How To Create Lesson Plans for Non-Music Substitutes

Lesson Plans for Non-Music Substitutes

By NAfME Member Jennifer Hibbard


Creating sub plans is the sort of task that should be defined in an encyclopedia as “unavoidable misery”. Picture it. You’re trying to survive a bout of stomach flu, and after a few gallons of Gatorade (with a side of crackers), you finally admit that you won’t make it to school. You’ll have to take a sick day.

That’s when the bargaining process begins. You think “Maybe I’ll be all right. Maybe I can make it through the day without vomiting on myself or my students. I can do it!” But eventually, as you’re hobbling out of the bathroom door for the hundredth time, you realize that there’s no use fighting it. You’ll have to write sub plans.

Some districts are fortunate to have musically trained substitutes, however, many are not, which leaves music teachers a seemingly impossible task. They have to create lesson plans for non-music substitutes. Here are a few tips for this all too common scenario.


Prepare a Sub Tub

sub 1


Sub tubs have been paraded around the Pinterest sphere for many years now, and for good reason. Sub tubs are extremely convenient on the days you aren’t able to get into the school to prepare materials for a sick day. They hold all the resources a substitute may need throughout the year, which creates less stress for you on those unplanned sick days.


Sub tubs should include: 

  • Class lists
  • Seating charts (pictures included, if possible)
  • Classroom expectations
  • Classroom procedures
  • Plans for emergencies (including code words if applicable)
  • Student leaders/helpers
  • Phone numbers for emergencies
  • Names of other teachers or staff who can help if needed
  • Variety of lesson plans for each class or grade level
  • Manipulatives, CDs, visuals, and any other necessary materials


Make Use of Centers

classroom centers


Centers are natural choices for substitutes because the activities can be student-led, and the timed rotations keep students active throughout entire class period. You may think centers are more appropriate for the elementary classroom, but they could be used at any grade level, provided that the activities are age-appropriate and highly engaging.

For example, instead of simply leaving sectional work behind for your high school performing group, create centers that develop their technical skill in current concert pieces and provide opportunities for sight-reading. Designate section leaders to help with the setup and teardown of each center. Be sure to include a paper form with instructions for the centers and discussion questions for students to answer as they move through their centers.

Then, place snippets of music for sight-reading or practicing at each center, labeling each with the appropriate voice or instrument. Your substitute can be in charge of announcing the beginning of each rotation and collecting the completed forms at the end of class. The completed forms will show what the students gained from the experience and provide insights on future improvements.

 When choosing centers for the elementary classroom, it’s important to utilize leveled games so that the same materials can be used with each grade. This way the substitute has fewer materials to handle and will be able to spend more time on classroom management. Plus, it will cut down on the amount of materials you’ll need to store in your sub tub.


Recognize Substitute Likes and Dislikes



A happy substitute makes for a better learning environment. I was a substitute teacher for general education classes before landing a full-time teaching position, and I quickly learned what I did and did not like upon entering a new classroom as a substitute. A recent music education Tweetchat confirmed that I was not alone in my feelings. Here is a list of our collective likes and dislikes as substitute teachers.


  • Lessons that don’t assume the sub has the same tech training as the teacher
  • Names of student leaders in each class who will assist throughout the day
  • Names or room numbers of fellow teachers who are willing to help if needed
  • Instructions on how to follow through with standard classroom procedures and management
  • Concise and user-friendly lesson plans


  • Lesson plans requiring use of outdated or faulty technology
  • Lesson plans that require an hour’s worth of study to carry out
  • No explanation for where to find materials
  • Messy or unorganized room/desk/materials
  • No direction for how to handle classroom management

 On a more personal note, I always found it difficult to accept the lack of control I had when creating substitute lesson plans. Sometimes, I felt as though my lesson plans were ignored or that the students had missed a key component of the lesson. While it did allow room for personal growth, it was no less frustrating. If you’ve felt the same, take comfort in the fact that music teachers aren’t easily replaced. We are one of a kind!


About the author:

Jennifer Hibbard


NAfME member Jennifer Hibbard is teacher-author and blogger at The Yellow Brick Road, where she designs and produces music education resources with an emphasis on music literacy. Mrs. Hibbard holds a Bachelor of music education degree, K-12 general, vocal, and instrumental music and a Master of education degree in curriculum and instruction. She has seven years of teaching experience with K-4th grade general and vocal music, 7-12th grade instrumental music, and private lessons. Her membership with professional organizations includes the National Association for Music Education, the National Education Association, and the Indiana Music Educators Association.

You can read more from Jennifer on her music education blog at You can also connect with her via her social media pages on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.


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