Easy Emergency Sub Plans for Science Teachers
Updated: Jan 11
Creating sub plans can be one of the most stressful parts of teaching. And nothing is worse than an emergency sub day because you’re sick or you have to stay home to care for someone else. Without warning, it’s easy to tell the sub to play a video or use review questions from the back of the chapter. Having been a high school substitute teacher for a few years, though, I assure you there are more productive (and fun) ways for your students to spend their time.
Here are a few emergency sub ideas for high school students:
1. Topical One-Pager
A one-pager is a great emergency sub plan for a single day because you can use any topic that you're currently teaching and it doesn't require any prep time. A one-pager is an opportunity for students to show what they know about a subject. (If you haven't gotten very far into a unit, it may be better to choose the previous unit so they have plenty to write about.) For classes that need some structure, have them include the vocabulary words from the textbook for that chapter. Encourage (or require) the use of doodles and images, as this keeps their creativity flowing and aids in their long-term memory of the content. It may be helpful to provide students with an example of a one-pager. You can use the one in this photo, or simply do an internet search for "one-pager examples" and you'll find plenty.
2. Dice Review Game
This is an activity I recently wrote about in my post on nontraditional assessments, but it works perfectly for a quick and easy sub plan, as well. Using a list of vocabulary words from their textbook or a list you provide, students roll dice to determine which word they will describe and how. Here's a quick and easy template you can provide to your sub. Just add dice and you're ready to go for any sick day emergency!
3. Reading & Math Extension Pages
If you need to keep those brains stimulated while you're gone, reading and math extensions are perfect. Data Nuggets, a website run by the National Science Foundation and Michigan State University, provides free, differentiated lesson plans for teachers that use real scientific data and they're easily searchable by topic. You'll need to request the teacher guides ahead of time, though.
So what if you need something for today? Or next period? I have some premade extension pages that provide additional reading comprehension, critical thinking, or data analysis skills. Each comes with an answer key that your sub can use or you can use for grading when you return to school. They are so easy to use that you can climb back into your pajamas knowing class is taken care of. Check them out here:
4. EdPuzzle Videos
If you haven’t heard of EdPuzzle, it’s definitely time to check it out. It’s a video hosting platform that allows you to use your own videos or those publicly shared by others (think YouTube, other teacher videos, etc) and embed comprehension questions into them. You need to add student email addresses, though, so it’s worth setting this up at the beginning of the year so it’s ready to go whenever you have an emergency sub day. The questions can be auto-graded and you can even use questions that other teachers have already made! EdPuzzle provides a wealth of data from your classes including which questions were missed, whether students repeated a section of the video, and much more. Just make sure your students have their account passwords written down somewhere so you don’t get a thousand password requests during your day off (I’ll give you one guess about how I gained that little tip. 😊)
The best part about EdPuzzle is that it’s free for all teachers and students. The only catch is that you can only keep a small number of videos on your account, but you can gain more space through referrals to other teachers. It’s a pretty good deal, all things considered, and can be a useful tool even on the days you’re in school.
Your students are probably already familiar with infographics from the news and social media, but have they ever made their own? Like EdPuzzle, this is a great activity for students in 1:1 schools or with easy access to devices. Using software like Canva or simply PowerPoint or Google Slides, students can create an infographic on any topic. You can decide whether to have them collect information from textbooks or internet sources. Below, I’ve provided an editable lesson plan template that you can provide to your students. It contains project directions, an example infographic, a planning page, and a rubric if you’d like to grade the infographic. Although grading may not be on your radar during a sub day, it can help some students to have more accountability while you’re out.
I use infographics and case studies to discuss diseases and disorders in my Anatomy & Physiology course, but infographics can be used for a variety of large topics like evolution, ecology, cell energy, and many more. If your students are mature enough to handle a little freedom, they can choose a topic from the units you’ve already covered. If not, you may want to provide them with a topic or just give them a few choices.
I have a few other quick resources from my TpT store if you're looking for a particular topic during an emergency absence:
Cladogram Activity- Classifying Plants (free, in class)
Earth's Spheres Digital Lesson (free, at home or in class)
Find My Wound: An Anatomical Directions Game (free, in class)
A few days:
Anatomy Digital Drag-and-Drop Diagrams (at home or in class)
Anatomy Case Studies (at home or in class)
Food Webs & Biomes Poster Project (in class)
Environmental Economics & Policy Unit (at home or in class)
I hope these ideas give you a place to start during those late evening or early morning freak-outs when you need to suddenly call out of school. Don’t forget- just because you’re out doesn’t mean learning has to stop! In fact, do your sub a favor and keep those students working on content. It actually prevents discipline problems because those high schoolers can smell busywork from a mile away.