Writing Sub Plans for an NGSS Aligned Classroom

Teaching Strategies and Tips

This year I have had to be out of my classroom more than I ever have before.  There have been days and days of professional development. I presented at the California Science Teachers Association Conference. The worst was when I came down with pneumonia and missed more than a week of work.  Writing sub plans for an NGSS aligned classroom can be quite tricky.

Title creating sub plans with picture of coffee mug, tissues and glasses

I don’t like to leave my students with busy work when I am out.  They shouldn’t lose out because I am not there. Here are my best tips for writing sub plans for an NGSS aligned classroom.

When it comes to planned sub days, consider your instructional sequence.

There are times that we know we are going to have to be out of the classroom.  When this is the case, I try to plan my lessons so that students are in the middle or nearing the end of the instructional sequence.  While this seems counter-intuitive in a pre-NGSS aligned classroom, it works amazingly well in an NGSS classroom.

Woman planning for a sub day in a planner

Students really need your help to guide them through the discovery component of the instructional sequence.  Without your guidance, it might be more difficult for them to make meaning from these types of activities.  (Remember that in an NGSS classroom they should be exploring before explaining.)

However, students can often do the later parts on their own.  For example, students can read text related to your content without much help from you.

If you follow the 5E model, the explain/elaborate phase could be a great place for you to create a sub-appropriate activity.  (And if the 5E model confuses you as much as it used to confuse me, check out this episode of the podcast where Nicole answers all of my 5E questions.)

What types of activities work best for a planned sub day in an NGSS classroom?


I create guides for my students to help them get through simulations.  We are lucky to have a full Chromecart in my classroom so I can leave these for my students.  I also love simulations for when I am stuck somewhere (hello jury duty!) where I can monitor their internet use remotely using monitoring software.  To find out more about the simulations I use, check out this post.

Reading Assignments

I can usually find an article related to the content that we are covering on NewsELA.  I teach students how to annotate articles early in the school year so I can leave an article for them.  Students annotate, summarize each section and then answer questions about the article.  Be aware, the questions that are provided by NewsELA can be answered very quickly by your students so sometimes it works better to write your own.


Showing a video will make for an easy day for your sub.  Just make sure that you have some way of keeping students accountable by having them answer questions or take notes. Ideally, these questions should be more rigorous than simply asking students to regurgitate the information that is presented in the video.  While these types of questions are fine, and can definitely be a part of the plan, they don’t require that students think more deeply.  Consider asking students to make a connection to a Crosscutting Concept or to an activity that you covered during class.

I also create videos for my students quickly using WeVideo.  This helps me create lectures, lesson guides or any number of videos that will help keep my students on track.

Guided research/extension style activities

Webquest style activities work well for sub days.  Students can also work on a research style project while you are out.  Just make sure that you heavily scaffold this activity so that they can accomplish the task without much support.

Planning for unplanned absences.

We don’t always know when we will need to be out of the classroom. I certainly didn’t plan on having pneumonia.  While it is difficult to plan for longer absences, you can definitely plan ahead for a day here and there when you might be feeling awful.

Simulations can also work well here, but if you don’t know when you are going to be out, it can be tricky to leave one that is appropriate.  You can use a simulation that covers content from the previous year.

Worksheet with 3 types of graphsOnce you have taught your students some basic skills and concepts, you can have students review what they have learned with the sub.  I like to give my students the opportunity to review one of the Science and Engineering Practices. Having them graph, analyze and interpret data, and review the experimental design to identify variables are all great activities for students to do while you are out.  To learn more about the types of graphs that your students should be able to create in middle school, read this post.

I usually provide the sub with the number of the page in the student interactive notebook that students can refer back to in order to review the original lesson.

These types of activities can be created and copied ahead of time and kept in a bucket in your classroom for those days when you aren’t planning on being out.

What should go in my emergency sub plan bucket?

It is best to have an emergency sub-plan bucket for those true emergency days.  It should be kept in a spot where someone who isn’t familiar with your room could come in and easily find it.  I also have class jobs and one of them is to help a substitute teacher.  This student knows where to find my emergency plans.

Your emergency sub plan bucket should contain:

  • Written plans for three days
  • Enough copies for all students (plus a few extra just in case)
  • A current copy or your seating chart or roster with pictures if possible
  • Notes on classroom policies, medical and behavior concerns, etc

How can I use Google Docs for my written sub plans?

A few years ago, I started using Google Docs to make my sub plans.  I created a template for my sub-plan that includes all my schedules, classroom rules, guidelines, helpful students and students who need help, etc.  I make sure to include a feedback form for the substitute teacher so that they are able to provide me with meaningful information about the day.

Google Document Sub Plan with Class Schedule

Once I have created this template, I can simply make a copy and fill in the specific information for the day when I am out.  This saves me a ton of time.

Create your own template or grab mine here in my Teachers Pay Teachers store.

How do you handle being out sick in an NGSS aligned classroom?  Let me know in the comments below!



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