Emergency Lesson Plans for Middle School: Engaging Students with Flexibility & Confidence
ess has emergency lesson plans for their substitutes

While some teacher absences are planned, they are often unplanned and reported at the last minute. When an unplanned absence occurs, there is a chance that lesson plans are not readily available. For this reason, experienced substitute teachers often have a toolbox with strategies they can apply according to the grade level and content area of their job assignment.

When covering a middle school teacher absence, there are several factors to consider in creating and implementing an emergency lesson plan. Though each grade level has unique learning needs, in general, middle school students are social and gain confidence from their peers. They tend to respond positively when their growing independence is recognized and acknowledged.  Emergency lesson plans for middle school can be very effective when substitutes apply some specific strategies based on their developmental characteristics.

Unique Characteristics of Middle School Students

Typically a period of rapid growth and maturation, the middle school years represent a time characterized by change. But students experience these changes at different rates and times. Though many middle school students are becoming more independent, they still find safety in numbers. Thus, cooperative learning can be an especially effective and supportive instructional strategy for this age group.

Capable of more abstract thinking than their elementary counterparts, they can handle some creative problem-solving. They are beginning to formulate their own opinions and values and may be willing to share them. Substitute teachers who treat middle school students like the young adults they are becoming will be respected and valued.

Elements of a Middle School Lesson

In general, a complete lesson plan includes some essential elements. Following this basic format will enable substitute teachers to implement an effective middle school lesson plan in a pinch.

  • Introduction or anticipatory set: This opener helps to pique students’ curiosity and prime them for the lesson to come. It may be as simple as a picture or a question that gets students thinking and wanting to learn more.
  • Learning objective: A learning objective is typically expressed as a student action. It defines what students will know or be able to do after successfully completing the lesson. “I can identify the conflict in a narrative text,” is an example.
  • Lesson content: Through direct instruction, teacher modeling, or a reading passage, students experience new content.
  • Practice: Either independently or cooperatively, students interact with new content, applying it in a meaningful context.
  • Closure: Students reflect on what they have learned.

Engaging Lesson Plans That Are Easy to Implement

Professional substitutes have the flexibility to adapt when lesson plans are unavailable. They utilize a variety of age-appropriate tools to engage students in meaningful learning. These examples may be adapted to a variety of different contexts:

Bellringer or do-now

Engaging students from the moment they enter the classroom is a proactive management approach. Upon greeting them at the door, they should be directed to a short assignment written or projected on the board. This could be a proverb or saying with instructions to interpret and write the underlying meaning. Alternately, a well-chosen adage or multi-step math problem provides the substitute with enough time to take attendance before allowing a few students to share their answers and interpretations.

Menu math

A fun and easy-to-implement math lesson requires nothing more than paper, pencils, and a stack of carry-out menus; calculators are optional. It involves students planning a dinner outing for themselves and three friends. The math lesson occurs when students add up each of the four orders and apply appropriate sales tax and tips. Calculations can be completed by hand, then checked with a calculator, or to extend the learning, students can check each other’s calculations.

Moral dilemma

Many middle schoolers have strong opinions and like to share them. This activity allows students to share and support their opinion. All that is required is an informative news story, photocopied from the newspaper, a magazine, or an online newsfeed. The topic should be relevant to the age group (perhaps music, sports, or a compelling story about someone their age) and support a variety of differing opinions. The topic must also be appropriate; it cannot be anything that causes offense.

When they have finished reading the article silently, students independently take a position and write it out with three supporting points. After providing time to share what they have written with a partner, volunteers may be given an opportunity to share their opinions with the class.   

Problem-based learning

An effective strategy that enables students to exercise creative problem-solving with support involves providing a complex problem and allowing them to work with a partner to solve it. Those who solve the problem quickly may be instructed to solve it by an alternate method or given an opportunity to write their own problem for others to solve.

Graphic organizers

There are many readily available and printable graphic organizers that can be applied to a variety of lesson plans. A useful example is the “5 Ws” organizer that can be used with any informational text article (print or digital). Middle school students can use it to identify the who, what, when, where, and why of the news story.

Substitute Teachers Who Adapt

Substitute teachers capable of quickly adapting when lesson plans are unavailable are an asset to the district they serve. Experienced professionals who are adequately prepared have the skills to adapt to various grade levels and content-area assignments.

With training that focuses on effective instructional techniques and proactive classroom management strategies, these professional educators will be capable of quickly implementing emergency plans that engage and challenge middle school students in meaningful learning, even when unplanned absences occur.

Contact ESS for help in staffing confident, professional substitutes who are capable of adapting to a variety of job assignments. Our substitute teachers are empowered with the skills and flexibility to engage students in meaningful and developmentally-appropriate learning, even when lesson plans are unavailable.