able to do assessments before and after each challenge so you can see the progress they made while you were away!

You can learn more about the full-year grammar challenge program here, or you can check out the individual challenges. Want to try one as a substitute lesson?  Download the free sample below!

Grammar Challenge Program Free Download Substitute Lesson

5. An Inference Mystery

Who doesn’t love a good mystery? Inference mysteries are a great way to develop your students’ reading skills while you are away. One of my favorite mysteries to present to students is the buried ship mystery. This is based on a fascinating real-life event and is sure to engage your students in your absence. In 1978, a construction crew found a 100-year-old ship (that was fully intact) buried 20 feet underground in the middle of Downtown San Fransisco.    

Students will begin this by watching a hand-drawn video that explains the mystery and the activity. They will work together in groups to make inferences about how the ship ended up there, what its purpose was, who owned it, why it remained undiscovered, when it was buried, etc. Then, they must create a theory about the mystery and present it to the class! 

Buried Ship Inference Mystery Activity Substitute Lesson

Another inference mystery activity you can leave for a substitute is Who kidnapped the principal? This activity is a fun way to engage your students in problem-solving and inferential thinking. Students must work together to determine who kidnapped the principal based on evidence, testimonies, suspects, and alibis. Grab this one for FREE by clicking the image below.

Free Inference Mystery substitute lesson

There you have it! I hope these ideas make planning your substitute lessons easy for you. If you’re looking for more teaching tips, strategies, and resources, click here!

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