Emergency Sub Plans: A Comprehensive Guide for Elementary Teachers

Emergency Sub Plans: A Comprehensive Guide for Elementary Teachers

Not every absence is planned. Whether you wake up ill, you have a sick child, or you have an emergency, sometimes subs need to be called at the last minute. Even if your day-to-day lesson plans are explicitly laid out, there is no substitute for you as a classroom teacher. Sometimes guilt can keep you from taking a sick day or much-needed break.

When you are prepared before an absence occurs, it can make all the difference. It is OK to take a break from your original plans and have emergency sub plans ready to go for any guest teacher who walks into your classroom. Let any sub that walks into your room know the expectations right away. Preparing for a substitute teacher can be easy when you have the right materials and organization.

The ultimate guide to emergency sub plans for elementary teachers. Learn how to prepare substitute plans in a sub tub and sub binder. Sub plan organization for math, science, writing, social studies, and language arts sub plans. Many substitute teacher ideas that you can use for your Pre-K, Kindergarten, 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th grade classroom. Also for special education. Includes free sub plans, sub plan freebie. Common core aligned sub plan template for your substitute binder.

This post contains affiliate links. See disclosure.

What do you need to prepare in your emergency sub plans?

One of the biggest hang-ups teachers face in creating emergency sub plans is knowing what to prepare for the sub. What does the sub need? How much information should I prepare? Simply put, to properly prepare for a substitute teacher, you will want to have a sub binder and a sub tub filled with sub plans. Sometimes this causes some confusion among teachers because they mix up the two terms.

For the sake of terminology in this post, sub plans and sub binders are two separate things. The sub binder will tell the information that your sub needs to know about how to run your classroom. The sub plans are the actual content that the substitute will be teaching, and a sub tub is what you keep the sub plans organized in. Having both a sub tub and a sub binder available is crucial for being fully prepared for a substitute teacher.

Emergency Sub Plans Step #1: The Substitute Binder

Contrary to what some may think, your sub binder is not just a place to stick in plans and worksheets. A sub binder lays the foundation for your classroom in a quick and easy glance for your substitute.  Substitute teachers visit multiple classrooms, buildings, and even districts each week, month, and year. Needless to say, it is a lot to keep track of! This is why it is important to make a substitute binder beginning with a three-ring binder and sheet protectors.  You can use your binder to give your sub all the info he or she needs to have a successful day, week, or even longer-term sub job.

how to prepare for a sub

Your sub binder should have a cover, dividers, and tabs to organize, a note to your sub, schedules, school and staff info, class information, arrival and dismissal procedures, class rules and management procedures, emergency procedures, lesson plans, behavior incentives, seating charts, and room for substitute notes. Putting together the binder early in the year when you are healthy and prepared can make even a last-minute emergency an easy transition for a sub. You can see why this is a crucial part of your emergency sub plans!

Having a sub binder is an important step in your emergency sub plans. Include a school schedule, classroom management info, and more in your binder. Free sub binder sample included in this post!

The #1 Editable Sub Binder!

While this may look like a daunting task, it does not take as long as you think. And putting together your sub binder can be a breeze with my #1 selling Editable Substitute Binder. This sub binder has been trusted by thousands of teachers in their classrooms. It is a full template that includes everything your sub could possibly need to know all in one place. All that’s left to do is fill it in. Since it is all laid out, you won’t forget a thing!

Check out the Editable Sub Binder in our shop now to get started with your sub binder! If you are planning a maternity leave or other long term absence, you’ll want to check out The Complete Short & Long Term Sub Binder Bundle.

You can also grab a FREE sub binder sample by signing up here. 

The sub binder shown in the video is also the #1 selling substitute binder on Teachers pay Teachers. You can check it out there as well as all 1600+ reviews at the time of writing this post.

Emergency Sub Plans Step #2: Organized Substitute Plans in a Sub Tub

Meanwhile, the obvious item you will need for your emergency sub plans is the plans themselves! After all, the sub will need something to teach. What content should you leave for a sub? Personally, as a teacher and, especially later as a sub, I liked to see fun and engaging content left for students rather than just busywork. Above all, it is important to be sure the students are actively learning, even when you are not present.

Emergency sub plans are a must for teachers! These print-and-go sub plans are available for Pre-K, 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th grade. They include reading passages, graphic organizers, math, science, and more. These substitute teaching ideas are fun and easy to use. Perfect to add to your sub tub!

A little backstory… Once I had my son in 2014, I decided to put a halt on teaching full time and substitute teach on the side. I noticed that often times, I was just left with busy work that a teacher found at the last minute (or even worse- no plans at all!) On the other hand, I couldn’t blame the teachers, because I knew that sub planning was so difficult and that it was even more work to call in sick than just go into work. As a result, I decided to solve the problem of emergency sub plans once and for all with Ready To Go Sub Plans.

free emergency sub plan lesson

These were carefully developed over several years of time so I could make the best sub plans possible! Eventually, the end result was fun and engaging educational activities that are NOT just busywork. Each subject includes a full lesson plan laid out for the substitute, simple enough that anyone could pick it up and use it right away. Because of this, both teachers and subs LOVE these emergency sub plans.

Getting it All Organized

However, it isn’t enough to just have the sub plans. You’ll want to have them organized so they are easy to use. In other words, you can get your sub plans and lesson plans organized in a sub tub. Organizing daily plans in a cute bin like this one (pictured in this post and in the video) can help your substitute teacher stay on track with your plans and have all your materials in one easy to find place. You can use hanging file folders and tabs to organize the lessons by day, subject, and more. This will make it easy for you (or the sub) to pull out the lessons needed on any given day.

When you purchase any of my sub plan bundles, you’ll get a sub tub organization bonus that will help you get your sub plans organized. The bonus is only available with the bundles comes with the sub tub tabs, labels for your sub tub, and more! You’ll also save 20% by purchasing a bundle. Check out the bundle for your grade level below!

You will not regret grabbing your sub plans right now so you don’t have to worry about it later. The peace of mind of knowing you have something in place is priceless! Keep in mind, setting these plans up early in the year or term will help alleviate any rush of anxiety when you need a last-minute or long term sub. Want to get more of a taste for how our sub plans work? Click here to sign up for a free sample!

Looking for Something Else?

Need sub plans for single departmentalized subjects, Special Education, maternity leave sub plans, or a bundle specifically for substitute teachers? I have those options in my shop as well! You can also browse all of my sub plans in the Wife Teacher Mommy Shop. In addition, you can find these resources in my Teachers pay Teachers store. 

Bonus Step: Preparing Your Students for a Sub

With all the materials you need to prepare for your emergency sub plans, you’ll want to remember that you first and foremost want to prepare your students for a substitute teacher. On one hand, this may seem illogical in the case of a last-minute sub request, but preparing your students to understand substitute and classroom behavior expectations from the first day of school is so important. Setting clear expectations for your own classroom and following consistent routines and procedures will help your students behave for a substitute teacher.

Letting your students know there are rewards for good behavior both when you are present and a guest teacher is in your room can help them know how important it is to “be good”. For example, using social stories to help with special education students that have difficulty with a break in routine or transitions can teach empathy for a substitute. Practice sub procedures just like you would with any other classroom expectation and routine.

The substitute punch cards included with every set of Ready to Go Sub Plans can help you build a routine that is especially for a sub. If the students fill a card, they know they’ll get a special reward from you upon your return. Consequently, this will encourage students to behave properly for a substitute teacher. These are also available, along with many free sub plan samples, in my free resource library. Sign up here to get instant access to the free sub plans and more!

Why is this so important with all I have to do?

You are so busy, so preparing for a sub before you need one may seem like just another thing to do. However, when faced with illness and writing sub plans, it may just seem easier to drag yourself to school. Don’t do it! You’ve earned your sick days, so use them. There are so many reasons that teachers don’t use their sick days, but it’s important to take time off for your family and health. Don’t let the stress of writing sub plans be a reason you go to school when you aren’t feeling your best. Every teacher needs access to emergency sub plans. that’s why I have a variety of FREE sub planning resources to offer EVERY elementary teacher! 

Be ready at a moment's notice with emergency sub plans! Get started for FREE with these easy prep resources, including editable binder cover and forms, sub punch cards for student behavior, thank you cards to leave for the sub, and lesson plans. There are lesson plans included for pre-k, kindergarten, 1st grade, 2nd grade, 3rd grade, 4th grade, 5th grade, and 6th grade. Each grade level includes language arts, math, art, and a brain break! For guest & relief teachers #subplans #substitute

Preparing for a sub starts with free ready-made sub plans in my resource library. You’ll gain access to a wide variety of sub plan freebies there! There is a full sub plan lesson for every grade level (Pre-K through 6th). In addition, there is a sample of my editable sub binder. You’ll also get the substitute punch cards, a substitute notes form, and more just for signing up for FREE.

Looking for more for your emergency sub plans?

If you love what you see in the freebies, remember that you can get all of your sub planning done in a jiffy using my Editable Sub Binders and Ready To Go Sub Plans! No matter what grade (Pre-K through 6th and SPED) or content level you teach, there is something just for you. These sub planning resources have been a labor of love and have been trusted by thousands of teachers just like you. It is my mission to create the absolute best sub plans available! You can check out the most popular resources below.


For an even wider variety of sub plans (such as single sets, monthly themed sub plans, and single departmentalized subjects), view all of the sub plans in my shop here. All of my sub planning resources can also be found in my Teachers pay Teacher store. Additionally, you can also check out all the items I used to put my sub planning materials on Amazon below!

You can do it, teacher friend!

To sum it all up, taking an unexpected day or leave from school does not have to be stressful. Preparing emergency sub plans early on in the school year can help your students and sub have successful days. You’ll also have an easier transition back to school to help you be the best wife, teacher, and mommy possible! You can do this! If you feel stuck, use this comprehensive guide to help with preparing your own emergency sub plans.

Lastly, do you have questions about getting your sub plans put together? Let me know in the comments!

Be ready at a moment's notice with emergency sub plans! Get started for FREE with these easy prep resources, including editable binder cover and forms, sub punch cards for student behavior, thank you cards to leave for the sub, and lesson plans. Lesson plans included for pre-k, kindergarten, 1st grade, 2nd grade, 3rd grade, 4th grade, 5th grade, and 6th grade. Each grade level includes language arts, math, art, and a brain break! Great for guest teachers, relief teachers #subplans #substitute

43 Responses

  1. You are a Lifesaver!! I no longer have to spend hours prepping for emergency absences. Thank you for your hard work.

  2. These plans are amazingly thorough and well thought out. I really liked the idea of sheet protectors, thanks.

  3. This is a wonderful product! I really like the set-up. The Thank You cards are awesome as well as the punch cards.

  4. I have been researching sub binders. The ideas in here are amazing. I love the punch card idea. There is also so much more that I never thought of including.

  5. These are super organized! I especially like the punch cards for substitutes to reward good behavior and the letter from the teacher to the class activity.

  6. I really like your explanation for the difference between a sub binder vs sub plans. Love all the ideas!

  7. Thank you so much for the thorough explanation. This is exactly what I need to put together for the upcoming year.

  8. As a first time substitute teacher, I am really hoping that every teacher in my districts is armed with your Substitute Binder. It is wonderful!

  9. As a substitute, I wish every teacher had this resource to help them help me! I love coming into classrooms and seeing this binder waiting for me 🙂

  10. This is an amazing post. I love that you included the how and the why to prepare sub plans. I will rest easier when sick knowing that I have prepared and that my sub won’t be left hanging. I was a sub for 2 yrs. before going back into full time teaching. Sub plans are a gift to subs!!

  11. These look like fantastic resources. It is actually what I am looking for, but I teach STEM as a special so I need a whole day (or more) of prek- 5th grade lessons. Or a few STEM lessons that can be modified for different grades. Have you ever done a custom bundle like that for ART, MUSIC, P..E. or STEM?

    1. Cindi,
      Thanks so much for reaching out! Each of our sub plans comes with an art activity, and a brain break (kind of like a pe lesson). We have differentiated bundles for math, ela, science, and social studies. Currently, we do not do custom plans. One of our team members has music plans on her TpT page: https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Store/Pitch-Publications. We do have a bundle for Pre-K – 6th grade. You can find that here: https://www.wifeteachermommy.com/product/ready-to-go-sub-plans-pre-k-through-6th-grade-mega-bundle/ Please don’t hesitate to reach out with any additional questions at: hello@wifeteachermommy.com. Thanks again!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Hey there, new teacher bestie! I’m Kelsey, and I created Wife Teacher Mommy just for YOU! I blog about teaching and create emergency sub planning resources to make your life easier. Be sure to sign up for my FREE sub plans here!

Then, follow me on Instagram and join the Facebook community to stay connected. I can’t wait to connect with you!

Let's Connect

Sign Up for Teacher Freebies!

Subscribe to get access to my FREE sub plans, sub binder forms & more! You’ll also get blog updates, subscriber deals, and more via email. You also agree to our privacy policy.


Enter your info below & we'll send The Sub Planning Starter Kit right to your inbox! 

To avoid spam filters, we recommend using your best personal (not school) email address. By signing up you agree to our privacy policy.

"I love this so much that when I lost it on my computer...I tracked it down and downloaded it again!" -Rebecca C. 


sub plan starter kit

Enter your info below to immediately download your notes pages to use while you watch the Sub Planning Made Simple video. 

To avoid spam filters, we recommend using your best personal (not school) email address. By signing up you agree to our privacy policy.

Download Your Free Sub Planning Notes!

Enter your info below to immediately download your notes pages to use while you watch The 5 Step Process for Science & Social Studies Research Units 

To avoid spam filters, we recommend using your best personal (not school) email address. By signing up you agree to our privacy policy.

Download Your Free Research Notes!


This site uses cookies.  Read our privacy policy to find out more.