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Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Sub Plan Organization for Elementary Music Teachers

OK, so we all know that putting together effective sub plans is a never-ending problem for music teachers. Besides the difficulties that all teachers face of trying to explain things clearly enough for substitute teachers who aren't familiar with your classroom, schedule, students, etc, music teachers have the added bonus of knowing that most substitutes aren't comfortable with music as a subject, and the complexity of communicating the basic information for the 6 (or more) grade levels, and hundreds (or more) students, that they will need to teach. To be honest, I have never been really happy with my sub plans that I've had the last decade of teaching. This year, I think I've found something that I (finally) like, so I had to share with you all!

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There is really nothing fancy about my sub plans, but I think it is about as streamlined and effective as I can make it. I have a folder, which contains all of the information the subs need (more on that below), and then three scrapbook boxes containing the materials for the different lesson plan options I have in the sub plans. I got mine on sale at Michaels, but you can get the exact same ones on Amazon here. The scrapbook cases are nice because they are 12in x 12in, so they hold things letter size and even slightly larger, and they are deep enough to store thick stacks of paper as well (which you will need if you're going to have enough copies for all of your hundreds of students).

I labeled each case on the side with some masking tape to show which lessons the materials correspond to:


First, let's talk about what kind of information I've included in the folder. I currently have:

  • General information (which classes get dropped off/picked up/need to be taken to gym class, basic behavior management strategies, where the bathrooms are, etc)
  • Helpful contacts (the names and locations of my colleagues who know how to use everything in my room, plus the secretary and nurse)
  • Emergency information (where my evacuation route is posted and my emergency folder is hanging, where to find nurse and detention forms are)
  • My class schedule
  • Hallway and bus duty information
  • Class lists (student names)
  • Student information of note (notes in individual students that need specific attention, such as medical conditions or behavioral challenges)
  • Lesson plans (I have 4 options: two that can be used for K-6, one for K-3, and one for 4-6), with a spot to note which classes have completed the lesson (with the date)
  • Notes section for the teacher to fill in for each class they teach


I've learned over the years, from talking to some of my favorite substitute teachers, that too much information is overwhelming (and subs end up just giving up on trying to read through it all), but they do appreciate having enough information to be able to get through the day successfully without having to ask for help too much.

So let's talk about the lesson plans! I'm really happy with the ones I've put together for this year. All but one are ones that I've used in past years successfully, but I like the set of lessons that I've put together- I think they are all easy enough to implement, but offer enough variety to allow substitute teachers to choose something that they are comfortable with, and allow students to stay engaged and doing something musically meaningful.

As I mentioned, lessons 1 and 2 are ones that can be done with any grade K-6. Lesson 3 is specifically for grades 4-6, and lesson 4 is for grades K-3.

Lesson 1 is simple: I have a template with 12 numbered boxes (6 on each side of a double-sided paper). I have put a recording of The Carnival of the Animals onto a CD. For the lesson, students listen to each movement / animal and draw something they imagine (I ask the teacher to clarify that they should NOT draw the instruments they hear, but rather something they think of when they hear the music). This piece is great for this because the movements are all very different from each other and they are very distinctive and descriptive.

Lesson 2 is Instrument Bingo. I don't know what it is but students and substitute teachers love this lesson time after time. Plus it's a great way for students to practice identifying the instruments visually and aurally.

Lesson 3 is something new I found on TeachersPayTeachers recently: composer social media profiles by Music with Miss W. I was looking for a way to include a little more music history in my sub plans, because I frankly don't spend very much time on it in my curriculum, and this seemed like the perfect way to do it easily and get students engaged as well. The premise is simple: students create Facebook - style profiles for different famous composers, including basic information and even status updates. I included copies for them to make the profile along with simple biographies that I found online. I also have a giant Music Encyclopedia that someone gave me years ago when I first started teaching, so I bookmarked the corresponding pages there with a note to the substitute to look further information up there if students have more specific questions.

Lesson 4 is for K-3 and is great for those subs who don't want the kids sitting around all day, or for when the kids come in and they are Just.That.Crazy. Basically the directions are to use the same Carnival of the Animals CD but instead of drawing, have them "show the music" with movement. I've given specific directions for how the teacher can encourage appropriate movements by pointing out when students move up for high notes, or faster for fast tempi, etc.

One thing that I started last year and found really helpful was to have substitutes mark which classes did which lesson. Although I keep track of that information in my own planner as well, I realized that when sickness hits with twin preschoolers, it usually takes more than 1 day to get over it, and dragging my sorry self into school to clean up the previous day's mess, figure out what they did, and get everything set up for the next day is not my idea of a good time. I included a table to have teachers mark down which classes they did each lesson with at the top of each lesson plan, and I included a note asking them to try to choose lessons the classes haven't done recently when they are deciding which ones to use. This makes it a lot easier to figure out what happened on which day when I get back from a multi-day absence!

The final component of my sub plan organization is that I now place the pile of scrapbook cases, with the bright, neon green folder marked "substitute", right at the front of my classroom before I leave each evening. This way I don't have to worry about coming in to set anything up in the morning if I have to be out- everything is already set up and ready to go in an emergency!


I hope this helps you to get some effective and simple sub plans together for your own classroom! If you don't want to recreate the wheel for yourself, I've put the word document templates for my information documents and lesson plans, plus a copy of the listening template for lesson 1, in my store here:


I hope this gives you some ideas to organize your sub plans more effectively- I'm pretty excited about my set up this year! Hopefully it will make sickness (my own and my daughters') less stressful, and make my substitute teachers' jobs a little easier as well.

1 comment :

  1. I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE these tips!! My favorite is the checkbox for subs. Having subbed for a year before I got my first full-time teaching position, I can definitely relate to being given too much or too little information for the classes I taught. It's great that you have simple lessons that can be used with multiple grade levels :)

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