4 Ways Substitute Teachers Can Make a Memorable Impact in Just One Day


Are you a substitute teacher looking for a way to make a positive impact in the classroom? You might not have a lot of time, but you can certainly achieve your goal. Here four tips you can use.

Make Your Mark

Substitute teachers, like most teachers, tend to go into the profession because they're passionate about making a difference in students' lives. As a substitute, you might worry that your temporary or sporadic presence in the classroom might hinder your ability to be a positive influence, but that's absolutely not the case. In fact, many students have cited substitute teachers as some of their favorites; if you're deliberate about your choices, you could be one of those people. Here are four ways you can make a memorable impact in just one day.

A substitute teacher getting to know her students

1. Get to Know Your Students

An effective way to forge a personal connection with your students is to spend some class time introducing yourself and getting to know them. Students are curious, especially about adults, and may appreciate a quick bio from you. Focus on interesting details and fun facts rather than more generic information. Let students ask you questions and answer them candidly (but appropriately), a refreshing approach that can demonstrate forthrightness and respect for students.

2. Don't Fight the Flow

Let's be honest, students have expectations of what a class with a substitute will be like. They're not expecting rigorous academic content or harsh discipline. Typically, they look forward to their teachers' absences as a nice, relaxing break from the usual routine. Our advice is to work with their expectations, not against them.

For example, while you absolutely should not allow your students to break rules, misbehave, or disrespect you, consider using an easy-going approach. For instance, don't be a stickler for absolute silence. Don't confiscate every cell phone you see. If you have any free time, consider playing an educational game rather than forcing students to read silently. Your students will certainly appreciate it, especially because their lives can be so fast-paced and stressful. Everybody deserves some R&R.

3. Engage Students with Online Materials

As a substitute, you probably dread the scenario in which the classroom teacher forgets to leave a lesson plan. You're left to figure out a way to pass the time without being familiar with the class's procedures, practices, or even what students have been studying. If you find yourself in this scenario, we recommend using online content. Ask students what they've been covering and, after a quick web search, find online content on the said topics. The types of content you use can range from videos to interactive quizzes and activities, all of which are engaging for students and don't require an excess of planning or materials from you.

A substitute teacher engaging students with online materials

4. Engage the Whole Classroom

Another option if you're left without a lesson plan (or some free time) is to do a group activity with the entire class. This will satisfy students' desires to be talkative and interact with one another, while still giving them a productive task to focus on.

A class playing a game with a substitute teacher

We like the following options:

  • Around the World - Start with the first two students in the first row. Have them both stand up and ask them a simple question related to the class's subject. (Pro tip: flashcard sets work well as a source for questions.) The first student to answer the question can then challenge the next student in the row, while the other student sits back down. Continue until every student has had a chance to answer a question.
  • Hangman - Find a phrase that relates to the subject the students are studying. Throughout the game, you can give students academic clues that will help them make connections to the material.
  • Silent Ball - This activity is an effective option if you need to quiet down a rowdy group. Have every student sit on his or her desk. Give one or two students a soft ball. The objective is to have students pass or throw the ball around the room without using any words to communicate. To give the game an academic bent and some urgency, you can ''freeze'' the game every few minutes and ask the student holding the ball to answer a question of your choosing.

Keep Things Light

If you can keep things light and positive while still engaging your students academically, you'll have a successful day as a substitute teacher. Just don't be surprised if you find yourself asked to come back to the same classroom again and again!

Looking for an online content library you can use in the classroom? Check out's lessons for every subject and grade level.

By Daisy Rogozinsky
October 2018
teachers substitutes

Never miss an update