10 Substitute Teacher Essentials: What To Bring In Your Sub Bag

A substitute to-go bag is essential for all substitute teachers who navigate a wide variety of schools and grade levels.

You can store supplies to use for classroom management and to keep your life as a teacher more organized.

Whether you need to keep track of the attendance sheet or whip up activities when the lesson plan is missing, here’s what to bring in your substitute teacher bag to be prepared for a great day.

1) Substitute teacher bag essential: Coloring sheets

coloring sheets for students

There will be times when the teacher’s lesson plans don’t take up the entire class period. This is when your bag of tricks should contain backup lesson plans or activities.

Coloring sheets are an easy and popular way for students to fill up extra time. As with any activity, consider the difficulty of the coloring sheets you take with you.

Younger students will need simple coloring designs while older students can color more intricate artwork.

This quiet activity is especially handy if there are a few students who finish the planned activity very quickly or if your class needs brain breaks.

Keeping kids occupied is one of the best methods of classroom management for teachers.

2) Substitute teacher bag essential: Puzzle worksheets

puzzle assignment

Just like the coloring sheets, crossword puzzles are simple and easy to use for any subject.

Substitute teachers often use puzzle worksheets for students who are quick finishers in class too.

If you end up needing a class-wide activity, you can make finishing the puzzles a competition. Separate the class into small groups and provide different puzzle versions to each group. Have prizes ready for the first group of students that complete their puzzles.

Use Google to find many ready-to-use crossword puzzles online. Some teachers list them for free on Teachers Pay Teachers.

If you want to make your own puzzles, try out this puzzle maker site. You can create several versions of all sorts of puzzles like math squares and word searches.

You can also download Scoot’s free, printable crossword puzzles!

{Download crossword puzzles} PDF file

3) Substitute teacher bag essential: Speaking buddies

teaching ideas for teachers

Speaking aids are great tools to have in your bag of tricks when you substitute teach in History, English, or Foreign Language classes.

Younger students especially will focus better on 1 speaker when there’s a clear visual identifier.

Just about any small, but fun item is a perfect speaking buddy to easily carry in your sub bag. Use aids like juggling balls, stuffed animals, flags, and more. 

Pass the speaking buddy to the student who is speaking and act as the moderator asking discussion questions about the subject they’re currently working on.

4) Substitute teacher bag essential: Stickers

substitute teacher tip

Stickers are always a great addition to your substitute to-go bag.

Use fun stickers as positive reinforcement for students to finish their work and be on their best behavior throughout the day.

When others see you rewarding students for good behavior, they’ll typically follow along because they want goodies too.

Even if you don’t have stickers or other little treasures to share, always make sure to verbally give positive reinforcement to encourage good behavior as you’re teaching. This can be as simple as “I see you working hard. You’re doing a great job!” or “It’s very nice of you to help out your classmate.”

Stickers are always a great addition to your substitute to-go bag.

Use fun stickers as positive reinforcement for students to finish their work and be on their best behavior throughout the day.

When others see you rewarding students for good behavior, they’ll typically follow along because they want goodies too.

Even if you don’t have stickers or other little treasures to share, always make sure to verbally give positive reinforcement to encourage good behavior as you’re teaching. This can be as simple as “I see you working hard. You’re doing a great job!” or “It’s very nice of you to help out your classmate.”

5) Substitute teacher bag essential: Picture books and articles

storybooks for students

A little storytime is an amazing addition to the day of learning for lower and upper elementary kids.

You can plan to read a book or suggest it as a prize to win for the class. An easy behavior management strategy is to reward students with a story after they accumulate 10 incidents of good behavior.

You can also start storytime if the class is getting a little too rowdy. When the class as a whole becomes too energetic and you’re having trouble reigning them in, reading a good picture book provides effective downtime. Having brain breaks like these helps re-sharpen your students’ focus.

To turn storytime into a learning opportunity, have a few lesson ideas attached to some of your picture books.

For older students starting from middle school, bring a collection of articles. Have students read the article and write a summary. Some great resources for students include National Geographic Kids and Tween Tribune.

Visit your local library and ask the librarian for suggestions on what books and articles to bring for the age group you typically substitute teach for.

6) Substitute teacher bag essential: Filing folder

substitute teacher assignment

Now onto supplies that will help you regardless of what grade level you teach.

First up is the filing folder.

As a guest teacher, you want the day to go as smoothly as possible. The filing folder is helpful because you can organize all the activities we went over earlier.

Store your flat items like stickers or coloring sheets, so they aren’t floating around in your sub bag and in danger of getting bent.

Having the folder also helps ensure that you don’t lose any important document throughout the day.

7) Substitute teacher bag essential: Stationery

pack supplies sub bag

You’ll never know what materials students will be missing and classrooms aren’t always packed with what you need.

Usually, there would be a stash of pencils and erasers somewhere in the room to pass out but not always. Finding that stash may also prove to be a challenge when you need a spare right away.

Be prepared by packing some (or all) of the following items in your bag of tricks:

  • Pack of pencils
  • Pack of erasers
  • Flash cards
  • Paper clips
  • Mini stapler
  • Loose leaf paper
  • Dry erase markers

Keep an eye out for school sales that sell pencils and erasers at very low prices. If you end up purchasing patterned pencils and funny-shaped cap erasers, you can give them out as prizes too.

8) Substitute teacher bag essential: Hand sanitizer and sanitizing wipes

hand sanitizer

Substitute teaching can be messy work! No matter how old the students are, spills often happen.

For large accidents, definitely call the school custodian, but for small ones, roll up your sleeves and clean them up. Use your sub bag supplies when the classroom doesn’t have sanitizing items.

With COVID still around, you can encourage students to use hand sanitizer when they return to the classroom after a recess break.

9) Substitute teacher bag essential: “While you were out” note for the regular teacher

note for regular teacher

Want to make a great impression on the teacher you’re subbing for? Leave a note that recaps the day.

Write down which students were helpful and which were being rowdy. You should also comment on how much material the class covered.

This is a great opportunity for you to leave your name and contact information.

Feel free to write all of this information down on a simple piece of paper or on sticky notes, but if you want an actual template, check out this freebie from “Write Your Story” to add to your sub bag.

After you’re done writing, leave it on the teacher’s desk so they can easily find it the next day.

If you’re teaching with Scoot Education, no worries about sharing your personal information, the school staff can simply get in touch with us!

10) Substitute teacher bag essential: Personal items

personal teacher items

Make sure that you’re comfortable and ready to have a good day by preparing items just for you!

Your schedule as a substitute teacher won’t always be straightforward and predictable. Even your lunch break might be at odd hours.

So pack a water bottle and some of your favorite snacks in your sub bag. It isn’t a bad idea to keep chapstick or vitamin C packets either.

You can even pack a book in case you have long breaks.

Being a substitute teacher is rewarding but can definitely be challenging even in the best circumstances. A good sub bag allows you to quickly improvise in any situation and be the best substitute that you can be. 

But remember to follow the lesson plans first. It’s only after the lesson plan or if it’s missing that you start reaching for the activities from your bag of tricks.

Relax, be confident, and have a wonderful time substitute teaching!

When you become a Scoot substitute teacher, not only do you get access to great schools across California, Arizona, and Texas, but you’ll also get free substitute teacher training.

You’ll learn actionable tools for classroom management, trauma-informed teaching, and special education support.

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