We all get sick, have appointments that must be kept, an event that cannot be missed, or have SOMETHING that necessitates our absence. That’s why you need to know about this emergency sub activity! Besides, when you are sick, how much time do you really want to spend trying to develop a lesson that someone who doesn’t know your students will be able to follow?
Beyond the Obvious: the Importance of Emergency Sub Activities
Having a reservoir of emergency sub activities at the ready is a game-changer for teachers, substitutes, and adult ESL students alike. For teachers, unforeseen absences no longer equate to rushed lesson planning or disrupted curriculum. Instead, having a strong emergency sub activity ensures seamless transitions, which keeps learning momentum going.
Substitute teachers benefit from a great emergency sub activity as well, as they can effortlessly step into your shoes and keep class enjoyable and educational. Most importantly, of course, your adult ESL students remain immersed in a meaningful learning experience and don’t get fobbed off with busy work or irrelevant games.
So, yeah, having that fantastic emergency sub activity that you can pull out at a moment’s notice is totally the bees’ knees. And that’s super fantastic when it all works out.
But what if you haven’t had time yet to assemble one? What if the substitute teachers that are available don’t have adequate training or experience to pull off picking up where you left off? Then what?
Sure, if you already have that task card library built, and your students already know how to seek out the sets that will help them with their goals, use that.
But again, what if you don’t?
The Easiest Emergency Sub Activity You’ll Ever Plan!
My most popular emergency sub activity ever was Substitute Spotlight. I loved this activity because it doesn’t require extensive preparation, it’s easy on the substitute, and my students always enjoyed it. I mean, you don’t want to just give them busy work, right? It’s not about filling time; you want your students to have language practice and real-life interaction. You certainly don’t want your adult ESL students complaining that the class was a waste of their time and/or their money! Well, this activity has speaking, active listening, note-taking, and even writing, all in one package!
How to Do the Emergency Sub Activity: Substitute Spotlight
Simply put, your students ask the substitute teacher as many questions as possible and take notes for the first half of the class. It’s up to you (or maybe them!) if they take notes only on answers that emerge from their questions, all answers, or answers that they feel are the most interesting. This taps into their natural curiosity about the person who has temporarily taken your place and provides them with a real-life context to apply their language skills. Interviewing their substitute teacher can create a lively and enjoyable atmosphere and bridge that gap between what they’ve learned from their textbooks and authentic communication.
But the magic doesn’t end there. During the second half of the class, students use their notes (and perhaps even the notes of the people next to them) to create sentences, paragraphs, or even a short essay (depending on their English proficiency and level) about the substitute. They might work individually, with a partner, or in small groups.
This dual-phase approach encourages spoken English that then seamlessly transitions into honing writing skills!
Optional prep that is the cherry on top!
When I knew the sub ahead of time, I would often give students hints about topics they might want to ask their sub about so they could get the really interesting bits. When I didn’t, I usually left a note asking the sub to hint at the really interesting stuff to help prompt the students into asking about it. Sometimes, I’d leave a selection of Ice Breakers to help them think of something the students would be interested in learning about them.
One of our older substitute teachers, a dapper gentleman in his 70s, became very popular because of the stories he could tell about the many adventures he’d had throughout his life.
My students requested to have him whenever I had to be out because they wanted to hear more and ask more. He never needed any helpful prompts–telling stories was one of his favorite things to do, and he was delighted with the appreciative audience he always had.
And let me tell you, those sentences, paragraphs, and essays were some of the most interesting they ever wrote!
The Upsides: Benefits of this Emergency Sub Activity
With Substitute Spotlight, you blend conversation, curiosity, discovery, and writing for an emergency sub activity that requires almost zero prep on your part, is easy for any sub to implement, and will be a favorite of your adult ESL students! Its simple yet effective structure offers students a chance to practice their language skills and creates a lively and enjoyable classroom atmosphere.
Subs love it because it makes the class easy and fun for them. Instead of possibly getting stumped by a difficult-to-explain grammar question or having to define a complex vocabulary word in simple terms, they get to talk about themselves! They’ll enjoy your class and want to sub for you again instead of avoiding filling in for you.
Students love finding out all sorts of trivia and anecdotes about the person leading the class and having a natural way to practice their spoken English (as well as their writing).
Why this simple emergency sub activity one so popular?
Any activity which seamlessly integrates language learning and real-life interactions tends to resonate most with adult ESL students. The emergency sub activity, Substitute Spotlight, achieves this by inviting students to step into the role of curious investigators, armed with questions and ready to explore the life and experiences of the substitute teacher.
The emergency sub activity that caters to various proficiency levels will be the most successful, and that’s what Substitute Spotlight does!
Students not only practice spoken English but also engage in active listening as they absorb details shared by the substitute. They direct the level of answers the substitute gives by the questions they ask. Beginners will probably use their vocabulary to ask about favorite foods, family members, and so on. More advanced students will dig deeper. The process of taking notes during the interview encourages students to identify key information, facilitating the transition to the writing phase in the second half of the class.
The flexibility of this activity allows students to construct sentences, paragraphs, or even short essays, ensuring that adult ESL students of different levels can participate and benefit.
Pro Tip: Offer Strategic Guidance
Can you leave out the part where you drop hints based on what you know about the sub your students will have? Sure! However, strategically guiding them to discover the more intriguing aspects of the substitute’s life adds an element of anticipation and excitement. So, yeah, if you are aware of the substitute’s background beforehand, provide your adult ESL students with hints about potential discussion topics. This primes them for engaging interactions and helps weed out the more typical (boring) questions you ask a person you don’t know well.
So what about when you just don’t know WHO will be leading your class? Okay, if the substitute’s details are a mystery, that’s when a well-crafted note can prompt the substitute to share drop their own hints, however heavy-handed necessary, to get students to ask questions that will result in answers that make their eyes shine.
Pro Tip: Seamlessly Integrate with the Curriculum
Now, depending on the substitute’s life stories and your students’ ability to ask nuanced questions, they might just lose track of time and enjoy the interview. That was never a big deal to me because I could always work in some time for them to use their notes. For example, in grammar class: “Write ten simple past sentences about your substitute teacher.”
But if everyone manages to stick to the plan and they have time to write, well, the written outcomes of this activity can prove to be just as captivating as the process itself. The sentences, paragraphs, and essays that emerge will showcase your adult ESL students’ engagement, highlighting their ability to absorb information, synthesize it, and communicate effectively.
Pro Tip: Pre-Prep Your Students!
Don’t wait for that emergency. What if it happens DURING your class? (I once broke my arm during a lesson–yeah, that clumsy.) Tell your students about the emergency sub activity NOW so that if worst comes to worst, you can always say, “The students will explain what to do.” Of course, that’s not going to work if they are absolute beginners, but your upper-beginner to intermediate students? They can handle it. And if you are fortunate enough not to be driven to the ER because your foot didn’t see a power cord and instead have a well-planned absence, your students knowing what to do will make it that much easier on the substitute teacher.
Don’t make that spotlight too hot!
Nobody likes to be asked a pointed question that makes them squirm in front of a room full of people, all looking right at them. If you haven’t already, be sure to provide students with a list of topics that their questions should get near. And you might want to give the sub a heads-up to let the students know if there is a topic they prefer not to be questioned on.
Try the Emergency Sub Activity and Brace for Impact!
I hope you’ll try this activity, but be warned, your students might not miss you as much as you’d think they would!