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It's the middle of the night. Your child is projectile vomiting and crawling backwards up the stairs. Their heads might as well be twisted around backwards. But that's not even the scariest part. Now you know you're going to have to call in a random sub. Your stomach sinks and you know you're flipping the coin of destiny that will determine who comes in to take your classes.
Just scratching the surface, here are some experiences I've had with random subs:
- I had one start a kickball game, then hang out on his phone, letting the kids go all Lord of the Flies on the rules. Ended in an all out brawl.
- I had one that was so oblivious that two kindergarteners had been fighting for a solid 10 minutes before she noticed. It had gotten to the point where one had his shoe off and was beating the other with it.
- I had one that used my whistle (gross... why?????)
- I had one that just stared out the window while third graders ran around with other third graders riding on their shoulders.
- I've had several that were just downright unkind and had no business being around children.
But, I've also had subs that were amazing. People that would come in, improvise, and make the kids' day. The kind of sub that makes the kids pretty much beg for me to take a sick day. Some subs have given me the best ideas to bring into my class.
The fact remains that you never know what you're going to get.
Before I got my first teaching gig, I substitute taught for a couple years and I loved it when I was given freedom to do my own thing. I tried leaving plans like that for a while, but I began to realize how rare it is that somebody wants to come in and do their own thing (that isn't Dodgeball).
If I know the sub, I leave some great ideas for full class games, but if I don't, I just give them the Ultimate Sub Plan. This plan has worked wonders. As long as there's a warm body in the room, it works out pretty well.
The Ultimate Sub Plan
This plan has two very basic components:
- Choice of some favorite activities
- Activities that incite the fewest arguments
When they get to choose what they're doing, they'll stay more engaged. Bored students are the ones causing problems, so keep them from being bored. On the flip side, if they're way too into it, they can get aggressive about it, so sticking to games with minimal ambiguity keeps tempers from rising. In the event they do, that student can be told to pick another activity. And it would be a real bummer for them if they can't handle any of the choices available.
Here are the choices I give:
Gaga Ball (3rd grade and up) (K-2 does a pre-Gaga game called SLAPS see below)
This is the primary activity. If you've never heard of it, they play in a small area called a pit (I just have mats near the corner to create it). The goal is to slap the ball towards others' legs to get them out. If they get out, they leave the pit. I have them play elimination style with 2 minutes to win it. I made a YouTube playlist for this with a countdown timer. It's perfect with my Apple TV and projector. The sub can just navigate to the playlist and hit play. If you don't have a projector, check out an interval timer like this (paid link). When they play this way, I have them start the ball in the middle of the pit, they all have to touch one of the pit walls, and when the starting bell dings, they can leave the wall.
If you don't want to play elimination style, you can also play with a Jail. It can be a line of several players. One player gets out and goes to the Jail, the first person in line gets to go in.
Here are all the rules for getting out:
Double tap/hold - The biggest double tap is when somebody stops the ball then hits it. I also only allow them 3 hits to themselves off a wall because then its just boring for everybody else. Technically, a catch is a hold and most places play where you can catch the ball to get players out. I don't play that way, but add it if you want.
Hit in Target Zone - Belt and below in my "gym" (and if you ain't wearin' a belt, I hope ya drawers don't fall down). I also don't like them diving and laying on the ground, so in my classes, if they're touching the ground with anything but their feet, their entire body (face and hands included) becomes the target zone.
Out of Bounds - last to touch it when it goes out
Saying “you’re out” - Huge rule here, applicable every day, not just with subs. When you say "you're out," either they know they're out and you're rubbing it in or they don't know they're out and you aren't giving them any new information.
Like Gaga Ball, you slap the ball toward others' legs. You're only out if you get hit in the legs or pick up a ball - because you can't slap it if you're picking it up. I don't use the word OUT with K-2, instead I'll say "You're TOAST!" The kids think it's hilarious and doesn't come with the negative feelings associated with being out. When you're out, you just run to the TOASTER. In my "gym," they're just running to the mats and jumping on top of them, then right back into the game.
Floor Square (3rd + only)
This is like Four Square but with 90% less arguing. I put a heavy bucket* on the midlines of the court. The ball starts on the ground and should ideally stay low, similar to Gaga Ball. The goal is to get others out by slapping the ball beyond their back lines. Here are the rules:
- Try to hit it out of other’s square
- No 2xTaps/Holds
- If it bounces off a bucket, you can hit again
- Can only hit ball if in YOUR square
- Must hit players square to get them out
- 2-Hand serve with ball in your corner
- Open/under hands only
Air Pong (3rd + only)
Download the Striking Activity Pack
You can download easily readable rules (with simple setup images) for Floor Square, Air Pong, and several other small games in the Striking Activity Pack. Print them out and hang them on your wall or put them in your Sub Folder. Check it out below. Each page has a clear picture and super simple rules.
Fun Size Knock Out
Of course you could do regular knock out, but then you have basketballs bouncing all over the place. Fun Size Knock Out condenses the game to a smaller area. I use this game for second grade and up. Check it out in my basketball activities.
The balls you use depend on the space available. I use foam balls because I have such a small space (and I use my tattered and torn balls in my sub bag so the kids don't destroy our good balls while I'm gone. Whatever you do, don't watch my video on how to take better care of your balls).
I only add this in here because we do wall climbing daily. The rules are pretty straightforward and the kids know what to do and how to be safe.
Balance Boards and Spooners
If a student is waiting for one, they can stall count whoever is on it by saying their name, then number, counting to 10. For instance, Dale 1, Dale 2, Dale 3, etc.
Dribbling in any free space
Two rules for this: Keep the ball below your armpits and only work in free areas.
Fun Size Knock Out (or regular Knock Out)
Mats, if needed
In the event that SLAPS isn't very popular with my K-2 students, I'll open up the mats so they can do tricks on them. Rules are simple. One at a time, 10 second time limit (feel free to stall count). If I had the space and more mats, I'd use them as a choice every single time.
You know you don't want to write all this out for a sub so I made you a Free Download. YAY!! The link is at the end of this post.
Pre-Planning is the Key
While I think the plan will work great at any time, there are two key things that I do ahead of time.
First, I teach it then revisit it. I start all my classes with instant activities (most of the time including Floor Square and Air Pong) as a warm up. I teach Floor Square on day one and Air Pong on day two. Gaga Ball is taught on their third class, so if I need to be gone after that, they at least have those choices. With K-2, I teach the wall and spooners on the first two classes, then I teach SLAPS on the third. This way, they all know what to do. We revisit all of these activities at least once a month so they remember.
The second thing I do is I email the sub a link to my YouTube video introducing myself, my space, and the activities/setup. I have a pretty non-traditional space so I want them to know what they're walking into. Here's a look at that video.
It's important that subs know something about the classes. So I made a schedule/roster combo that gives them all that information in one place. This is a Google Sheet that I set up to automatically update with the current roster. I have emoji that auto-fill next to student's names for important information. Basically, it looks like this:
Be on the lookout for a future post about how I make this so it's auto updating as well as some other nifty features of spreadsheet magic. Just subscribe at the bottom of this page!
Other Plans for Rockstar Subs
If you know your sub and students can handle it, here are some other amazing activities for them.
Link to My Sub Plans
Check it out HERE. It's a Word Document so you can just edit to fit your own needs. Enjoy and don't forget to hit that beautiful yellow subscribe button down below so you don't miss out on any juicy secrets of how to be the best physical educator!