Sub Plans Tips and Freebie

Have you ever compared subbing to cooking a meal? You can cook a meal for your family in your kitchen with little fanfare. Now imagine what it would be like if your job was to go to a stranger's house to cook a meal.

For this example, we will say that your job is to go to Mrs. Parker's house to make an evening meal for her family. When you arrive at Mrs. Parker's house, you walk in her kitchen and see some of the utensils and supplies you will use.  But, you don't see the roasting pan and few other key ingredients that you need.  Hunting through drawers and cabinets takes time - more time that it would take Mrs. Parker to make the meal.

Now add to this "cooking job",  20+ children in your kitchen, and a dishwasher malfunction.

Then a neighbor drops by with a question, which is followed by a phone call from another neighbor with a message for Mrs. Parker. Mrs. Parker left a note telling you the names of her neighbors who can answer any questions you might have.  But, you can see that her neighbors are busy making their own meals.

Surprise! By the end of the cooking job you are looking for something with caffeine to recharge your batteries.

  • SUPPLIES: Even with the best of intentions and quality plans, you may not have all of the necessary supplies.  It is best to arrive early so will have time to find everything that you need.
  • TECHNOLOGY: Check all of the technology that you will be using.  Have a plan B in case a glitch occurs.
  • NEIGHBOR - Parent: Bring a clipboard with paper.  Write notes from parents who drop by with questions/information, phone calls, etc.  Clip notes to the clipboard.  It is helpful to have everything in one place instead of wasting valuable time searching for them.
  • NEIGHBOR - Teachers:  Yes, the teachers next door and across the hall are busy, too.  But, there is usually at least one teacher who is friendly and willing to help if you ask.  Don't wait for the teacher to come to you.  If you have a question - go to experts.

Tips for teachers making sub plans

It is cold and flu season. You know what that means, right? Time to update your emergency sub plans. Remember emergency sub plans are like an insurance plan. You hope you never need them, but if that day ever comes when you do need your plans, you'll be glad you made them.

Planning for a sub has become more important with all of the pressures on students and teachers to improve test scores. You want to ensure that instruction continues when you can't be there. Planning now - before you need a sub - is key to making sure your students and the sub has a smooth day.

Details! Details! Details! I cannot stress enough the importance of details. Have an overview (lesson plans & schedule) of what will happen during the day. It is very helpful if you have some type of handout or binder with all of the details that are rote memory for you.
PROCEDURES: When you began teaching at this school, either as a first year teacher or a veteran teacher, you needed to know procedures that are school-specific. Include all of those procedures in your sub binder.
  • Where do you pick up your class in morning?  Where does your class lineup? 
  • What door does your class enter (or exit) the cafeteria, recess, etc.?  Subs can cause traffic jams by going in the wrong door.  Do not assume your class will tell the sub.
  • What information is needed for lunch count?  Number of students buying lunch?  Or does your school take a count of choice 1, choice 2, or choice 3?
Details about your duties - Before school, lunch, recess, and after school duty include details that need to be included with your plans.
  • RECESS: Does your school use signals such as:  2 tweets of the whistle - students stop and listen, 3 tweets - students line up?  Is there an assigned area to playground that you are responsible for supervising?
  • LUNCH:  Do you responsibilities include telling the classes to cleanup and lineup when their lunchtime is over?  Or are you expected to walk around and open milk carton, make sure students stay in their seats, etc.?
Teacher's Editions - Leave your T.E. on your desk for the sub even if the lessons in your plans do not include the T.E.  Students may have questions about one of the lessons.  The sub can look through the T.E. to find out how skills have been taught in the former lessons.
Grading:  Check with your administrator to see if there is a policy regarding subs and grading.  As a general rule, the only assignments I asked subs to grade were ones like #1 above. Assignments like math facts or spelling are pretty quick to grade and the grade is not based on a teacher's judgment call.

Assignment #2 is another one of those times where we forget how many decisions we make on a daily basis as a teacher - especially when it comes to grading.  If you look at asmt. #2 you can see that the top part of this free assignment is a color by code.  A sub could easily grade that section. The bottom part of the lesson would be a challenge to grade because it includes teacher's judgment.  The assignment's directions state "write at least 3 sentences or a story about swimming".  As a teacher, we know our students' abilities and challenges.  Many of us differentiate our expectations for a simple assignment like this, which affects how the page is graded.

Example:  Joey has struggled with writing this year.  For this assignment, he would be expected to write one sentence using correct spacing, capitalization, and punctuation marks. Think about how Joey feels when his graded assignment is returned with a lowered grade.  You may have an upset parent on you doorstep if you didn't catch this oversight when you returned from your absence.  It is hectic enough when you return from being gone, why create obstacles for yourself?

Just like it takes longer to cook a meal when you aren't in your kitchen, the same holds true for a guest teacher in a new classroom.  Even a sub with teaching experience will not be as time efficient as you. Use your first couple of weeks of school with your class as your gauge for how much time each lesson will take.

Have you made your emergency sub plans yet?

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Author Study & Birthdays Freebie

Most teachers would rather not count their birthdays. Students, on the other hand, usually have a count down to their big day. Use that excitement for birthdays to build interest with your author studies. You can do this by setting up a permanent literacy center celebrating authors' birthdays. Best of all I have free printables that you can use with your center.
Take the list of authors included with this download to your school or public library.  In the picture above are some of the books written by authors who celebrate their birthdays in February.  As you can see, some of their books would be perfect for your Presidents Day or Valentine's Day lessons.
Author, Jane Yolen, was born February 11th. She is the author of How Do Dinosaurs ____ series. 
The author of Clifford, Norman Bridwell, was born February 15th.  Clifford goes to Washington would be a perfect addition to your Presidents' Day unit.
Introduce your students to new authors with this activity.  Jim Aylesworth, author of Old Black Fly, was born on February 21st.

Who is your favorite author?

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Math Tips & Measurement

Is there a workshop, training, or professional development that you feel made a long lasting impact on your instruction? Although I used different math curriculums through the years, I continued to use tips I  learned at a week long Math Their Way workshop.

EXPLORATION: This is an important classroom management tip that should be taught in undergrad.  Students need time to explore, use, play, and make discoveries with the manipulatives before they use them with a lesson.  

Are you planning a measurement unit in the near future? Get out the rulers, measuring tape, or other tools that you will use during the unit now.  Add these to your Friday fun day choices or let your students use them during inside recess.  Instead of making a helicopter with a pencil and a ruler, your students will be more attentive during your measurement lesson - if they have had time to explore before the lesson.  
Not every learning opportunity has to have a written response. Open-ended activities are great ways to encourage self-learning, creativity, and critical thinking. Pictured above is an easy center you can organize during your measurement unit that is open-ended.  Ribbons, scrap materials, and a variety of measurement tools are all that is needed.

Conversations at this center are interesting.  Some students will pretend to be a fashion designer, others will organize the materials by patterns or colors, and others will pretend to be a store owner. You will see collaboration and hear conversations about math. Students are making connections about what type of jobs or careers would use this type of math while practicing math skills.
Help students make real life connections with measurement with this road tape from Target's Dollar Spot. Distance is another form of measurement.  I cut different lengths and attached it to cardstock. Quick and easy measurement center that students will love.
Students can practice non-standard units of measurement and make the connection that 12 inches equals a foot with these foam feet.  The foam feet are from Dollar Tree.
Measure Me Centers: Seasonal & Literacy themes
Practice, practice, and more practice is needed when students learn to measure.  It is helpful if there is a line showing students where to measure when they learn how to use a ruler.  Once your students become proficient at measuring, give them pictures without a line.  
Treasure boxes is another tip that I continued to use - no matter what curriculum I used. Treasure boxes can be any small container.  I prefer Ziplock containers because they come in a variety of sizes and have colorful lids.


  • I used the color of the lid to organize my groups.  Different teams used different colored treasure boxes each day.
  • It is helpful to have defined workspace if your students use the treasure boxes in a small area like their table.  You can use a small piece of felt or shelf liner (see picture below).  I found the shelf liner at Dollar Tree.  Each roll has 60 inches.  I got six  workspaces out of one roll (10 inches).
  • Train your students to put the lid under the box, next to the workspace.

You can add anything to the boxes that you like. Send home a note to parents and ask for their help in organizing your treasure boxes.  Ask for a variety of materials like:

  • Keys
  • Pinto beans
  • Q-tips
  • Lids from juice or milk 
  • Toothpicks
  • Popsicle sticks
  • Buttons
Treasure boxes are perfect for teachers who teach math using math stations.  They are open-ended and no prep once you have organized a class set.
Put pennies and quarters in one of your treasure boxes.  Coins can be real or pretend money.  This box is a good extension for a money unit or Presidents Day.  Since it is open-ended students, you might see students making patterns by coins, color, heads/tails, or height (stacking coins).  Other students may arrange the coins to spell words.
If you use my Black History Month unit, you know that Dr. George Grant invented the golf tee.  Add golf tees to one of your treasure boxes.  Students can make patterns, shapes, or spell words with golf tees.
Q-tips can be used to make Roman numerals, make shapes, or letters.  I have had good success asking and getting parents to donate household supplies like Q-tips. 

What workshop or professional development has made a long lasting impact on your instruction?

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Read and Follow Directions

Does this sound familiar:
  • What am I supposed to do on this assignment?
  • I don't know how to do this.
  • Can you tell me how to do this?
One of the jobs we have as teachers is to help our students become lifelong learners.  Students need to know how to read and comprehend in order to make this possible.  Comments and questions like the ones above are signs that students need to work on comprehension skills or be given more opportunities to work independently.  There can be a variety of reasons why students struggle to work independently - learned helplessness, lack of confidence, etc.

You can help your student build confidence in their reading skills and strengthen their comprehension skills by using the cards in the picture below.

These cards include simple commands or tasks for the students to do.  Most of the tasks involve some type of movement so these have the added bonus of helping with the wiggles.

Keep a set of cards where you teach.  When your students need a stretch break, hold up a cards, ask a volunteer to read it, and then let your class do it.

Is is ANOTHER day of inside recess?  Ahead of time, copy these cards on colorful cardstock, punch a hole, and put them on a ring. 

Divide your class into 5 groups and give each group a ring of cards.  Each group will complete the tasks on the cards.  Rotate sets of cards until each group has done all of the cards - time permitting.

Students are reading and following directions plus MOVING!

Set up a literacy center with the Read*Color* Write printable included in this FREE download.  This is a good way to assess your students' skills.  There is an answer key included so you can make this a self-checking center.

There are also 30 read and follow direction task cards included with this free download.

#Kindnessnation - Random Acts of Kindness

It seems like we are bombarded with negativity.  It is easy to let all of this weigh you down. Who wants that? The best way I have found to bring back the positive spark is by practicing a few acts of kindness.  

An act of kindness can be for an individual or group. A few school related ideas you can try are:
  • Bake cookies and put in the teachers' lounge to put a smile on your co-workers' faces.
  • Do a co-worker's recess duty.  The gift of time is one of the best things you can give a teacher.
  • Invite your co-worker's class to join your class for a special event. Give your co-worker a break during this time.  I.E.  Your class performs a Reader's Theater play.  Your class can write their own plays with this free template.

Acts of kindness are like flowers. Something beautiful happens after you plant the seed. More and more acts of kindness begin to pop up where you planted your seed.
Have you noticed a higher rate of conflicts with your students lately?  Introduce random acts of kindness to your class.  You will be surprised at the positive impact this will have on the climate of your class.  I found some videos and songs that you can use for your lesson.  I also included a couple of response pages.  You can download this Q.R. Code listening center free.

I am joining other TPT sellers to build a wave of positive thoughts.  You can find more free lessons by searching on TPT for:

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Connecting with Students: Love Languages

Have you read the book, The Five Love Languages? The first time I read this book, I felt the same way I did when I went to the eye doctor and was fitted with a pair of eyeglasses. Suddenly, I looked at the world in a whole new way. Everything was crisp and clear!

Gary Chapman, the author and marriage therapist, found in his practice that couples express and interpret love through five languages:
  •  Words of affirmation
  • Quality time
  • Receiving gifts
  • Acts of service
  • Physical touch. 
Love languages is a perfect tool for a teacher's toolbox. The principles of this book can help teachers connect with their students.

Think about your class to see if you can identify your students' love language.  Do you have a student that:
  • Greets you in the morning with a hug.
  • Wants to hold your hand when you walk to recess
  • Hugs you good-bye at the end of the day.
You can connect with this student by:
  • Putting your hand on the student's head or shoulder when he or she is waiting line to ask you a question and you are speaking to someone else.
  • Holding his or her hand when this student is the line leader.

A student with the gifts love language will:
  • Bring you heart-felt gifts to show you that he or she is thinking about you.  This student may spend his or her recess time picking dandelions to make you the perfect flower bouquet.
You can set up a special supplies box. Put fun supplies like glittery pencils, twistable crayons, or gel pens in the box.  Show your class an example of someone's paper who showed improvement, has neat handwriting, or wrote an amazing story.  Let this student use the special supplies box during work time.  The student will see using the special supplies as a gift - even though he or she doesn't get to keep the supplies.  Plus, you have the bonus love language of words of affirmation by sharing how wonderful the work was.

Students whose love language is words of affirmation will:
  • Tell you that you are their favorite teacher.
  • Write you notes and pictures
  • Compliment you as a person or your job as a teacher
Write a few words in this student's journal, tell them when you notice them doing something positive, or write a happy note like the one in the picture.  You can get a FREE COPY of the note in the picture.

The student with quality time as his or her love language may be the student asking for quality time in the wrong way.  Students who don't get their needs met at home, will try to get those needs met at school.  

Connecting with these students - giving them quality time - can be difficult when you have 20+ students.  With a little bit of effort, you can make it happen. Here are a few "stolen moments" that you can use with the quality time students (QTS):
  • Ask QTS to come to your teacher table before you begin calling reading groups.  Look at his or her writing journal or homework.  Ask him or her to tell you about it.  Just a few minutes can pay big dividends.  Your QTS goes away feeling connected with you and is now less disruptive.  Win!  Win!
  • Organize lunch buddy groups.  Once a week invite a group of students to eat lunch in your room.  Quality time doesn't always have to be one-on-one.  A small group like this will work, too.
How do you connect with your students?

Sources to make my blog post graphics can be found HERE. Click HERE to read my blog's disclosure statement.

Partner Plays & Hands on Fluency with Jan Brett

Jan Brett recently visited my local bookstore. I was fortunate to be one of her fans that attended her visit. She taught an art lesson while she spoke to us. I found some of her drawing lessons online. These would be perfect for inside recess or a lesson extension to one of her stories. You can find the 2 drawing lessons along with read alouds for the following stories with my new FREE Q.R. code Listening Center:
  • The Mitten
  • The Hat
  • 3 Snow Bears
  • Annie & the Wild Animals 
Fluency is one of those skills that requires practice, practice, and more practice.  Students need more practice than what they get during small group lessons.  Some students are fortunate to have involved parents who help them at home.  How do you help students who don't have this support?

Set up a Readers Theater play with stick puppets and your fluency is now hands on.  
You can make a stick puppet stage with a graphic like the one in the picture, a file folder, and some binder clips. To make this:
  • I glued the stage graphic on the front cover of a file folder.
  • Laminate the file folder with stage graphic.
  • Fold the back flap of the file folder like a fan (1 inch strips).
  • Hold the fan with large binder clips on each end.
  • Use an X-acto knife to cut a slit in the front for the stick puppets to slide through on the stage.
This is the view from the back of the puppet stage.  Students can also hold their puppets next to the edge of a table or desk if you don't want to make a stage.
You can find ways for students to practice their reading skills independently at school.  Partner plays are an easy to manage fluency activity.  You can divide the speaking parts into however many students are in your small group.  This group has two students so I used 2 different colors to highlight students' parts.  

The example of the stick puppets and readers theater scripts is from Jan Brett Readers Theater and more.  

Sources to make my blog post graphics can be found HERE.
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Cool Teaching Tips: Organization & Behavior

Winter break is the perfect time to rest and recharge your teacher battery.  The teaching profession is one that requires you to give, give, give, without time to boot up for the next day.  This is why teachers are just as ready for winter break as their students!

One way you can start the New Year with a positive attitude is by trying new things.  You know your students - academically and behaviorally - by this time of the year.  With a little tweaking, the second semester can be even better than the first! 

Sometimes small changes can reap big rewards.

Does your class interrupt your small group lessons?  Visual cues like these colorful, plastic glasses are great "do not disturb" signs.  ALL of your students will wear them when they meet with you during small group time. This reinforces the purpose of the glasses.  I found these glasses at Target's party supply section.
Old socks are great teacher tools. Let your students grab a sock when it is time to put them in groups.  You can be as creative with your groups as you want:
  • Group #1:  socks with bumps
  • Group #2:  Socks with an animal(s) on them
  • Group #3:  Socks with a pattern
  • Group #4:  Socks - primary color
  • Group #5:  Socks - secondary colors
You can divide the groups into smaller groups if you have too many students with the same type of sock.
Peer pressure can be used in a positive way.  Think of 2-3 goals for your class.  

BE REALISTIC! Have at least one goal that needs just a little tweaking.  Students can easily identify this goal when the class is doing it or the class is not doing it.  This should be something that more times than not your class will be successful.  You want your students to buy into this system.  If all 3 goals are too difficult to achieve, your students will give up.  Suggestions:
    • 75% of our class will turn in the homework
    • 75% of our class will come to school on time.
    • 85% of our class stacked their chair at the end of the day.
    • 80% of our class will have needed material ready for our lesson within __ minutes.
    • 90% of our class will line up within __ minutes when I blow my whistle that it is time to lineup at the end of recess.
    • 80% of our class will take home their hats and gloves/mittens.
Did you notice that NONE of these goals state 100% of the class will achieve the goal?

How would you feel if you met with your administrator after being observed and he or she said, "Miss Teacher you do not get points for student engagement because only 85% of your students were paying attention during your lesson.  I noticed that 1 student was staring out the window, 1 student was playing with an eraser in his desk, and another student kept kicking the student's desk in front of her."  Would that motivate you to go back to your classroom and teach your heart out?  

You can keep track of your goals with something simple like these chain links.  Each color is a different goal.  At a glance, you can see which goal needs more effort.

Motivation is key to having a wonderful second semester.  Work on improvement not perfection and you'll have a happy class!

My friend, Susan @Keep 'Em Thinking, has teacher tips that are perfect for this time of the year. Be sure to visit her.

Sources to make my blog post graphics can be found HERE.
Click HERE to read my blog's disclosure statement.

Take Home Readers & Class Library

It seems like you never have too many books when you are a teacher.  I like to have more than one copy for:
  • Author study 
  • Social studies or science unit 
  • Leveled readers for take home readers or Daily 5 
  • Class Library 
Books are a great teacher tool.  Unfortunately, most districts do not provide class libraries or take home readers. Setting this up can be costly if you are a new teacher or are switching grade levels. Where are the best places to find inexpensive books?

Thrift stores: Great prices - especially around the holidays! Books can be purchased at many for 25 - 50 cents.
Garage sales: Many people will sell you bags of books for very little money if you show them your school ID.
Scholastic Book Clubs: Use points to order books. This is a great way to order sets of books for your reading groups.
Parents: Add a note to your newsletter each month asking for gently used books. Many parents are happy to donate books when they know they are going to a good cause.

Once you set up your class library and take home readers another pricey problem occurs. The "missing book syndrome" is a source of frustration for many teachers. You send home books with your students but somehow the book never returns to school. You ask the student where the book is, you send home notes, email the parent, call the parent, yet the book never returns to school. A book that you spent personal money, took time to level, add to your collection, is now gone forever. What can you do?

I have tried a variety of things through the years. Writing my name on the inside cover. Nope! This did not help. Put colored dot stickers on the spine of the book showing which collection the book belonged to. Nope! There are other books at the thrift store with dots. Parents also shop at thrift stores.

I needed to make my books easy to identify from the student's books at home. Tape was the answer to this problem.
I put tape around the edges of the front and back cover. You can easily see the tape when you look at the book without opening a page of the book. I added tape to the hinge of the book, too. I found my books also lasted longer with the tape along the edges of the covers of my books. At the end of the year when I am collecting my books, I remind my students and parents to look through their books at home for books that have tape on the covers. I had a larger percentage of my take-home readers returned when I did this.

If you are like me and have a huge collection of books, the thought of adding tape to your thousands of books seems like a insurmountable challenge. There are a few things you can do to make this less painful.

The only supplies you need are return address labels and tape.

Start Small: How many books do you need at the beginning of the year for take-home readers? Collect that many readers and put them in a tub along with the supplies you'll need. Do you work on this type of thing while you watch t.v. in the evening? Put the tub next to your chair and do a few each night. Soon your tub of books will be finished. That sense of accomplishment will motivate you to go collect another tub of books. Taking "small bites" of this project is the key!
You can also ask a parent volunteer to do this for you. I would organize this for the parent like the suggestion above. Give the parent the supplies and a tub of books. Don't show your parents the 2,432 books that you need to be leveled and taped or he/she will be overwhelmed.
Make it a party! Invite your teacher friends to bring their tub of books over. It is much more fun to work on a project like this when chit chatting with friends.

Have you found a good source to level your books? When I go to the thrift store, I usually purchase the Scholastic books because I know I can find the reading level information for those books on the Scholastic Book Wizard. You can get that information:
I also find information about books on the Level It app. I am not always able to find information about every book or it might give the Lexile level but not the Guided Reading level.

I like to level my books by grade level, guided reading level, DRA, and Lexile. You never know when you may switch schools or your school may decide to switch to a different format. By doing it this way, I don't get as stressed when there is some change that is introduced.

BOOK BOX GIVEAWAY: I have been hosting "Need Books" giveaways on my Facebook page. Make sure you follow my page so you can enter each time I am hosting a book box giveaway.

These book giveaways are a great way to help stock or replenish your class libraries or take home readers.

Sources to make my blog post graphics can be found HERE.
Click HERE to read my blog's disclosure statement.