3 ELA Substitute Lessons That Leave No Grading

We all know the struggle of having to prepare a lesson plan for a substitute teacher, and typically when we need to make one on short notice, we end up leaving a lesson that results in a huge stack of papers for us to grade when we return. I always make it a rule to strategically provide a substitute lesson that leaves me with absolutely no grading, but one that is still relevant and capable of improving student skills while I am away. Here are my 3 favorite lessons that do just that!


Lesson 1: Millennials in the Workplace 


This lesson is designed to have your students engage in a discussion about what Simon Sinek believes are the four issues standing in the way of bringing millennials happiness and fulfillment in life and the workplace: parenting, technology, impatience, and environment.


How the lesson works: 

1.     Video Clip: Have your students watch the 15-minute video clip of an interview between Simon Sinek and Tom Bilyeu. 

2.     Small-group discussion: After students have watched the video, put them in small groups of 4-5 students and provide them with discussion cards featuring thought-provoking or controversial quotes from the video. Students will spend between 2-3 minutes discussing their thoughts on each quote. This usually leads to some friendly debate between students.

3.     Chart paper activity: Then, each group will be given a large piece of chart paper. They will choose one of the quotes that sparked the most discussion and dive a little bit deeper into that topic. Have students decide if they agree or disagree with it and provide support with their own personal experiences. If they agree with the statement, they may propose suggestions or advice for millennials to spark improvement or change in this particular area. If they disagree, they may attempt to expose the flaws or issues in the speaker's claims using evidence for support.

4.     Share with the class: If time remains, have each group share their thoughts with the rest of the class in a brief presentation. 

 Find the resources for this lesson here: Millennials in the Workplace 

Lesson 2: A Grammar Challenge 

Mini lessons with a fun, related activity are the perfect lessons to leave a substitute teacher with because they are completely self-contained and will require no extra work when you return. My favorite mini lessons are on grammar topics since they are specific and easy to check for understanding. Below is the general outline that I use when presenting a mini lesson with a related challenge.

How this lesson works: 

  1. Mini lesson: Begin by giving a mini lesson on a particular grammar topic. You might choose punctuation, sentence structure, parts of speech, or fragments, for example.

  1. Challenge: Once students understand the content that you have provided in your mini lesson, they are ready to be given a competitive challenge! I like to put students in small groups and have them use what they learned in the mini lesson to complete the challenge. 


Want to try a free grammar challenge to get a better idea of what an effective challenge for this lesson might look like? Click the link below:


>>> Grab a free grammar challenge

  1. Review: When students have completed the challenge, have them verify their work with you to determine who was able to solve it. Then, take the time to review it with your class so that everyone understands how the challenge was solved.


This challenge is part of my Full-Year Grammar Challenge Program! You can also browse all the individual challenges here.

Lesson 3: A Silent Discussion

The silent discussion method works really well as a substitute lesson because it leaves absolutely no work for you when you return, but also prompts everyone (even your most reluctant students) to share their ideas. It allows time for students to reflect on their own thoughts as well as learn about the perspective of others before sharing out loud.

How this lesson works: 

  1. Develop Questions: Develop a variety of questions related to a topic you are teaching. Write them or project them on the board. If you have 25 students, you’ll probably want at least 12 questions. I have a set of ethical dilemma prompts that work incredibly well with the silent discussion method that you can take a peek at here.

  2. Number Students: Number students off and have them write the question that corresponds to their assigned number at the top of a blank piece of paper, or you can hand out this free template here: Silent Discussion Template.

  3. Students Circulate: Students respond to the question they wrote with their own opinion. When they are done, they get up, circulate the room at their own pace, and find an available seat with a new discussion question. Students then read the new question along with the responses of their peers and add their own thoughts to the “discussion” in writing. This step continues for as long as you like.

  4. Whole-Class Discussion: You can conclude by having a whole-class open discussion on all the topics, or you can put students into small groups to discuss!

I hope these ideas take some work off your plate in preparing lessons that will not only keep your students engaged and improve their ELA skills but will also leave you with an empty desk when you return to work!


Looking for more "no-grading" lessons and resources to leave for an ELA substitute? No worries! The bloggers at The Secondary English Coffee Shop have you covered: 

Literary Terms Review Game Powerpoint by Tracee Orman

Round-Robin Creative Writing Activity by Nouvelle ELA 

FREE Substitute Teacher Feedback Form by The Classroom Sparrow 

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