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The Best Lesson to Leave for a Substitute Teacher in ELA

Taking a day off when we need a sick day is a real challenge for teachers. For things to run smoothly, it is often necessary to write a detailed sub-plan that will keep students engaged in our absence. We all know how long these can take to prepare, especially if you don’t want to come back to classroom management issues or a ton of grading. What if you had something on hand to use as an emergency sub plan? Something that required no prep, leaves little to no grading, and could last multiple days if necessary? My favorite lesson to leave a substitute teacher in ELA ticks all these boxes. The result is hilarious—and extremely effective! So, how does it work?

Shared Discussion

Why would a teacher need to take time off school? Perhaps they are sick, have an important appointment, need to care for a loved one, etc. I can think of plenty of totally valid reasons. For the first part of this activity, I have the substitute teacher ask students to reflect on this question themselves.

They will also be asked the following: how is class different when there is a substitute teacher?

Here, they may bring up the fact that students often don’t follow as many rules, for example, or that they are sometimes more reluctant to participate in class discussions.

This initial shared discussion will help set the tone for the missing teacher activity—and for the overall experience of the class while you’re away. They can do this in pairs at first (or in small groups) before engaging in a whole-class discussion.

Individual Journal Brainstorm

After students are warmed up from the shared discussion, it’s time to get them to do some individual journal brainstorming. Set a timer for 10-15 minutes for this part. This is where they will push past some of the typical reasons a teacher might miss school and get a little more creative—and funny!

What are some outside-the-box reasons for a teacher’s absence from school? Students can write down their unique ideas, keeping in mind things they already know about their teacher in particular. What are some of their hobbies, interests, or things their teacher has just said in class that might serve as clues? This brainstorming will help prepare students to be introduced to the assignment itself.

The Missing Teacher Assignment

There are two parts to the missing teacher assignment.

For the first part of the activity, students are asked to imagine that the school staff members have become worried about your whereabouts. The principal has put the student in charge of the investigation into finding their missing teacher. As their first order of business, they must create a missing teacher poster to put up around the community.

Missing Teacher Emergency ELA Substitute Lesson

On their posters, they must include key information that will help to locate their missing teacher! They will include things like a drawing of the teacher, for example, and fill in some basic information such as when the teacher went missing, what their eye and hair color is, what they were last seen wearing, etc.

At the bottom of the poster, the student will respond to questions that prompt them to speculate on where you might be based on what they know about you. They will provide information on where the teacher might be found, what they might be heard saying, and what to do if you find the teacher, for example. The answers to these can be quite hilarious!

Missing Teacher ELA Substitute Lesson Testimonial 1
Missing Teacher ELA Substitute Lesson Testimonial 2

Missing Teacher Police File

The second part of this ELA substitute lesson is the missing teacher police file. The premise for this one is that the teacher has yet to turn up. Students are told, however, that the police have begun working on the missing teacher case, and they have had a major breakthrough! They must use their imagination to fill out a case file with information that the police have gathered about your disappearance. In the case file, they will include things like evidence collected, witness testimony, police predictions, etc.

Time to Share

What’s great about this assignment is that it doesn’t really require grading. Once the assignment is complete, it’s time for students to share their work with the class! This could be done by the substitute or when you return (which I would recommend because it’s much more fun).

They can put their missing teacher posters and police files on the wall. Students can do a gallery walk where they go around and read each of the student responses. This can either be done individually or in groups. It just depends on how organized you want this part to be!

If you don’t want them to share in a gallery walk format, consider having them do a short presentation for you upon your return! This is where students can reveal their (often hilarious) speculations as to where their teacher has been. This is also where you can now give the real reason for your absence (if you’re comfortable doing so). Students can do this in small groups or as a whole class. In any case, hearing all about the investigations in this informal way allows you to verify that they’ve done the work without having to grade anything at all!

Missing Teacher ELA Substitute Lesson Testimonial 3

Extension Activity

If for whatever reason the students finish the activity early (or are just having a lot of fun and want to continue with this assignment), students can do an extension activity. For this, they can write a journal entry from the perspective of their teacher on their day away from class.

There you have it! I hope you find this helpful. You can grab the ready-to-use missing teacher resource by clicking here.

Looking for more ideas for an ELA substitute lesson? Read about 5 Lessons to Leave for a Substitute Teacher.

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