6 ELA Emergency Sub Plans that Work Virtually or In Person - EB Academics

6 ELA Emergency Sub Plans that Work Virtually or In Person

One of the things I dreaded the most as a teacher was getting sick. Not because I was sick, but because I was going to have to figure out what on earth to have my students do all day while I was out. What was I going to send in for my ELA sub plans?

I didn’t want a substitute to teach the lessons that I had planned on teaching because I was worried they just wouldn’t teach it the way I would have.

But I also didn’t want to send busy work with the substitute that wasn’t meaningful for my students (and that I would have to grade when I returned).

Even just writing about it makes my stomach churn – that was the worst!

And maybe you can relate, too.

It is so incredibly tempting to just tough through it, head to school, and make it through the day. Even though you really should be at home resting. Because, inevitably, you’re going to just be sicker, longer.

What I eventually realized I needed were easy and meaningful emergency ELA sub plans for those days where I just needed to send something into the school in 5 minutes, close my eyes, and go back to sleep.

So Jessica and I sat down and created 6 super-simple-to-implement, yet rigorous and engaging sub plans.

Side note: ALL of these ELA sub plan ideas can absolutely be used virtually. In fact, we just recently updated our ELA Emergency Sub Plans Resource to include a fully digital version as well!

6 Easy and Meaningful Sub Lesson Plans for ELA

ONE: Have students work with specific vocabulary. One of the areas of ELA you can never have too much practice is with vocabulary. We all know how important it is. So why not harness that part of our subject area to our advantage with our substitute lesson plans?

  • Provide students with examples of a strong sentence and a weak sentence to showcase how imagery and strong vocabulary provide meaning in writing.
  • Then, ask them questions about these two examples. What makes one sentence stronger than the other? Have students highlight examples of strong word choice and provide reasoning for why they think those are strong vocabulary words. You can go pretty deep here with some really great guiding questions to get students to think critically about word choice.
  • Finally, provide students with a weak sentence, and require them to compose three new sentences that include strong vocabulary and imagery.

As you can see in the image below, I also had all of these emergency ELA sub plans ready to go in my Substitute Binder. You can read more information about how I set that up by clicking here.


TWO: Keeping with the vocabulary theme, create a short lesson focused on the importance of diction. Specific vocabulary and precise word choice can make all the difference in the meaning of a sentence.

  • Provide students with a “10-word novel,” and give them questions for discussion, such as “What makes this story so effective?” to get students engaged in a lively discussion about a 10-word novel!
  • Then, have students write their own 10-word novel, focusing on strong vocabulary and precise word choice. Since they only have 10 words, they really have to be intentional with their words!

THREE: Hit those evidence and setting standards in a fun way!

  • Give students various excerpts from texts that are heavily focused on setting.
  • Have students highlight strong words, phrases, and sentences that give them a detailed picture of the setting. Ask students to create a visual depiction of that setting, using quotes from the text to support their artistic choices. Each quote should be included on their picture with a reason as to why that evidence provoked them to depict the setting the way they did.
  • Talk about making students think and work closely with a text!

FOUR: Bring figurative language practice to your sub plans by focusing on idioms.

  • There are so many different idioms in language, it’s great for students to have a general understanding of as many of them as possible.
  • Have students choose an idiom to depict in a drawing both figuratively and literally.
  • Students always love this particular activity! Plus, these make for great posters to display in your classroom throughout the year. I always referred back to them when an idiom came up in a piece of literature we were studying.

FIVE: Blackout poetry is an excellent way for students to hone in on word choice, figurative language, imagery, and more.

  • Provide students with excerpts from various texts and have them lightly circle (or highlight if you’re doing this activity digitally) a wide array of words in the given text.
  • Have students read through their highlighted words in the order they appear. Students can try different selections of words until they are happy with the result.
  • Students can now blackout the rest of their poem using a black marker. If you’re doing this digitally, simply have students highlight the text they aren’t using with black, and voila, they’re all set!

SIX: Make grammar review a part of your sub plans! You don’t want students to be introduced to a brand-new grammar topic while you’re out, but using this time to review some core language standards is incredibly helpful.

  • Provide students with a passage that is rich in adjectives, adverbs, various sentence types, and other examples of grammar concepts you want students to review.
  • Then, have students complete simple task cards that are based on the text. For example, Station 1 might have students highlight four strong adjectives in the text while Station 4 would have students identify a simple sentence, compound sentence, complex sentence, and a compound-complex sentence in the text.
  • This is a great opportunity for students to use this class time to review key grammar standards that need brushing up on!

The best part about all of these sub plan ideas is that they can all be completed digitally as well. You can easily take all of these ideas and utilize them in-person or virtually. A lot of this work can also be completed independently, so your substitute is really there to support your students with guidance.

I can’t tell you how many times over the years I have used these exact emergency sub plans in my ELA classroom! And every time, without fail, I would return to school and have my students tell me how much they loved the activities, and see a note from the substitute that students were highly engaged in their learning.

Now that’s a win-win all around if you ask me!

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