Bag of Tricks for the Substitute Teacher (page 2)

By — McGraw-Hill Professional
Updated on Sep 27, 2011

Can you Suggest Specific Books for the Bag of Tricks?

Here are some favorites that have worked well for me. This list includes books for many different age levels and interests:

  • Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst
  • The Arthur series by Marc Brown
  • Chicken Soup for the Pet Lover’s Soul by Jack Canfield
  • Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul by Jack Canfield
  • Doctor De Soto by William Steig
  • Encyclopedia Brown by Donald J. Sobol
  • The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein
  • Great-Uncle Dracula by Bonnie Bader
  • The Keeping Quilt by Patricia Polacco
  • Miss Nelson Is Missing! by Harry Allard and James Marshall
  • Pinkerton, Behave! by Steven Kellogg
  • Sideways Stories from Wayside School by Louis Sachar
  • The Substitute Teacher from the Black Lagoon by Mike Thaler
  • Sylvester and the Magic Pebble by William Steig
  • The True Story of the Three Little Pigs by Jon Scieszka

Obviously, I’m not suggesting that you put all of these books into your bag of tricks at one time (you couldn’t lift it off the floor!). Rather, select two or three books that will be appropriate for the class you are going to teach on any given day and put them in your bag.

Can I Use These Books for Anything Other Than a “Read Aloud”?

Some of these titles are great for initiating a wonderful extension activity. For example, after reading The True Story of the Three Little Pigs, I told the students that we were going to have a “court session.” I chose a student to play the Big Bad Wolf, and the rest of the class asked him questions for “testimony” to determine if he should be found guilty or innocent. Instant civics lesson!

The Keeping Quilt is a wonderful kickoff for an art project. Children can design and draw their own family quilts.

In almost every case, you can ask the children to analyze a book using a story map.

What is a Story Map?

After reading a story to the class, write the following on the board:






Sequence of Events:


Happy or Sad Ending?

Have students fill in the blanks with you or make their own form and complete it at their seats.

What Should I Do if I Finish All Planned Lessons Early?

I can still remember one of my first days as a sub. The classroom teacher had left me a sketchy plan for the day and, to be charitable, weak teaching materials and handouts. I did my best to present the material as effectively as I could, but as I glanced at the clock toward the end of the day, I knew that I’d finish early. I slowed down. I asked many questions. I did everything possible to s-t-r-e-t-c-h the final lesson so that the day would end when my teaching did. No luck! I finished and still had forty-five minutes until the final bell. What to do?

As a rookie sub, I hadn’t yet learned the importance of the bag of tricks. My only option was to “tap dance.” After exhausting all of my educational games and teaching a few songs, I left the class at 3:00 completely exhausted! And to be honest, I did not do very much to advance the curriculum. If this were to happen to me today, I’d open my bag of tricks and have plenty of ammunition.

If you need to supplement the plans for the day, a wonderful lesson for the primary grades is to read a story to the class and then discuss the main idea and characters. Then students can write about their favorite parts of the story and draw pictures of a favorite character or event from the story. Or, you can have the students make a story map with you.

Your poetry book can be an introduction to a poetry lesson. Students can write a class poem (each child writes one line), or they may write their own poems and illustrate them. Because of the popularity of rap music, poetry is now very cool! Students can illustrate their poems and share them with classmates. I recommend using a book like Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein. The poems are funny and short, and students love them. They are a wonderful springboard for discussion and an example for creative writing activities.

The drawing book will help during transition times or when children have finished work early and have nothing to do. You may copy a page for them to work on, or you may draw the picture on the board, step-by-step, and have students work along with you. I have found the following technique to be very effective:

  1. I draw a picture (using the step-by-step approach given in the how-to-draw book) on the board.
  2. The students follow along at their desks.
  3. I leave the picture on the board, letting them try it on their own.
  4. When they have finished, they can color their pictures and write short stories about the characters they drew.

You can let early finishers work on the drawing activity and allow others to join in when they have completed their work. Or, you may want to use this technique as a reward for the end of the day, if you need to fill time. As a sub, it’s very important to avoid giving the students too much free time. Too much free time leads to disruption. Once disruption starts, it is not easy to contain and get students back on track!

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