Putting Together an Emergency Sub Tub

We’ve all had those days when we’re not feeling our best. But, the thought of rushing into the classroom to prep for a sub in the wee hours of the morning is far more work than just coming in for the day. However… chances are, if you’re sick enough to be considering it- you probably should be staying home! Avoid this conundrum by putting together an emergency sub tub at the beginning of the year! Trust me, you’ll be so thankful you did.

Be prepared for unexpected sick days with a sub tub.

What is an Emergency Sub Tub?

In case you’ve never heard of an emergency sub tub, let me fill you in on this life-changing classroom tool! When I say “sub tub”, I’m talking about a bin filled with activities that are simple for a substitute teacher to implement. Putting a bin like this together will not only help you ensure you’re prepared if sickness strikes, but it can also come in handy if you’re planning a vacation or leave of absence.

While it might sound like a lot of work, with a few simple tips it can come together in minutes! Plus, the peace of mind it will offer you is well worth any effort it takes to prepare.

Getting Started with a Sub Tub – The Basics

Ideally, your sub tub should have enough material to cover at least a few days of classroom learning. In my book, 3 days is a safe minimum. I know most teachers never want to leave their classroom with a sub for 3 unplanned days but you never know when it might need to happen! Better to be safe than sorry, right?!

Storage bins like these make the perfect sub tub for your classroom.

Personally, I’m a big fan of using file boxes like these. They are durable, easy to label, and great for keeping sub materials organized. I also like that they have a lid and other items can be stacked on top. I recommend printing out a sign to tape to the side, or using a permanent marker to label the bin “Sub Tub” or “Sub Plans”. Then, place the box in a prominent area of the classroom so it’s easy to find when you’re gone.

It might also be a good idea to let your students and a colleague know where the bin is and what it’s for. That way, if you’re really out of commission, you can rest easy knowing that your lessons will be found!

Organize Your Sub Tub

Next, grab some hanging file folders, along with manilla folders to organize your materials. I like to label the hanging files as “Day 1, Day 2, and Day 3”. Then, I type up a simple daily lesson plan for each day with instructions and time estimates for the activities. More on what activities to include below!

Hanging file folders like these are the perfect way to organize papers in your sub tub.

It’s also a great idea to have a file in the front with your classroom roster, emergency information, student reward system, school information, daily schedule, and any other special instructions to help the day run smoothly.

Essentially, anything you can provide to help make the day as easy as possible is a great addition to the sub tub!

Oh, and personally – I always included a small token of appreciation for the sub along with a thank you note.

This doesn’t need to be anything fancy. A small treat or snack and a card are perfect for showing that you’re appreciative of them. This really helps to set the tone for a great day in the classroom!

What Materials to Include in an Emergency Sub Tub?

Now that we’ve talked about basic setup, let’s talk about contents. What on earth should you include in your sub tub? I’m so glad you asked! When it comes to setting up an effective emergency sub tub, there are a few things to keep in mind:

  1. Focus on Review Activities: The day you have an emergency sub is not the day to introduce a brand-new standard. This will stress everyone out. Instead, try and focus on skills that are familiar to your students. The goal is a productive day of learning and review that doesn’t feel like chaos in your absence.
  2. No Prep Resources for the Win: When planning for a sub, I always stuck with no prep resources to make things as easy to implement as possible. Choosing activities with minimal prep and materials is always a good choice!
  3. Add a Bit of FUN: No one said that sub resources have to be boring! Make sure to include a simple game or easy center activities to boost engagement.

When I set up my sub tub, I always tried to put myself in their shoes. Try to consider how you can help them snag student attention, make learning fun for students, and keep everyone on task. Keeping these questions in the back of your mind while you’re planning is the key to success!

Ready to get started? Here’s what I recommend stocking your sub-tub with for a fun-filled day of learning that is effortless for your sub!

1. No Prep Printables

Choosing no-prep activities is a great way to make setting up your emergency sub tub simple and easy. Generally, no-prep printables are great to use during what would be your center time block in your daily schedule. Your sub can have kiddos work in groups, or independently as a whole group. Opting for no-prep printables during center time will help take the pressure off your sub, and ease any confusion among your kiddos that could occur with center games.

I like to use a variety of math and ELA printables that focus on topics we’ve been reviewing as a class. My monthly no-prep printables are a no-brainer solution if you’re in need some some first-grade-aligned activities. These activities use a spiral review of first-grade standards, so you can be certain that your students will be working on important skills, even in your absence!

Another great option are these No-Prep Math Worksheets. This bundle covers everything from addition and subtraction to graphing so you’ll be set no matter what time of the year it is. Just make sure to update your sub tub every so often to ensure the printables you’ve left for a sub aren’t too easy for your students. I liked to set a little reminder in my digital calendar to swap out materials once every couple of months. When it was time to swap out materials, I put the old pages from our sub tub in the fast-finisher bins or sent them home as homework to repurpose them. You could also keep them together and mark them as Sub Tub Quarter 1 so they are ready for a future year.

2. Choose Topic-Based Activities for the Sub Tub

One of my favorite ways to make prepping a sub tub super simple is with topic-based lesson plans and activities. These are great options if you want to streamline the planning process and make sure your students are engaged all day long! For example, choosing one of the resources from this Historical Figures Bundle would be perfect for the sub tub! Inside the bundle, there are 8 different resources that each feature a different historical figure. With options like Thomas Jefferson and Ruby Bridges, there’s plenty to choose from.

These social studies-based resources are great for a sub since they’re filled with activities that are centered around one specific topic. Students can spend a good deal of the day diving into these topics with mini books, graphic organizers, timelines, writing prompts, and digital activities. These all-in-one resources already come with lesson plan instructions as well, so you won’t have to worry about prepping them separately. Simply print, and organize in a file folder and you’re good to go!

Another fun option is this Wizard of Oz Math and Literacy Unit. This resource also includes detailed instructions that will make these activities easy for a sub to implement. If you’ve recently read this story in class, this would be the perfect addition to your sub tub as a way to revisit the story. If not, a shortened kids version of the story could be the starter for the day. Just keep a copy of the book in the sub tub or let the sub know they can grab it from the school library. The activities in this set include reviewing the setting, discussing characters, using opinion writing, and more! Students will love exploring the story, and your sub will be happy to have such a simple plan to execute.

3. Add in Extra Activities – Just in Case!

I know we already chatted about no-prep printables, but this is your reminder that it never hurts to add a few more! In addition to the no-prep review pages in your sub tub, I recommend adding a few more just in case. These are handy if your kiddos go through the activities quickly, or if you need extra activities for fast finishers.

My favorite “just in case activities” to add to a sub tub are color-by-code pages. The reason is that they’re simple and easy to use, target skills that students are working on, and they require zero prep! These seasonal color by code pages for addition and subtraction facts to 10 fit the bill perfectly. Choose some pages that align with the current season, make enough copies for your group, and you’re all set!

If you don’t want to worry about swapping these pages out with the seasons, choose a more general theme like pets or sports. These pages focus on phonics skills and words, but they come with editable options too! Fill them with sight words, spelling words, or anything else you’d like your students to work on while you’re out.

4. Use Simple Games for a Dose of Fun

Finally, my last must-have in the sub tub is a fun and simple game like BINGO. Adding a game will help ensure your students remain engaged in learning and help shake things up, without causing chaos. I always recommend that the sub play the game as a whole group and provide a few options in case they want to play more than once throughout the day.

We played BINGO a lot in my classroom since it’s simple for students to understand, and can be used for just about any topic. I loved using BINGO to practice phonics skills like CVC words, blends, and digraphs. It’s a great way to target these important skills, while also making sure your students are having fun too!

If you’d like to prepare some BINGO games for your sub tub, I recommend laminating the cards. That way, your sub will be able to use the game more than once. Make sure to provide enough cards and BINGO markers for everyone in your class as well. Grab a FREE CVC Word Phonics BINGO Game for your sub tub to get started! Download the freebie, prep your cards, and then you’ll have at least one activity checked off your list.

Prep Your Own Sub Tub Today!

Hopefully, this post helped you brainstorm what you’d like to include in your own sub tub. I can’t recommend this idea enough. It saved me more than once over the years! As you’re preparing your own sub tub, try to remember the three tips we discussed. Keep activities low-prep, focus on review, and don’t forget a sprinkle of fun! Sticking with these 3 things will ensure your sub has a successful day in the classroom.

You can take a closer look at all of the activities mentioned here in my TPT Store, along with lots of other fun resources you might want to include in your own emergency sub tub!

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