Good Emergency Lesson Plans Can Take the Stress out of an Emergency

What Should Be in the Lesson Plan Folder — Just in Case

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Teachers are required to have a set of emergency lesson plans so that in the event of an emergency there is no interruption in the delivery of instruction. There can be any number of reasons to need emergency plans: a death in the family, an accident, or a sudden illness. Since these types of emergencies can arise at any time, emergency lesson plans should be not be associated with lessons that are part of a sequence. Instead, emergency lesson plans should be related to topics covered in your classroom, but not part of core instruction.  

Regardless of the reason for your absence, your substitute plans should always include information critical to the operation of the classroom. This information should be duplicated in the emergency lesson folder. For each class period, there should be class lists (with parent phone numbers/e-mail), seating charts, times for a variety of schedules (full day, half-day, specials, etc) and a general comment on your procedures. The fire drill procedure and a copy of the student handbook should be included in the folder as well as any special school procedures. While still keeping a student's right to privacy in mind, you may also leave general notes to prepare the substitute for any special needs students. You may also provide the names and teaching assignments of those educators near the classroom in the event your substitute might need immediate assistance. Finally, if your school has a substitute log-in for computer use, you may leave that information or a contact for the substitute to request a log-in.

Criteria for Emergency Lesson Plans

The criteria that should be used in developing a good emergency lesson is similar to what you might leave for a scheduled absence. The plans include:

  1. Type of learning: emergency lesson plans should not include new learning, but rather work with concepts or principles that students already understand in your subject area. 
  2. Timelessness: Because emergencies can occur anytime during the school year, these plans should address concepts important to the discipline, but not tied to a specific unit. These plans should also be revisited during the school year and adjusted based on what topics students have covered.
  3. Length: In many school districts, the recommendation is that emergency lesson plans should support a substitute for a minimum of three days. 
  4. Accessibility: The materials in emergency lesson plans should be prepared so that students of all levels of ability will be able to complete the work. If the plans call for group work, you should leave recommendations on how to organize students. Substitute plans should be contain translated materials for English Language Learners if there is a need. 
  5. Resources: All materials for the emergency lesson plans should be prepared and, if possible,  left in the folder. All papers should be copied in advance, and a few extra copies added in the event the classroom numbers have changed. There should be directions as to where other materials (books, media, supplies, etc) can be located. 

While you want to make sure that your students are engaged in meaningful activities, you also should anticipate the amount of work you will receive when you return. Your first reaction may be to stuff the folder with many different worksheets to keep students "occupied". Returning to school to face a folder filled with "busy work" does not benefit you or your students.  A better way to help the substitute is to provide materials and activities that engage students and can extend over a period of time.  

Suggested Emergency Lesson Plans Ideas

Here are some ideas that you can use as you create your own emergency lesson plans:

  • There are always extended questions from chapters in your textbook that you may never get to during the school year.  The extended response questions (sometimes titled "further study...") sometimes take more time than a class period or they may be more challenging and involve applying skills students already have in solving authentic or real-world problems. There may be scenarios for students to try. A model of what is expected should be provided to the substitute.
  • There may be articles that are related to your discipline with questions that students can answer. If there are no questions with the reading, you can use these four close reading questions that meet the Common Core Literacy Standards. You should leave an example to model for students so that they should know to provide evidence from the text for each question.
    • What is the author telling me? 
    • Any hard or important words? What do they mean? 
    • What does the author want me to understand?
    • How does the author play with language to add to meaning?
  • Depending on the media available in your school, you may want to use short videos (TED-ED Talks, Discovery Ed, etc. ) that are often followed by questions. If questions are not available, the same questions used for an article (see above) can be used in responding to media. Again, you may want to leave a model response for students to see.
  • If your students are capable to do writing enrichment activities independently, and depending on the student access to research tools, you could leave a visual (painting, photo, or graphic) that is related to your discipline and have the substitute use the Question Formulation Technique. The visual can be a current event photo, an infographic for math, or a painting of a landscape for a story's setting.
    This technique allows students to ask their own questions and build off their peers’ questions. In this activity, the substitute would ask students to formulate as many questions as they can about the visual. Have the students write down every question exactly as it is stated; then have the students determine which questions can be answered and which need more research. The substitute can lead the class in prioritizing the questions. Then, the students can choose one (or more), and do the research in order to respond.

Leaving the Plans

While emergency lesson plans will not cover material you are currently working on in your class, you should use this opportunity to extend their knowledge about your discipline.  It is always a good idea to mark the location of your emergency lesson plans in a place different than your regular substitute folder.  Many schools ask for the emergency lesson plans be left in the main office. Regardless, you might not want to include them in the folder so as to avoid confusion. 

When emergencies come up and remove you from the classroom unexpectedly, it is good to be prepared. Knowing that you have left plans that will engage your students will also minimize inappropriate student behavior, and returning to deal with discipline problems will make your return to the classroom more difficult.

These emergency lesson plans may take time to prepare, but knowing that your students have meaningful lessons while you are not available can take the stress out of the emergency and make your return to school more smooth.

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Your Citation
Kelly, Melissa. "Good Emergency Lesson Plans Can Take the Stress out of an Emergency." ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, Kelly, Melissa. (2020, August 27). Good Emergency Lesson Plans Can Take the Stress out of an Emergency. Retrieved from Kelly, Melissa. "Good Emergency Lesson Plans Can Take the Stress out of an Emergency." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 6, 2023).