Art Substitute Teacher Lesson Plans

Instructor: Sharon Linde

Sharon has a Masters of Science in Mathematics

Providing lesson plans for a substitute art teacher is a tricky business. You want students to continue authentic learning in your absence, but recognize sub plans need to be followed by anyone. What can a teacher do to walk this fine line? Let's take a look at some ways to meet both needs.

The Substitute Lesson Plan

Believe it or not, teachers are people too. They become ill and have responsibilities outside the classroom that occasionally call them to miss a day of teaching. What happens with the students when a teacher is absent? Typically the teacher creates a substitute lesson plan in advance for the substitute to use. A substitute plan is a lesson to be used in a regular teacher's absence. Because the teacher usually doesn't know who will be subbing in the classroom, the substitute lesson plan needs to be straightforward and easy to understand. Sounds easy, but it's a little more nuanced than that. If the lesson is too simple, the students may not be engaged, which often leads to behavior issues. If not detailed enough the sub may not be able to find the necessary supplies. There are many things to consider when creating lesson plans, maybe even more so for an art teacher as there are the issues of costly supplies and a day full of students of all ages revolving in and out of the classroom. Let's take a look at some simple tips for substitute teacher art lesson plans.

Do's and Don'ts

Before we get into specifics we can narrow the field with some practical advice.


  • Leave step-by-step plans that are detailed and specific. Don't assume the sub will know what you mean by vocabulary words you're fluent with - your sub may not be an art major and know the difference between tempera and water color paint.
  • Set out all supplies the sub will need, for two reasons. One, do you really want someone rummaging around your supply closet searching for more paintbrushes? This also sends a clear message that the students will only need those specified supplies, so keep hands off other things.
  • Make piles for each class. Because the sub will teach several classes throughout the day, make it easy by separating the supplies and plans into different piles.
  • Account for every minute. Don't just use words like first, next, then. Write your plans with time frames. For example, '9:00-9:10 - Explain how to use brushes.' This may sound over simplistic to a pro like you but assume the sub doesn't know.
  • Plan for lag time. What can the sub do if students get finished before the end of class? By making a plan for this you've nipped the possibility the sub will grab something you need and randomly to give to students.


  • Assume the substitute understands. This can't be stated enough. Spell out as much as possible.
  • Leave judgmental notes about students. There should be some notes jotted down about students that have been known to be a little rowdy, but stay away from leaving unprofessional notes like 'Johnny is going to drive you crazy.' Give a heads up in a neutral manner.
  • Just leave coloring pages. It's understandable that you may want to guard your expensive supplies and don't trust them to a stranger, but leaving something as simple and un-stimulating as coloring pages is a recipe for disaster. The children will become bored quickly and the sub will be more of a referee than teacher.
  • Forget the small things. It's easy to overlook the obvious when planning every last detail for the day, but remember to mention things like how students use the restroom, where bandages are, or what the hall pass protocol is.

So what should a substitute art teacher's lesson plans look like? Stress quality.

The Nuts and Bolts of Quality Plans

Lesson plans for substitute art teachers need to consider content typical classroom plans don't. Because of the nature of art, the sub plans have many areas to consider. When making plans for a substitute art teacher, be sure the lesson is engaging.


We've all had the experience of teaching a lesson the students just aren't interested in. There's nothing like that 'dead air' time with children to stress a teacher out more. To make the day run smoothly for students prepare a sub plan that is engaging. Consider what the students are interested in and structure a plan around that topic. Start with a book to read aloud; this not only uses time but also gives the class a chance to be calm from the beginning. Transition into teacher instruction related to the content of the book. Finally, plan a simple yet new and fun activity the children can easily succeed at and that requires little room for frustration.

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