Quick ideas for the emergency substitute plan. Or for that one day when your lesson is just a flop—here are some backup plans to come to the rescue. For a substitute lesson plan, you may consider listing several of these ideas on the board and allowing students to choose one to complete.

Puzzles and Word Activities

There are lots of options with Puzzle Maker. It’s easy to throw together a puzzle using recent vocab words.

Review grammar with Mad Libs.


  1. Test-Making: Have students write their own multiple-choice test from recently covered content that could be used to thoroughly test a student on the topic. Not only will this be a time-consuming task, but it involves reading for detail and evaluating material for what is most important. (Be specific about the content you want students to cover.)
  2. Open Ended Questions: Write the answer to 20 questions on the board. Assign students to come up with the 20 questions to those answers.
  3. Vocabulary Questions: Have students write a list of 20 questions they would ask a literary character, historical character, celebrity, teacher, or pretty much anyone else. Their questions must contain at least one vocabulary word. Have students rotate papers 10 different times, each student answering another student’s question as if he/she were that person addressed in the question. Those sentences, too, must include vocabulary words.


  1. Five-O: Suitable for teenagers. Break class in teams of around 4 or 5 so you end up with even groups. They have to think of a five letter word and compete against another team. They have to guess the word by writing a five letter word down, the opposition tells them how many letters are correct in the word, but not which ones. Example: Your word is “clash” they guess “beach” there are 3 letters the same. Next they may guess “bingo” no correct letters. They keep going till they get the correct word. Each team takes a turn, the first team to guess the word wins. Makes it easier if they keep a note on impossible letters & probable letters. Can take ages to play & really gets their brains & logic skills a work out.
  2. Dictionary: Choose a word that no student can define, and write the definition on an index card. Ask each student to write a made-up definition for the word on an identical index card. Collect and shuffle the index cards. Read each definition and have students vote for the correct definition. Students score points each time another student votes for their definitions or if they identify the correct definition. The student with the most points wins the game.


  1. Skits: Have students prepare skits using vocabulary words. The skits take about 35 minutes to prepare, 10 minutes to perform, and 3 seconds to grade.
  2. Vocabulary Drawings: Assign each student two vocabulary words. For each word they must draw a colorful picture, include a sentence, the definition, and an example.
  3. Timed Writing: You don’t even have to grade it. Practicing timed writing serves a purpose. It gets students used to the standardized testing environment.
  4. Write a Story: Write a story for a younger student in which the characters explore the topic (something recently covered in class).
  5. Short Story: Read a short story out loud together as a class. This works best if you prepare ahead of time a binder with copies of a short story for the entire class. Instruct the sub to rotate through student readers. It works even better if you annotate a teacher’s copy with discussion questions, so the sub can pause the reading and ask questions along the way.