Helpful Tips And Activities For Substitute Teachers

The profession of a teacher requires hard work, perseverance, and consistency. The job is not just restricted to schedules and curriculum, but also being an inspirational figure the children can look up to. 

Imparting education requires an engaging and learning environment. More than that, it requires consistency and continuity. This flow can be at risk if it faces a gap or entails the adjustment of a substitute teacher. However, it can be perfectly managed by incorporating a few effective techniques.

A substitute teacher provides valuable support and regularity for teachers at the time of sudden changes or abrupt modifications. They have even more responsibility and pressure to maintain the decorum as well as procedure of a class. 

To make it easy, in the following section of the post, you’ll find some tips and activities that can help increase engagement and smoothly manage the class.

Insightful tips for substitute teachers

Substitute teachers play a significant role in the education system. Not only are they responsible for managing an entirely new batch of students, but are also required to do this mostly in the middle of a session. For such a time, listed below are some useful tips that can help them prepare beforehand and maintain the flow of learning: 

1. Maintain continuity

For substitute teachers, it is important to understand that they are supposed to know the previous teacher’s teaching style, pattern, and format. Although they don’t need to follow the same, it still is necessary for them to ensure that the flow of the class is not disrupted heavily.

Teachers can do this by gaining prior knowledge of the covered syllabus along with the teaching style of the regular teacher, while also communicating about this freely with the students as to how they would prefer to proceed.

2. Be inquisitive

As a new teacher, it must be remembered that one needs to work on building a relationship with the students. For how long their tenure might be, every class is a daily chance to get to know each other, ask questions, and increase knowledge. Teachers may include this by making sure to regularly recheck and follow up if the class is comfortable with the teaching style, pace, and interaction. 

3. Engage students

It can be slightly difficult for a substitute teacher to connect with students instantly and succeed in delivering great sessions. It can, however, be of good help to include engagement and interest-based activities in class to captivate the attention of the students. For example, sudoku puzzles or the game of scrabble and wordplay are ways that can build a creative, fun, and engaging environment. 

4. Maintain discipline

Discipline and decorum are the basic pillars of the class. As a teacher, it is important to set clear expectations about following the rules of the classroom dedicatedly. For this, the teacher can be open about what the conduct of class she expects to maintain, along with clarity on the non-negotiables of the classroom environment. 

5. Be approachable

It is important to know that one has to ease the class and create a comfortable environment. For this, they can put in mindful efforts to establish that sense of approachability. For example, one can always end the class by asking if there is anything they can do that can be of help, or provide extra assistance to students who require extended guidance. This also involves being attentive to students who might need extra help or attention and need to be approached themselves. 

6. Express gratitude

While it can be a tedious task for a substitute teacher to adjust to the new settings, it is also important for them to understand that it is a disruption for the students too. Expressing one’s gratitude and letting them know that you appreciate their cooperative behavior can encourage it more. Clear communication and light-hearted conversations are one way to do that. 

7. Review lesson plans

The regular teacher’s lesson plans for the class can always come in handy for getting a better understanding of what one’s dealing with. It can be really helpful for one to go through them and even devise their own to be well prepared. Making lesson plans in the form of mind maps and flashcards too can be of great help. 

8. Open to feedback

Teaching a new class as a substitute teacher does not hand over a lot of time to settle in the process of choosing what works for the class and what doesn’t. Because of this, one must be open to feedback from the students as to what one can change or include in the class that suits their level of understanding and comfort more. 

Interesting activities for a substitute teacher

Being in a class that one still needs to get to know can be a challenging task. Here are some interesting activities to include in the class that may help increase engagement and interaction:

1. Interaction Igniters

Icebreaker quickies

The concept of icebreaker activities includes getting to know one another. This can be brought out through the inclusion of discussions on various topics, basic introduction activities, or interesting and funny questions that can be asked of a high schooler. 

In this activity, the teacher will ask the students to introduce themselves with the game of word bingo. Beginning from a random student’s introduction, let’s say, Sarah, the next chance will be for the one whose name begins with the letter their name ends with, which is H. If not then the student can call any of their classmates to continue with his/her introduction.

2. Model roundtables

Model roundtables

Lessons do not have to be limited only to books and lectures. An interactive classroom always calls for discussions and debates. As a substitute teacher, one can list out the topics from the curriculum that can be open to debates and discussions among the students. 

For the topic that substitute teachers need to continue or start with, present a critical question to students stimulating them to think, and then invite one-by-one to share their insights. It can be a group discussion activity or a debate depending on the nature of the topic and the question posed.

3. Virtual field trips

Virtual field trips

The use of technology comes in pretty handy in today’s world. This can be used to one’s advantage by the inclusion of educational videos, voice-over lectures, and pictorial representation of lesson topics. One interesting way to do this is through virtual field trips. 

Organize a dimly lit room and decide on a historical or tourist place with available picturesque visuals, like the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam. The students will then be joining on the virtual field trip and discovering the antiques and reminiscent aspects. 

4. Flashback roundup

Flashback roundup

For a classroom to yield maximum learning, it is important to go back and review what the students have learned. Mind maps and flowcharts are great for reviewing what one has studied and providing space for further discussions of questions and doubts for revision. 

To begin, make cards of various subtopics of a concept that has to be revised. Now, write the main topic in the center of the board. Invite students one by one to come forward, pick one card, and whatever subheading is there on the card, the student has to explain in brief about that and represent the same on the mind map on board considering the relationship between the topics and the sub-topics already there on the board.

5. Pictionary


Art and craft have always been a source of self-expression, enjoyment, and relaxation. Such fun art activities can help in increasing concentration and engagement in class. Teachers may do this by letting the students doodle and leverage their visual perception skills. 

After explaining the lesson, the teacher will ask the kids to come forward and draw anything related to the lesson on the board, and the rest of the students will guess the right word and concept for the same. This not only increases participation and active learning but also encourages visual revision and extensive learning. 

6. Mind teasers

Mind teasers

Brainstorming activities, puzzles, and mind teasers are sure to tickle one’s brain. This activity elevates interest in the subject, and hence, gives the students better dimensions to widen their knowledge and be well-versed with the subject. 

To start,  prepare flashcards of mind teasers for the related subject, say English literature, and will ask rapid questions like “Name three books by Jane Austen that have been adapted into movies”. It can also include mind-boggling questions that encourage students to think critically about the concept learned and how it can be applied to the asked question.

7. Partner pedagogy

Partner pedagogy

Partner teaching or peer teaching is when one student volunteers to teach the others. A substitute teacher can include this activity by dividing the lesson into two or more topics and dividing the class into groups of two or more students. 

Every student will then work on their topic and teach it to the group, as well as learn \ from their teammates. Being one of the closing activities, it allows students to reflect on their understanding of the concept and revisit the areas they’re not strongly confident of.

To sum up

Being a substitute teacher can involve a lot of pressure, expectations, and even subsequent disappointment. That being said, one must look at the brighter side and take it as an opportunity for growth and personal development. Being true to one’s profession as a teacher includes a lot of patience and consistency, but with constant efforts, one can make a difference.

It is important to be highly empathetic and understanding towards the students, try to build a cooperative and adaptive environment, and at the same time, include a lot of interest and engagement-building techniques. These key pointers can be of great help when stepping in as a substitute teacher.

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