Expect Unexpected Engagement When you try Hexagonal Thinking in ELA


301: The Easiest Last Day in ELA
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Creative ELA Sub Plans (for THOSE days)

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So I had just dropped off my son to school and I was driving my daughter home to rest. She didn’t feel her best…again.

I felt like she had spent more days at home than at school this year, and her slight stuffiness didn’t seem very serious, so a furious battle was raging in my brain.

I wanted to take care of her. Be patient. Kind. Tuck her into bed with orange juice popsicles, chicken noodle soup, and Ramona on audiobook.

On the other hand, I had PLANS for the day. Plans I was seriously attached to. I needed to grocery shop, work out, do a lot of work, clean up the house, buy a birthday present for her friend’s party the next day, and generally prepare myself for two more days of solo parenting while my husband was out of town.

“Mom?” came her little (slightly stuffy) voice from the backseat. “Are you mad at me?”

Ugh. Look out people, the parent of the year committee is headed my way.

Sometimes things don’t go to plan. Maybe you’re waking up to a sick child every third day this year. Maybe you have an unexpected injury. Maybe you suddenly need to travel to take care of a parent or grandparent. Maybe – like me in December – you’re the rare adult who actually gets croup and can barely sit up to adjust the volume on Grey’s Anatomy.

That’s when it’s time for a good solid sub plan. Something you can count on to be creative and interesting, even if it’s not exactly what you had planned for that moment in the unit. Don’t worry, you’re not the only one whose plans sometimes go awry. We may not talk about it enough, but life sure as heck happens.

So today let’s take a look at some easy sub plans you can use anytime. I’m going to try to give you absolutely everything you need to plug any one of these into the next day that the life tornado hits your planner.

#1 Sub Plan: The Graphic Adaptation (for any Text)

This month we’ve been talking a lot about graphic novels – great titles for the classroom, graphic adaptations of classic stories, even a graphic novel book tasting. So I figured it was a good time to share a single lesson that helps kids learn more about the artistry and intention behind a graphic novelist’s choices. You can use this sub plan with any book, any time.

First, have your sub show this video. It’s a quick walkthrough of a page in the graphic adaptation of The Great Gatsby, with an invitation from the creator for students to try the skills of graphic adaptation for themselves.

Next, use these handouts (click here to make your copy) to guide students in creating their own graphic adaptation of a key moment in your recent reading. They’ll be guided to use two techniques in particular – a close-up and a significant color choice – to make their version more effective.

You can then direct your sub to let students do a gallery walk in the last few minutes, if time allows, and see each other’s graphic adaptations before turning in their work.

#2 Sub Plan: Hold a Silent Discussion on Google Slides

Had your heart set on a discussion for the day you’re going to have to miss? Though a sub is unlikely to be able to facilitate one effectively without all your context and knowledge of the class, almost any discussion can be rolled into a silent version.

I’ve created easy Google Slides templates where you can drop in your questions and students have spaces to add their responses. They can flip from slide to slide, reading questions and responses, and adding their two cents.

Take a look at this before and after example.

You can grab ten of these colorful templates here, with quick and easy instructions for duplicating the ones you like best and giving students access to edit them. I often hear from surprised teachers who discover just how much students will “say” in a silent discussion.

#3 Sub Plan: Ted Talk Time

Watching a good Ted Talk is never a waste of time. Pick one you think your students would love from this curated list of nine classroom winners or show the one below, which might just be my favorite Ted Talk of all time. Before playing the talk, have your sub write the post-talk writing prompt on the board and draw students’ attention to it.

Choose a prompt that fits with the skills you want students to be practicing.

You could have them practice argument using a prompt like: Did you think the speaker made an effective case? Why or why not? Use at least three examples to support your argumnet.

You could have them practice rhetorical analysis using a prompt like: Did you think the speaker was most effective using logos, ethos, or pathos to make their overall point? Why? Defend your choice with at least two specific examples.

You could have them practice their own speech writing using a prompt like: If you were going to give a Ted Talk, what would it be about? What do you most want to share with the world? Write the first few paragraphs.

Now it’s time for the talk! While students listen, they can jot down their key takeaways using these easy sketchnotes templates (click here for the free download on TPT which is already in use in over 60,000 classrooms).

Then they can write on the prompt for the rest of the class time.

#4 Sub Plan: Blackout Poetry

If you’re in or near a poetry unit when the need for a sub plan arises, blackout poetry is an easy win. Use these handouts to walk students through the process. And if you don’t have any old books or magazines available, I’ve grabbed pages from Jane Eyre, Anne of Green Gables, The Great Gatsby, and 1984 for you to print. (Make your copy here). 

If you want students to try creating digital blackout poetry, you can find a walkthrough for that in this fun post with even more ideas for digital poetry activities you could easily turn into sub plans.

OK, ready to rock it? Or at least feel slightly better about those awkward days when plans take a running dive off the dock? Good.

hey there!

I'm Betsy

I’ll help you find the creative ELA strategies that will light up your classroom. Get ready for joyful teaching!







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  • Love these ideas Betsy! Thank you for sharing the templates for a silent discussion. I can’t wait to try them out with my students.

    • I’m so glad it was helpful to you, Monique! And thank you for your kind words. 🙂


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