Relief for Relief Teachers

If any teacher has ever relieved another teacher’s class, then they will have realised it is very different from having their own group of students and being well-prepared can make the day much less stressful.   As a relief teacher, there is very little time for planning and a phone call at 8 am in the morning can mean being in class at 8.45 am in an unfamiliar school with a group of students you have never met before.    The more notice you have the better.  If you can, arrive early to familiarise yourself with the school environment (ask for a map), the behaviour policy, and to photocopy your resources.  More great tips for making your day go smoothly are here.

I spent the latter part of the final term of 2008 as a relief teacher and have compiled tips and notes gained from my own insights and also those of other relief teachers.

Starting the day:

  1. have a subpack prepared at home to take with you ( provides a useful list)
  2. arrive on time
  3. dress professionally
  4. follow the lesson plan left by the classroom teacher
  5. have a backup plan ready

In the classroom

  1. Before students enter, write your name on the board.
  2. Identify if there are any class rules posted.
  3. Read through the class teacher’s lesson plan (and have backup work available).
  4. Be prepared to make a seating chart or prepare index cards (see No. 7).
  5. When the bell rings, greet the students at the door and welcome them in.
  6. Before calling the roll,  establish your rules for the class, for example, identify how you will call the class to attention (hold up your hand, ring a bell, clap), courtesy, behaviour etc.  Establish what will happen if the rules are broken (eg, name on board, three marks against names – report to office – or whatever is the school discipline policy).  Or devise a postive behaviour strategy which will work (see suggestion below: classroom management).
  7. Before calling the roll get students started on an appropriate task right away.  This is important to get them settled and focused for your lesson.    If you have time: in your resource pack have some index cards and blutac, write the students names on the cards and hand them round whilst they are completing their assignment task.  Get them to blutac them to the front of their desk. The remaining cards will be the absent students – now you can mark the roll, without interrupting the students working.   If you don’t have time to do this, hand cards round for students to write their own names.
  8. Leave a report for the classroom teacher at the end of the day. For more tips read The Effective Substitute Teacher.

Build up a collection of Emergency Resources

Depending on the age group that you are making yourself available to teach this may specific grades or even K-12.  Don’t totally rely on the class teacher to have work prepared for the class.  Even if work has been set for the class, students will use all sorts of excuses why they can’t do the work including they don’t have their textbooks or haven’t covered the work. (a dedicated relief teacher site) has a wonderful collection of lesson plans available. Once you know the age group you are teaching, check out the emergency lesson plans for the appropriate age group.   Having a folder with resources for each grade  means you can quickly make photocopies before you enter the classroom.  Here are some excellent sites to start building your resource pack:   A to Z Teacher Stuff,   CEC Lesson Plans. Math worksheets on addition and subtraction for grades 1-6 can be printed out courtesy of Bargo Public School, NSW, Australia. Click on worksheets on the left of the page.

Games in the classroom

Have a collection of fun educational activities.

I found Education World: Substitute Survival: Mini Lessons for Unexpected Moments a valuable resource for ten great ideas for numeracy and literacy games for example:

Five-0 game (literacy for grades 3-12)

Break the class into teams of around four or five students so you end up with an even number of groups. Pair off the teams. Each team thinks of a five-letter word. Its partner team has to guess the word by writing a five-letter word. The opposition says how many letters are correct in the word, but not which ones. The teams alternate guessing their opponents’ words, and the first team to guess correctly wins. Example: Team 1’s word is clash; Team 2 guesses beach. Three letters are the same. Next, Team 1 guesses Team 2’s word. Then Team 2 guesses bingo — no correct letters. The groups continue alternating until one team figures out the other team’s word.

The full lesson plan is available here.

Numeracy brain teaser/puzzle (grades 3-12)

Motivation: Pose this question to students: “Suppose someone offered to pay you one penny on the first day of the month, then double your wages each day for 29 more days OR $1million to work on a special project. Which would you choose?” Solicit responses from students.

To make it more fun, have students work in groups and see which group can find the answer first.

The full lesson plan is available here.

Bing Game (Literacy K-12)

Another great find at Education World. This game is not quite bingo, just bing! Ask students to fold a sheet of paper into 16 squares (four columns of four boxes — unlike bingo, which has five by five). Have students write the numerals 1 to 16 randomly in the squares, one number to a square. Tell them to leave enough room in each box to write a word. You should also make a sheet, cut it up into numbered squares, and put them into a box or another kind of container. Draw a number from the container, and call it out along with a spelling word. Tell students to find that number on the grid and write the spelling word in that numbered square. Instruct students to shout “Bing!” when they have four words in a row horizontally, vertically, or diagonally. The winner isn’t the winner, however, until you check the spelling! Details for this Bing! activity can be found with other activities at Phil’s Place: Substitute Teachers Lesson Plan Page.

This game can be adjusted to suit the age group. Letters rather than spelling could be used for kindergarten kids progressing to more difficult spelling through the ages.

See also Ten Games for Lesson Fun and Games that Teach.

More tips and help at: Sub Station: Tips and Resources for Substitute Teachers. One activity I particularly liked for use in a relief teacher’s class was the Rock or Feather? critical thinking activity. A great way for the teacher to get to know the students and for them to recognise their personal traits.  On the worksheet students have to identify  whther they are more like a rock or a feather, summer or winter, the city or the country.  Combine movement by getting students to move to one side of the room or the other depending on their choice and then select students to explain their choice.

Additional Activities for Secondary Students

Students may have work they can can complete, otherwise if you are taking a class outside your subject area a writing task is always an area that students can improve on. Ideas include writing a letter to a newspaper on topics such as for or against homework, school uniforms,  a letter to their school newsletter on suggestions for improvements or changes.

All the above activities are assuming there is no access to computers.   After relief teaching in schools where I could not even get on a computer (no log in facility for guest teachers) I realised I needed to be fully prepared for this situation.  If you are fortunate enough to secure a computer room (it’s worth asking!) or have access to computers in the classroom here are more activities.

Computer Resources for Primary Students


Cool Math for Kids : GRADE 4+ Math games, addition, subtraction, number monster, long division, brain benders, times table, jigsaw puzzles, decimals, fractions, tessellations, monster mind reader (think of a number add it together eg 63 = 6+3, then subtract the answer from your original number and the monster will give you the answer eg 63 – 9 = 54 (look for the answer in the symbols on the left).

Games for the brain : Age range: upper primary/secondary.  Chinese checkers, chess, puzzles, memorise an image (then answer questions), image quiz, word games, guess the colours, guess the flags. Age range: upper primary/secondary.

BBC schools games: educational games for age ranges 4-11 yrs & 7-11 yrs & 11-16: literacy, numeracy, history, geography, science, art, history, quizzes; different levels can be selected for the age groups.

Kids Numbers: Lower and Upper Primary: addition and subtraction games.  It is possible to  identify the numbers within capability eg, addition or subtraction up to 10 or 100+

Kids Know It:Grade 4+:  Huge animal database, with hundreds of animals you have never seen before. Take a virtual trip to the zoo with the KidsKnowIt Network. Biology, Geography, spelling, educational music, Geology, History and memory activities.

Webquests:  Find a webquest, K-12.

National Geographic kids: excellent resources for Prep to upper primary: videos, stories, games, photos, activities, science, cartoons, people and places.

Writing ideas for upper primary:

  • The day I was born (research what happened that day and produce it as an information report).
  • Writing fun has examples of different text types eg, information report, procedure, recount, explanation, response, narrative, discussion, persuasive.The organizers can be downloaded as templates so students can use them for the type of writing they need to produce.

Computer Resources for Secondary Students


Games for the brain : Age range: upper primary/secondary.  Chinese checkers, chess, puzzles, memorise an image (then answer questions), image quiz, word games, guess the colours, guess the flags. Age range: upper primary/secondary.

BBC schools games: educational games for age ranges 4-11 yrs & 7-11 yrs & 11-16: literacy, numeracy, history, geography, science, art, history, quizzes; different levels can be selected for the age groups.

English resources

Take a career test for students to find out what career they are suited to.

Webquest for students to find out what career they are suited to.

Great ICT cover lessons available from ICT Teach: Cover lessons for DTP, SS, DB, WP, ICT.  Some are printable worksheets for class use without computer access.

Bob Brandis’ site on Relief  Teaching – fabulous resources including tips and ideas for relief teachers.

Managing behaviour (for the relief teacher)

1. Behaviour management is so much easier if you can call on students individually.  Asking their name when they are in trouble is likely to produce a false name!  Take in some index cards and blutac, get the students to write their name on the cards and blutac them to the front of their desk.  Another suggestion is draw  up a seating plan and enter the child’s name in it as you call the register. Use your seating plan to call on individuals.

2.  Let the class know at the beginning the standard of behaviour that is acceptable, at the same time let them know you are looking forward to doing some great work and having fun.  A great tip I came across is to take in a jar of lollies (check with the school that this is ok in case of allergies etc).  Tell the kids that good behaviour will be rewarded with being able to have a go at guessing how many lollies are in the jar (they will come up, write their name on the board and their ‘guess’). At the end of the day the lollies will be counted and whoever guessed the closest gets the lollies (to share with the class).  Some teachers may feel that it should not be necessary to bribe the class with external rewards and I agree, this is not something I would do with a regular class. However, I would keep it as an emergency strategy in time of need!

Although this post was written in part as a reflection of my relief experiences and provides useful resources for relief teachers, I hope non-relief teachers also find it helpful.

As a final note:

Librarian Chick: this wiki is an incredible resource bank of sites related to education and teaching.

Image by vsqz

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

44 thoughts on “Relief for Relief Teachers

  1. Thanks Paul. I think there is a misconception that a relief teacher’s lot is an easy one, when in fact, it can be far more stressful than having a regular class! Being prepared is the key, as prepared as one can be at short notice and a call to teach anywhere on the K-12 spectrum. One of the most important things I have learnt is to establish the rules I expect students to adhere to rather than expecting that they will uphold their usual classroom rules.

  2. This is an incredibly helpful post. In 1990-91, I was a “teacher-on-call” for the entire school year. This work was the sole source of income for our family of four, so I answered all calls–K-12 in 2 school districts. I wish I’d had the advice, as well as the resources, that you’ve shared here!!! –Paul

  3. I agree that being prepared is a key to having a successful day in the classroom. Behaviour management is also the number one concern for substitute teachers in the United States as well. I am of the same opinion that setting expectations at the start of class is vital. I also think ignoring most student behaviour and reinforcing those students who are on task is a key to success as well. has a lot of great suggestions for relief, substitute, and supply teachers alike.

  4. Pingback: Blogging Corner Carnival #1 | edna's Blogging Carnival

  5. Pingback: Children's Activities - Printable Craft & Activity Templates. |

  6. Thanks for the great tips and wonderful resources. I have recently returned to supply teaching and am finding it all very daunting, but what you’ve provided here is indeed helpful! I especially like the lesson ideas that do not require me to have copies of worksheets for the class. There have been times when the staff have not been able to make copies for me even though I am at the school half an hour before the start time. Thanks again for sharing your ideas.

  7. Hi guys I’m returning to relief teaching also.
    I just wanted to share an awesome game for getting to know everyone’s names in a matter of minutes

    In the past I used to somehow just learn them all by morning tea. But this is much quicker, and easier, and FUN!!!

    Everyone sits on the floor in a circle. The game is modelled off “I went shopping and I bought….” (if anyone remembers that game)

    The 1st person starts with “My name is……”, and then they share something about themselves. The 2nd person repeats what the first person said, and then adds their own name and fact about themself.

    The 3rd person repeats what the 1st and 2nd person said, then adds their own name and fact about themself.

    etc etc

    I position myself to be the 6th person, and then I move so I am the 12th, then I move so I am the 18th person (this way I am constantly repeating their names)

    This games works best for grades 4-6, but for the lower grades you can get the rest of the class to help jog their memory

    I find that once you know the students names, you can address off-task behaviour with stating their name first, which helps a lot with classroom management!!!!!!

  8. Math-Aids.Com is a free resource for teachers and parents. You can make an unlimited number of printable math worksheets for children, the classroom or homework practice. The answer key is included with each math worksheet as it is created. The worksheets are randomly generated so when you request one it will be different every time. Each math topic has several different types of math problems so you may choose which area to focus on in that subject.

    I have built a special section just for Kindergarten Math Topics. There are 24 topics currently in this section. I will be glad to add any topic that you may need.
    Here is the link:

    Kindergarten Worksheets

    Please consider adding a link on your site for you and your readers.

    Thank you very much.

  9. Pingback: Teaching Today « education webs

  10. Wow, you have included some great easy ideas which I hope to use in the near future. Being prepared with these things (not just worksheets) means I am keen to start the classroom day. Thank you.

  11. I’m a graduate teacher working as a CRT – part-time permanent positions are hard to come by! I’m secondary trained, but I’m doing a primary CRT day tomorrow. I’ve been a little anxious about it since the call yesterday, but I have found so much on this site that I feel really well prepared for a fun day with a bit of learning thrown in. Thank you for making all of this available!!

  12. I do love the way you have framed this matter plus it does supply us a lot of fodder for consideration. However, because of what I have personally seen, I really hope as other responses stack on that people today stay on issue and don’t start upon a tirade of the news du jour. Still, thank you for this exceptional point and although I do not go along with it in totality, I value your point of view.

  13. Thank you so much for all this! I am a new graduate teacher and have very recently applied for relief work at a number of schools. Though very excited, i am definitely very nervous. I think this will definitely help me prepare as best as i can 🙂

  14. Hi,

    Congratulations on a great site. I have started a site specifically for relief teachers – which has received over 13,000 visitors in the first two months – indicating the demand for classroom resources and ideas. Would you mind if I listed your site as a reference source as well. There are some great ideas here.

    Bob Brandis

    • Hi Bob,

      Thank you so much for our comments and I apologize for the delay in replying – yes I am more than happy for you to link my site. What a great resource you have and thank you for sharing your wisdom, experience and ideas.

  15. Pingback: Relief teaching and improvising lesson plans

  16. Hello!
    Thank you for a fantastic site! JUST what I need. I haven’t been in a classroom for 18months (since my last placement for uni!)due to having a young family, and am incredibly nervous about heading into my first CRT tomorrow! This is so wonderful, and has really put my mind at rest! thank you thank you thank you!

  17. Hi!

    Sorry if this is a second post, my first disappeared, but I don’t know if it’s held for moderated?

    I’ve noticed a percentage of my traffic comes from here, so I came to take a look! Thanks for the link, it’s a great post. I’ve just overhauled my website, but the link you have here is still valid. I’ll be adding more content constantly from now on, so will get your URL into a post somewhere!

    Nice to ‘meet’ you!

    Thanks, Nutty x

      • Thank you!

        I’ve got a new site now! is an e-zine for supply teachers… New issue bi-monthly, but bits added inbetween because I can’t resist!!

        Try our inaugral competition… And look out for teaching recruitment agencies where you are, celebrating National Supply Teacher Week, 17th – 21st June 2013!

        Nutty x

  18. Thank you very much! I’ve bought the emergency lesson plans have my bag packed and am ready to go! This was such huge help!

    • My emergency lesson plans? Aww, thank you Carmel! I hope you’re getting along ok with your work!! Nutty x

  19. Pingback: Starting Out as an Emergency Relief Teacher | A Teacher's Toolbox

  20. Pingback: Group Games & Activities - Teacher Resource |

  21. Pingback: Relief Teaching Tips and Tricks | "Live your Life with Love"

  22. Pingback: Relief teaching | Teach ICT

  23. I first started teaching way back in 1977.After 10 years of permanent service, I left to have my family and returned to relief teaching in 1986 and continued til 2009. I have been away from teaching since then, caring 24/7 for my invalided mother. I am scared to death of returning to the classroom because so much has changed but having these sorts of resources will be a huge help thank you from one of the dinosaurs

  24. I’m sorry, but the most important element is missing. Find out from the usual teacher or someone at the school if there are any children with learning disabilities or special needs. Many children with difficulties may become quite terrified at the thought of a stranger taking their class. Perhaps they have a special signal to go to the toilet because they are embarrassed to put up their hand and ask. They may be selectively mute and asking them a question could set them back years or they may have gender dysphoria and be sensitive to pronouns. Learning is more than teaching!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *