Time-Fillers for Substitute Teachers


Sometimes you will have time left over. Teachers try very hard to leave plenty of work, but occasionally it still isn’t enough. Don’t panic. I have a list of ideas that don’t require you to have to come up with something on the spot. You may even get a call for a teacher who did not plan on being out, and no plans are available. I’ve even had times when I was supposed to sub in the morning, but the teacher had to be out all day. No problem, there are a ton of things you can teach without plans.Try not to just play games, or give them free time. Here are time fillers for those moments when classroom work gets finished too quickly.  All of these ideas require no copies to be made, but learning will be happening!

Rainbow Words

Use sight words, or spelling words for this activity. Give the students a piece of paper. Have them write their sight words or spelling words in pencil. Then have them trace over the words with all the colors of the rainbow. It’s a great way to practice their spelling words, and also a wonderful time-filler.

Book Illustration

Read a book to the students. When you are finished, have them draw a picture of their favorite part of the story. My rule: No white space. If they finish early, have them write about their picture.

Shoe Art

Warning: Do this activity step by step. Do not give them all the directions at once. Have the students take off one shoe. Next have the students place their shoe on a piece of paper. Very carefully trace the shoes. Once the whole class has finished tracing, have them put their shoes on. If they need help, ask a friend or request that they quietly raise their hand. Now have them make an animal out of their shoe. Do an example on the board. Also, give them a few examples (cat, rabbit, dog, pig, elephant, fish)… The more creative, the better. If they finish early, have them write a story on the back. This is best for younger grades.

Favorite Color Activity

Do a survey with the students. Have them close their eyes and think about their favorite color (it’s okay to have more than one, trust me…. they’ll ask). Now explain you are going to do a survey. Raise your hand if your favorite color is red! Count the hands that are up and write the tally on the board. Perhaps do a mini lesson on surveys and tallies. Go through all the colors. It’s okay if they raise their hand more than once (or every time) as it isn’t a scientific survey. It’s purely an educational time filler. After you are done, compare the numbers, and have them make observations. If you still have time, give them a piece of paper and have them write their favorite color at the top. This time they have to pick one, but if they have time they can do another. On that paper have them draw pictures of things that are that color. For example, if a child chooses green they can draw a tree, a frog, grass, a lizard, an alligator, even a crayon! (It’s okay if it has other colors, as long as it’s MOSTLY green. Trust me again… they’ll ask). Still have time? Have them label their pictures, and remind them to do their best with spelling.

Word Splash

Ask for a copy of current spelling words. Write 5 of these words on the board. Ask students to write a story and have them include all of those words. If a holiday is close, use that as a topic. Otherwise, leave it open. It can be funny, realistic, or supernatural. Still need time to fill? Have them illustrate the story and call on a few to share. If they have been behaving, let them work together.

Around the World

This is a great way to review math facts. Start with a student at the front of the classroom. Begin with easy facts for each child and work your way up. Student sits down when they miss one. Use lots of praise. It’s okay if they miss one… It’s only practice. Sometimes the other kids get a little antsy if it’s not their turn. If that becomes a problem, have them write the facts you are giving in their math journals or on a piece of paper. This game is best if they finished their math work 10-15 minutes early.

White Board Review

Many teachers have a classroom set of individual white boards. Pull those out and give clear rules before passing them out. You can use the boards for many subjects. Go over math facts, vocabulary, or spelling. Clean up after about 10-15 minutes, otherwise you will experience unwanted behavior.

Science/Social Studies Dictionary

Assign each student a letter of the alphabet. On a piece of paper they write the letter in big print  at the top (do an example on the board). If assigning letters is too confusing, just have them do the first letter of their first name, or go around the room and write a letter for them. Have them define a science vocabulary word. Let them use the science text book for this activity. It can either be something they have already learned about, or a word they want to know. They must define it, and then illustrate it. The nice things about this activity, is your fast workers can always do another word (or several).

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