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Substitute Insight Series: Elementary Education

During the elementary school years (ages 6 – 11) children’s’ brains develop and they move from being concrete thinkers to individuals who are capable of more complex thoughts. Logic comes into play, and they are able to question things and consider more subjective ideas, like cause and effect.

Every interaction a child has is an educational moment, an opportunity to help them develop the ability to process more complex tasks and grow their skills

Therefore education professionals, including paraprofessionals and substitute teachers, play a huge role in the educational formation of a child’s cognitive functions.

From following a teacher’s lesson plan to creating your own when there isn’t one available, the lessons, material and enthusiasm level in an elementary school classroom should revolve around helping the students flourish intellectually.

Here at Insight, we value our education professionals and want to make sure our substitute teachers feel prepared when they step into an elementary classroom.

Read on for the second post of our Substitute Insight Series to learn more about substituting in grade school.

Lesson 2: Elementary Tips & Tricks

Walking into a classroom whether it be your first time substituting or your fifth time substituting, can be a scary feeling.

Unless you have met the students beforehand, you are about to have little adults strolling into a familiar territory that you are still grasping the essence of; you do not know their name and vice-versa.

It will be important to memorize names and know how to manage rogue behavior.

Substitutes should be prepared to meet the needs of the classroom to provide an intellectual, enthusiastic school day for all elementary levels.

Hey, you over there

While it is easy for the students to learn your name (and you can write it on the board to help them remember) it is key to learn the names of the students whose minds you are about to enrich with knowledge.

Do not worry if you do not have a perfect memory, there are plenty of ways to memorize names.

Before the bell rings, you can draw a seating chart using a piece of paper and pen and either go around the room and copy their names from their nametags or as you take attendance, copy their names as they say “here.”

But if you do not have time to create a seating chart, no worries!

Check the room to see if the teacher left you a seating chart with their lesson plans, or see if there is a box/cup of objects to choose students at random (you can also you attendance sheet).

If all else fails before the bell rings, individually greet each student at the door! This will create a bond with you and your students and can set the boundaries for the day.

Enthusiasm influences learning

Substitutes are just cool teachers.

Remember you are in the classroom to provide these children with a positive, knowledgeable education. You don’t want the kids to wander off, so it is important to keep their attention on the material.

Get the students to be interactive with the lesson plan, by having them come up to the board or working in groups on a certain assignment.

If the teacher suggests individual work on an assignment, you can always play music on low; just make sure the music is rated G and curse-free.

Moving around the room always helps to influence new focusing patterns. Children do not have long attention spans so taking advantage of space allows them to work openly and focus on their assignment.

Remember to have a positive attitude and try your best to not have a monotone voice.

Enthusiasm goes a long way! Have fun and you will mold their minds.

Students gone rogue?

Substitutes are set to deal with any misfortunates during the school day, elementary school students may drift off from time-to-time, need help grabbing the students attention between subject changes or getting them ready to switch from lunchtime to class time.

When one child loses focus and starts to wander off, it is like a virus that quickly spreads from one child to the next.

To keep the attention on the main focus there is a two-way street you can take: either take this opportunity to take control of all students or discipline the first student who was first infected.

If you say take the opportunity to take control of all students, walk over to the wall switch and start blinking the lights and counting down from five, till the room is quiet.

You can also engage them all by clapping your hands leading to a mini-break time which you ask the students to stand up and do five jumping jacks, helping to release the energy they have built up to this point in the day.

If you are choosing to take the second route and discipline the first student gone rogue; you can see if there is a discipline chart hanging out the room (most common a stoplight) you can move their name to give them a warning.

If the first warning does not change this behavior, continue to give warnings and either have a teacher aid help you out or calmly take control of the situation; make sure to add the action to the teacher’s note at the end of the day.

In either case, it is important to remember to not raise your voice and keep a positive classroom presence in both situations (see our Developing Classroom Presence post).

Entertainment is always a good idea

Insight education professionals are equipped with the capability to think quick on their feet. Whether the teacher’s lesson plan is vague or nonexistent, there are a few extra minutes at the end of the day, or there is an occurrence of an indoor lunch/recess; filling this time with educational entertainment is a great way to continue brain growth.

While you can also fill this time with free-time for the students, here are suggested education-approved movies, books, and activities our education professionals have used in the past (with great success!) during free time:


Crash Course Kids

Crash Course Kids is an educational youtube channel providing children animated videos explaining science topics from the sun to weather. Also is what is great about this tool is their parent site, Crash Course, is a tool they can continue to use as the students graduate to middle school and high school.

Inside Out (2015)

This Disney/Pixar animated movie is an important movie for elementary students to watch because it explains the psychology behind children’s emotions. It combines comedy, tears, the importance of family and friends, and promotes Mental Health Awareness. Inside Out is also a Pixar movie which means it is family-friendly and the kids (and you!) are not going to want to peel their eyes away.


Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is a classic book about a poor boy who wants to win a visit to a chocolate factory. This book reels people in for the tales of chocolate while providing readers with the underlying messages that nothing is impossible and greed is a dangerous attribute. By the time you and your class finishes Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, it will leave you wanting to buy a piece of chocolate!

Frog and Toad Are Friends by Arnold Lobel

Frog and Toad Are Friends is a story of two friends and the adventures they entail on as the seasons change. This high-level read will leave kids captivated as each tale comes-and-goes. Frog and Toad will leave the kids with the lingering question of what type of friend(s) they would like to have, and also wanting to continue the series on their own.


Spelling Bee

If the teacher did not leave you a list of this week’s spelling words, ask a student for their list and quiz the students. You can bring an extra pencil or bookmarker to give to the student whose wins! A spelling bee allows an interaction between the kids and you, while letting them learn the important words of the week.

A ‘Boring’ Lesson in Geography

This activity allows your students to find the wackiest, funny city names around the country! All you need is a map/atlas/encyclopedia and then let the kids explore. This activity is not only fun, but is teaching students the importance of using a real-life map/atlas/encyclopedia instead of the internet.

Thanks for reading! Check back for the continuation of the Substitute Insight Series!