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Teaching Heart's Survival Kit for Guest Teachers

Welcome to Teaching Heart's Survival Kit for Guest Teachers - A Guest Teachers Guide to a Good Day!

2003 - I had a chance to be a guest teacher for about four months before I got my first job. Many of the subbing jobs I had helped prepare me for my first teaching job. Each guest teaching experience gave me the opportunity to see how a variety of teachers structured their days and set-up their classrooms. I was exposed to many different curriculums and many different levels of ability. I quickly learned what grades I felt comfortable teaching. I also learned how to be flexible and go with the flow. Most of the teachers I subbed for prepared easy to understand lesson plans. Yet, there were always a few teachers out there that left nothing or would forget to make a copy of something needed for a lesson or not leave enough activities for the day. Luckily, I had prepared a Substitute Teacher bag filled with standard based lessons for various grades, filler activities for all grades, and a variety of other materials to ensure my day went smoothly. I learned while student teaching that student behavior seems to be best when the students are actively involved in activities. Behavior problems seem to increase when the students do not have anything to do or the structure of the day is poor. While teaching and subbing I rarely had behavior problems in my classrooms because students knew my expectations and were always busy. There wasn't any time to misbehave. So my biggest secret when it came to subbing was to keep the kids actively involved in activities.  Also, I strongly feel that all guest teachers need to have some sort of background in education.  I am very annoyed by states that allow high school graduates, or college students, or college graduates with no educational background to be guest teachers.  I feel that the best guest teachers are those who have had an opportunity to student teach and have had courses related to teaching.  Unfortunately, every state has different expectations.  With a background in education and a survival kit, you too can be a great guest teacher.  Below you will see my survival kit and you will be able to read more of my ideas on how to have a great day as a guest teacher. I have also included helpful links for guest teachers.

UPDATE - 2015 - After five years of teaching in my own clasroom (K-3 Resource Room and Grade 2), and nine years of exclusively working on Teaching Heart, and then 2 years of Teaching Preschool - I am back to being a substitute teacher (Grades k-4) again in hopes of getting my own classroom soon!!! So with that change comes more subbing ideas for you!!!

Behavior Management Ideas

Whole Brain Teaching - The Scoreboard on the Go!!!!

Whole Brain Teaching While Subbing - Scoreboard

The WBT website states: “The Scoreboard, described in the “First Steps” menu, is your initial and primary motivator.  For K-4th graders, use Smilies and Frownies as your categories; for older students we’ve found Teacher vs. Students works wonderfully well.”  I use smiles and frowns as my scoreboard when I sub. 

This summer I read Whole Brain Teaching for Challenging Kids: (and the rest of your class, too!) !  Loved it and began researching the benefits of Whole Brain Teaching!!!  I know that all of the strategies and resources used in the book will become part of my future classroom.  However, there was one part of the system that I knew I could surely use while subbing to be sure the kids were motivated and on task.  I knew the Whole Brain Scoreboard Techniques was for me and would work in any classroom I visited.   It’s behavior management on the go!

I began using it right away in first, second, and third.  I have been in Kindergarten many times this year,  I feel the classes I am in are all pretty well behaved and motivated and this techniques was not needed for those classroom.  Although if I did end up teaching my own Kindergarten classroom, I would definitely use this strategy on a modified basis.

I have not had one bad class this year and I give credit to my scoreboards for a stress free classroom for me!  Let’s be honest…  subbing is more about behavior management then anything else.  Often it is paid babysitting by a certified teacher.  If you do not have the kids behaving, then learning does not happen and the substitute teacher is just wishing the day would end.

As a substitute you will find that SOME teachers will leave you the rules to their behavior management plan… clip chart or other….
I find the majority do not leave me clear information on how they use their system.  I use the scoreboard system in all first through third classes I am in.  If a teacher did leave clear information on their behavior charts or plans then I will use their behavior management plan along with the scoreboard system.

I made them from graphics I purchased and then laminated them so that I can just clip them with a magnet to the boards in the classrooms I teach.  They can be erased after each class since they are laminated.  I can also moved the scorecards around the room when I change positions in the classroom.  They can come with me as a visual for the kiddos.

I use this system in first, second, and third grades.

Basically, I display the boards and tell the class that we are going to play a game all day….  The game is called SMILEY and FROWNIE.  You can earn smiles by being on task, being quiet, and pleasing me.  You earn frowns when things get too loud or you are not acting as you would when your regular classroom teacher is here or if you aren’t making me happy.  Throughout the day I will look to see if you have more smiles than frowns.  If you have more smiles we will stop and play a game or take a break to dance.  At the end of the day if you have a larger number of smiles, we will save the last 10 minutes of the day to have fun playing a game.

This always works fantastically for me.  I have never had a class that had more frowns than smiles.

I constantly praise positive behavior with words and a tally on the smile side.
I love the way you are being quiet and working on the assignment.
I love the way you all are participating in the lesson.

If things are not going the way I had hoped, it usually only takes one frown for the class to perk up and act the way they should.
Oh no, it is getting loud in here…  I am giving you a frown.
Table 3 is too busy talking rather than listening…  I am giving you a frown!

I also use it for incentives…
If you are quiet in the hall to music class and I hardly know you are behind me, I will give you 5 smiles when we return.
If I hear you behind me, I will give you seven frowns when we return.
(I have never had to give a class 7 frowns… this works every time)

There are many ways you can use this.  Many of the classes I have on repeat occasions remember the number of smiles they had the last time they had me and they try to beat that number.  Also, classes will often ask me what the most number of smiles a class has gotten and they try hard to beat that record.  I always keep a sticky note of the name of the class that was in the lead for the number of smiles.  I also keep a list of classes who earned less than three frowns for the day.

The link below is a YOUTUBE example of the scoreboard being used in a classroom.

More resources and information on
Whole Brain Teaching can be found at the many link here! 

Ideas for more smiles than frowns! 

TPT has many free scoreboards you can print.  Check some out here!

Popcorn Reading   Often the classroom teacher will leave a group reading activity and tell you to have each child take turns reading.  If you just have the students read a paragraph at a time, the only students that tend to pay attention is the ones reading.  Thus, I have the students popcorn read.  They love it and I never have behavior problems during this time.  What I do is pick a student to start reading and when I feel they have read enough I yell popcorn and then another student's name.  That student starts to read where the last reader left off.  I continue this process throughout the story.  The catch is, if a student does not know where we are when I say popcorn we start at the beginning of the story (for longer stories, the beginning of the page).

Lights Children are often trained to be quiet when the lights go off.  When you need to get the attention of the class a good idea is to flash or dim the lights. 

Call them by their names   I feel that it is very important to call on children by their names when you are subbing.  I have noticed that they tend to listen to you more when you use their first name.  So, I always bring a pack of name tags with me to class and have the students wear them.  (You can buy them at drug stores or teacher stores)  Before school starts I look at the roster and make a name tag for each student.  Then, as I am taking role I have each student come to the front of the room tell me their name and their favorite something.  Then, I give them their name tag.  The younger students love wearing the name tags.

Some Motivation   What is the best way to get kids to stay on task when you aren't the classroom teacher?  Well, if you are a sub there is only one answer...  bribe them!   Pack a bag of goodies (candy, small rewards, and such).  Use these goodies as motivation.  Set them out somewhere that the students can easily see them.  Tell the class how they can earn the goodies (you make up your own system - depending on the class).  I tend to use the little sticker system seen below. Sometimes you don't even need to start this till the afternoon. This has worked very nicely for me!

Buy a pack of small stickers. Cut the stickers and place them in a jar. (see below)
Give each student a strip of paper and whenever you catch them doing something good (staying on task, answering a question, helping another student, following along with the lesson...) hand them a sticker to place on a strip of paper. At the end of the day count up stickers to see what students had the best day. I like this idea because you just hold the little container all day and hand out stickers without stopping the activities or making a statement.

Caught You Being Good Cards   Ok, I know Subbing is not the highest paid profession and some of you may not like the idea of buying goodies.  Thus, I have an alternative.  Make a set of colorful cards that say I caught you being good and hand them to students you catch being good.  Once you give one out, the entire class wants one.  I have only done this with the younger population (K-1).

Flower Pot - Behavior Management Subs need to have lots of forms of behavior management up their sleeve.  A cute behavior management idea is to take a flower pot to school with you.  Make homemade flowers out of construction paper and tape them to a straw (stem). Throughout the day look  for children who are obeying the class rules and are on task--catch them being good. When you spot a child doing good,  put his/her name on a flower and place the flower in the flower pot. At the end of the day,  count the flowers . Allow the children with flowers in the pot reach into a prize bag and take one prize for each flower.

Still Waters (transitioning from one activity to another) K-3   There are times when teachers need their students to be quiet quickly.  For instance, when you are getting ready to go out into the hall and transition into a new environment.  I learned this simple trick in the school I student taught in from one of the first grade teachers...   1.  First you need to inform the class of a game called "Still Waters".  Tell the class that you will be playing this game often and they will know when the game starts by whenever you say, "1,2,3,3,2,1 Still Waters has begun.  (This should become a regular routine for your class)   2.  When they hear this statement they are to freeze and not say a word or move.   3.  You will be timing them to see how long they can stay still as a team.  The goal is for them to break their best record.    4.  You will hold your fist in the air and each time you see someone move or talk, you put a  finger up and stop when you have all five up.  Then check your watch and give them the number of seconds they lasted.   5.  By this time you will have their attention and can give them directions for the transition...

Math Mania K-5   Often as a guest teacher I find myself with a few min. before lunch and I am done with your morning lessons.  Here is a game to play while the students wait in line to go to lunch!  This is a great one for subs to have handy!   1.  Have the students line up.  Have the first student in line choose an number from 1-10.    2.  Announce an operation.  Such as add 2.   3.  The second student in the line adds two to the first students number.   4.  Continue down the line having each student add 2 to the new total.   5. If they answer incorrectly the student sits down and the student behind the "out" student tries to take over where the other left off.   6.  The winner is the last person standing.  

Clap My Beat 1-5 (K?)   One of the best behavior management techniques I have learned is the one I am about to share.  I learned this from my cooperating teacher when I student taught.  It is great for getting your class to stop what they are doing and pay attention.  It is so simple and they love it!  I introduce this activity at the start of the day along with the teacher's rules and my rules.   1.  Inform your class of a new game you will be playing.  Tell the class that whenever you have something important to say or you want the class to have their eyes on you, you will clap a beat and they will mimic the beat you clap.  Once you stop clapping their eyes should be on you and their mouths should be zipped!   2.  For instance, (you - clap, clap, snap, clap) and (they-clap, clap, snap, clap)   3.  You keep clapping beats until you have everyone clapping with you and eyes on you.  Now you can start a lesson or so on.   IDEA:  I found that when I used this it was most effective if as I was making the beats I would say, "I bet you guys can't do this one!"  They loved the challenge.   Also, it worked best when I would praise the students on how nicely they clapped along.  Especially if there is one student who always claps along with your beat as soon as you start.  Positively reinforce that student and others will follow as quickly. 

Praise for good behavior by stating the behavior.
I like the way Zachary, Alissa, & Aiden are sitting quietly.
Look at how quickly Matt got out his math journal and is on the page 19.

Oh, my where is the plan book?

You need to be prepared for anything as a guest teacher and that means be prepared for no lessons or only a few lessons.  I bring the below activities with me and I also have developed units to bring along.  My goal is to keep the students busy all of the time.  If the students are busy: you are busy, the day goes faster, and the students have learned lots form you.  Most importantly, the day was not a waste for you or the students!

       Start the Day Off Smoothly   Subs move around from grade to grade and school to school and may not get a chance to get to know the students.  It is important to start the day off on the right foot and get to know the students a bit before you jump into teacher mode!  Take this list of questions found below with you to all jobs and write the questions on the board when you arrive.  Then have each student answer the questions on a piece of paper.  Finally, have all the students share their answers with you and the class. What is your favorite animal? What is your favorite color? What's your favorite TV show? What's you favorite song? What's you favorite school subject? What do you like to do in your free time? Hopefully, this will give you a much better understanding of you students and will make the day run smoothly!

  Pick a Number 1.)  Ask the class to take out a piece of paper. 2.)  Tell them to pick a number between 1-10 and to write it on their paper and to cover their papers because you don't want to know what the number is. 3.)  So that you can talk about their numbers you are going to assign it the letter value Z.  Write Z on the board. 4.)  Observe that their can be 10 different Z's in the room, one for every number from 1-10.  Someone has probably chosen 3, 5, and 9.  But so you can talk about the everyone's number, your letting Z stand for everyone's number. 5.)  Tell the class to add nine to their Z. 6.)  Next have them subtract, let's say... 5 7.)  Continue with addition or subtraction combinations for at least three or four more numbers.  For example; add 7, subtract 8, and add 4. 8.)  You should be writing the individual steps as they occur on the board.   z           9 +9         -5  -5          4      +7        +7  -8        11 +4         -8               3             +4               7 9.)  Finally, have them subtract the original number they choose, their Z.  Wait a sufficient amount of time, and then ask, "how many came up with seven." 10).  Now the kids think you performed magic and want to know how you did it.   ***See if they can figure it out.  Repeat several times! The Secret  Add and subtract the numbers between the Z's.  The number they pick (z) is cancelled out at the end when you ask for subtraction in the last step. Try this several times before giving it to a class!!

A Subs Version of Pictionary Write current movies, books, cartoon characters, and songs on slips of paper and place them in a baggies. divide the class into two groups, and allow one student from Group 1 to come up. Hand him/her a slip of the pre-made ideas on it.  Then have he/she go to the board and try to draw it.  Allow either group to guess what their classmate is drawing.

Get a folder that has many pockets. You can purchase one similar to the one seen here at an Office Store or Walmart. Organize the folder by filling the first four pockets with lessons realted to the grades you typically guest teach in. I always guest taught in grades k-3, as a result I had one ready to go standard based lesson in each pocket. All the materials for the lesson were ready in the pocket. I had about 30 copies of the papers needed. A great place to find standard lessons that are based on grade level is on the Teaching Heart CDROMS found at:
Start off by ordering a seasonal CDROM during the time you will first start guest teaching.
or go to and order a book for each grade level you plan to teach. I suggest
Best of The Mailbox Math Grs. 1-3
Any of the Lifesaver Lessons Math Books (they come in all grades)
Any of the Social Studies Ready-To-Go Lesson Plans (they come in all grade levels)

Another good book to have would be:
Multilevel Math Fun: Instant Games & Activities for the Multilevel Classroom : Grades 1-2

You should also include some coloring pages all copied and ready to go; as well as, some word searches or other fun filler activities!

Plan ahead and your day will be smooth sailing.

*If you use some of your copies for a class, be sure to make more copies at the end of the day using the schools copy machine. Stick them back in your expanding file and you are ready to go.

*I also fill one folder with stickers I can place on papers after I check them.

Carry some attention grabbers in your bag... I love my yes button. I will use it during lessons and just walk around with it and let the kids push it when they answer a question correctly. They love it and soon everyone is participating in hopes of getting a chance to push it.

I use my Popers for review games. They love to try and shoot the balls when they get an answer correct!

Word Search Pack some of these in your bag.  They are easy to make at ! You can also make mazes here too.

Since you are only in one classroom a day at a time... stop the pencil sharpening madness and carry pre sharpened pencils for students who loose a pencil are seem to be sharening their pencil too often. I rarely use these but they are super nice to have just in case.

Pick a few of your favorite read-alouds and pack them in your bag. Bring an activity along to match the read-aloud. You may wish to view the Primary Teacher Timesavers For Teaching Reading & Literature found at This is filled with various ideas for some of the best read-alouds. Just print and use the activities.

  Word Wizards Think of a word that has to do with something your students are learning or an up and coming holiday.  Say the words are United States.  Don't tell the class the word yet.  First, break the class into groups of four and explain that you are going to give them a word or a phrase and they need to make as many words as they can using only the letters in the word you are going to give them.  Write the word on the board and let them begin.  After a predetermined time, have the groups turn in their paper.  Check the papers and give the winning group a prize or privilege!!

  Sparkle  (Spelling) I first learned this in a practicum at Streams Elementary School from a wonderful teacher named; Ginny Zemaitis.  It is a pretty common game and most students have played it before.  Still it works great!  this is how it goes... 1.  Have the students stand in a circle.   2.  Pick a student to start. 3.  Give the student a spelling word.  Let's say, "teacher." 4.  That student will say teacher and the next student will say, "T", and the next student will say, "E",     and the next student will say,  "A", and so on.... 5.  Finally a student will say "R" and the next student will say "sparkle" and sit down on the floor. 6. The next person will start the new word and it will go down the line in the same manner. 7.  Repeat these steps until there is only one person standing - they are the winner! NOTE:  if a student says an incorrect letter during the game, they must sit down and the word is started again by the next person.

  What State - Geography 1.)  Display a large US map. 2.)  Have the students line up behind it. 3.)  The first two students should stand in front of the map. 4.)  The teacher should then name a state. 5.)  The first of the two students to point to it wins the round and remains standing. 6.)  The next student in line replaces the player who then returns to the end of the line.

  Where Have You Gone Vowel? 1.)  Write several short vowel words on the board.  Omit the vowels. 2.)  Ask the class to think of vowels that would make the word complete. 3.)  Have student volunteers come to the board to make the word complete.

  Place - Value Scramble 1.)  Write three #'s on the board. 2.) Ask students to rearrange the numerals to make the lowest possible number, the highest possible number, a number with the largest number in the tens place, and other, similar placements. 3.)  Complete the activity by asking students to help you in arranging the resulting numbers in order.

  Spelling Detectives 1.)  Write the weekly spelling words in random order on the chalk board and tell the class to study the words carefully for one minuet. 2.)  Tell the students to put their heads down - no looking! 3.)  Erase one of the words and rewrite it - this time spell it wrong. 4.)  As the class has their heads down say, "Oh my, something looks wrong - all spelling detectives raise your heads and see if you can tell me what word is not spelled correctly." 5.)  After 30 seconds, call on a volunteer to tell you the word and how it should be spelled.  If the child answers correctly reward the class a point.  If the child does not answer correctly, identify the word and give yourself 1 point. 6.) Repeat Steps.

Math 7 up Play 7 up but before the child guesses who picked them, they must answer a
math question.

  Play Math Battleship   1.) Put a grid on the board 1-5 on the bottom and a-z along
the side.  2.) Secretly place battleships on your paper.  3.) have two children go to the board and play rock, scissors, paper and the winner gets to answer a math
problem.  If he is right, he gets to put on X on the board and you let him
know if he hit your battleship.  If he is wrong, the other child gets to try.

Bring some fun extra things the students can do when their work is done. At the elementary level I bring "fun sheets" for the students. Fun sheets can be pictures to color, dot-to-dots,word searches, mazes, or something else along that line. At the upper levels I bring word puzzles and magazines. If you are the creative type or have taught in the past another fun thing to bring is file folder games or take-it-to-your-seat centers. We have many centers in our CDRROMs and packets that you could print to keep in your bag. Try one of our Seasonal Packet... A Great one for winter is It's Cold Outside... Buy this baby and print it out and have it in your Sub bag! It will be heaven sent!!!

I have tons of free printables all over Teaching Heart that would come in handy - start on the blog and do a search for what seasonal things.

The sheets below are perfect for your sub bag!!!!

Sight word extra practice activities
click here!

Calendar Journal Pages - Click Here!

Summer Funny Money Joke Math

Money Riddles - CLICK HERE!

Making Words Activities - Click Here!


Number of the day free printable!

Rhyming Fun and Daily Rhyme Activities

Rhyming Activities - Click Here!

Flip Flop Math Themed Activities
Flip Flop Math Activities - CLICK HERE!

Following Directions - CLICK HERE!!



Have a few packs of flash cards and math games in your bag... I always have dice in my bag with a few dice games.

The Roll, Double, Cover game can be downloaded here.
I just laminated it and have enough cards for a class to play in groups of 2 or 3.
This have been an easy filler many times.

If you would rather a spring themed one that is a tiny bit more difficult, try the Rool, Double, Cover +1 ... try here!


My Ipod and Mini-Speaker have come in handy for brain breaks or when in Kindergarten or Special Education. I have a few movement songs downloaded that I use in Kindergarten and first grade. Some second grade classes also welcomed the movement songs and requested to do one.

I am a big believer in Read-Alongs for my kids - both great readers (3rd and 7th graders) and started independently using Read-Alongs around age 4. I have collected many stories on CD over the years through the Scholastic Book orders and as a result I have them downloaded to my i-pod. I will often play a story for a whole class and just turn the pages rather than read the story. They enjoy the change and the fun music and voices that go along with the Read-Alouds. These stories have also come in handy for Special Education as motivators. Often I can use the stories as a reward.

Of course I read aloud often too and my bag is filled with my favorite read-alouds and a chapter book or two for the older grades.




The End of the Day

Make sure the classroom looks as it did when you got there. Put all teacher resource books back where you found them. Put all supplies neatly back where you found them.

Correct all papers that were handed in. If you gave a spelling test, simpily correct the test by placing a check next to the word missed. Then in the right hand corner of the paper, write the number correct out of the number of questions given. If there were 20 spelling words and they got 18 right, you would write 18/20 at the top of the paper. The classroom teacher can then easily record the results in their plan book.

Write a detailed note to the teacher. If a computer is available, type the note up. You may even wish to make your own stationary with your name & contact information on it. Make sure you state all that you finished and anything you did not get to. Make a note of any behavior problems. Also note the names of students that did a great job!

If you enjoyed your time in the classroom and would like to come back leave your buisness card so that the teacher can contact you again. A great idea is to print your cards on magnetic paper so that the teacher will never misplace it.

Resources For Guest Teachers

A Few Read Alouds to Keep in Your Bag

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Click above to order stickers and goodies for you Guest Teacher Bag!

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