Advertise on ChoralNet 
ChoralNet logo
The mission of the ACDA is to inspire excellence in choral music through education, performance, composition, and advocacy.

Substitute teacher ideas

What follows is a compilation of the replies I received which address
my request for ideas a substitute teacher might use in a music
classroom. I thank each of you who wrote to me. I truly appreciate
your wonderful suggestions.
Dorothy Overgaard

I have found that the most effective way for someone to
take over my choir class while I'm gone is to use the student director
and student accompanist to go over the pieces they've been working
on. Maybe you, with you musical background, could handle doing
more, but for the most part I get substitutes who have absolutely no
background in music. I simply ask them to help maintain discipline
and tell my students what I want cover.
Sheryl Snow

Here's the lesson I kept ready for when I was called to sub and there
was no prepared lesson -- for a general music class (not band) Jr. High
on up: I handed out booklets that I had printed of the words to
selected songs by the Beatles. And of course I brought a CD or a
tape. I had a very good Bose tape player in my car, in case the system
in the room was not so great. We'd sing the songs (solo & ensemble
possibilities) and discuss lyrics, instrumentation and form. This
always held their attention!
Ruth McKendree Treen
Chatham, Massachusetts

Here's a great resource:
"Music Mind Games" by Michiko Yurko. It's available at Amazon and other
such places.
Allen H Simon

I know movies should not be a mainstay for subs but I often have my sub
(never a music sub) to play one of the music history video. I (and the
students) enjoy Beethoven Lives Upstairs, Bach's Fight for Freedom,
Bizet's Dream....etc. They are all part of a great series that are
historically acurate dramas. I also give a question sheet with the
to guide their watching and make sure they are learning.
We also have music bingo which everyone enjoys.
I teach High School Choir
Karen Garrett

I'm a first year teacher and have come up with a few games to make
more interesting that I think you can use .
Rhythm telephone. Make up cards (laminate) then have someone come up
to the
front. While their back is away from you , have another student pick a
that has a measure written on it. Tap the rhythms on the back of the
student you chose to be first.
That student then must tell you what you tapped on their back with ta's
ti-ti's. For rests you would bring your hands forward so that the
can see them but the rest of the rhythm is on their back. If they guess
correctly then the person that chose the original rhythm comes and plays
forming a line (Hence), telephone. You are always the original tapper
the chain to get the rhythm correct. My students love this game and you
make it for all different levels.
Another one I started recently is taking the musical elements IE.
tempo, dynamics, etc. and have someone charade them. If they choose the
correct answer then they gat a small reward.................. Tootsie
One more............... I found this one from a book. Take the CD of
Pocohontas and a hand held drum. Have the students keep the rhythm with
their feet while listening to the drum song. Then have them improvise a
movement with their bodies. Now choose a person to leave the room. Then
someone in the room to be the beatnick ( MY Middle schoolers changed the
name to Homie ). The beatnick travels around the room to the beat of the
music, and improvises a movement. When I strike the drum the beatnick
changes their movement. Let the students practice this before you
invite the
investigator back in. The students need to a watch, but not follow
the beatnick. Everytime the beatnick changes the students change. The
investigator needs to find the beatnick. I usually watch that the
is away from the investigator before I strike the drum. The investigator
gets three choices to choose.
. . .
Reva L. Jordan

Before classes started this semester I got to sub for two weeks for
music at a K-8 Catholic School. It was great because I'm student
teaching now in vocal music, and it was such a relevant experience.
One of the things I did a lot was get a small ball (bigger than a
tennis ball, but smaller than a basketball) and have them stand in two
lines facing each other. Have them bounce the ball on the beat back
and forth to each other. THen teach strong and weak beats by having
them bounce on one and three or on two and four, or just on the
downbeat. It works really well for Jr. High and for upper elementary
(I wouldn't go any younger than 4th grade) It was simple, it got them
moving and physically doing it. You do have to set ground rules - no
purposefully bouncing it over someone's head; if you miss it, you are
the only one to go get it; no throwing it at another person, etc. I
found it to work really well, and you can play whatever music you like!
Emily McDuffee

I have a book of games that are sort of silly, but they require rhythm
and concentration. The title is "Lame Brain Games" by Judith
Herrington and Clayton Miller. It is published by Pavane Publishing,
distributed by Hal Leonard. It's a thin little paperback thing, with 20
different activities. I got it last year at the Georgia Music
Educators'Convention, at the Music In Motion booth. They have a
website, so that might be the place to start looking for it. If that's
not enough info for you, let me know and I'll try to provide more! Best
of luck.
~Ann Wells

I play musical freeeze.  You just start the music and stop it those who
you catch moving sit down.  Make sure you use a very active song.  They
like 50's music or the old Jackson music.  Hot Beach Ball- get a beach
ball and put music symbols on it use eazy ones like whole note ,
quarter note. etc.  Then the students pass the ball around like hot
potato.  No throwing the ball or passing to fast or holding on to the
ball.  Start the music, than stop it, they call out the symbol under
their left thumb.  Or ask them to call out the symbol on the blue
section.  There is also a good CD Greg and ?  with a lot of action

I teach K-6 Elementary/Middle School music.
I provide a packet of materials for any substitute who comes into my
This packet contains my schedule - as well as clues for releasing
to "pass" to PE since they are not escorted down the hall, my 6th grade
syllabus, elementary rules, stereo instructions and helpful individual
hints and students who are reliable for questions.
My seating chart is always the most current student list I have. I
use the
smallest post-its cut in half. One name per 1/2 post-it note. I have a
grid that allows for 5 rows of 6 students and each student gets a
square. I
this paper is put in a 3 ring binder with a sheet protector. This
allows me
to use a transparency pen to mark misbehaviors/who played an
instrument/assign groups. Using post-it notes also allows me to make
individual seating changes as well as whole group changes.

Tongue Twisters - speaking them rhythmically
creating them using their own names - can be time
if the students create their own.
Nursery Rhymes sung in rounds or partner songs (2 different songs
at the same time)
Echo A Rhythm - you clap a rhythm 8 beats long, then must listen
clap it back to you (Orff Idea)
Memory Game- using matching cards for different music concepts:
dynamics, symbols, tempo. It could be same-same like f - f or
picture - symbol like eighth note symbol and the words 1/2 of
beat in 4/4 time or the words eighth note.
The "game board" could be made on poster board with the
that used to be in the back of library books to hold the check
These cards could be used as flashcards for a contest
cooperative groups.
Music Hangman- play hangman only using musical terms.
A Short listening activity using CDs/tapes you own would allow you
take them anywhere you need: instruments/composer/period
Bibbidi Bobbidi Bach - is a CD I own that transforms Disney
music to a different time period or composer.
Compare/Contrast against the movie version.. . .
Kelly Ballard
USD 349 Stafford Schools

Well! I certainly have learned that I am not the only one looking for a good
solution to this classroom issue.

I received a number of responses... most of them suggested a video with a worksheet.
There were also a few other notable ideas. I will list the most valuable here. I
must admit though... I'm still in the hunt for something that really seems just
right. Anybody out there with some more ideas?

Somewhat enlightened but not completely satisfied,

Jerry Richard Polman
Voice Instructor

Thoroughly write out your procedure:
I make a plan for a "music person" and also one for a "non music qualified person"
attendance (do officers do this?) I usually write "see seating chart in attendance
Warm ups: have a sheet of exercises you do frequently and the kids will know.
List Normal sight reading procedure, books/handouts/whatever you use.
List of music to rehearse (if they are competent) : I usually say "see music folder"
If I know I am gone I write specific things to rehearse, but for your emergency plan
you can't do that. If your sub is qualified that can be sufficient.
Have written work: Rhythm sheets to count, exercises to solfege, vocab sheets to
study, or to pull out of an essay. Also could count and solfege music in the folder.
Videos are "iffy" but they can work... state finals tapes from ISSMA (KI Productions
in Kokomo can sell you some) can work... have the kids be the 'judges' using the
rating sheets from the ISSMA manual. See if their ranking is what actually happened.
Or any good videos from ACDA conventions, show choir competitions, barbershop
conventions, King Singer type professional tapes.
You could have some bio sheets on composers for kids to read (best if it is
composers that you know you will be singing this year at some point.)

The point is that your admin wants to know there is meaningful activity for the kids
if you wake up totally dead some day.

Call me if I can be of assistance,
Michael S. Wade, Elkhart Memorial HS

Unless you get a sub who is a music teacher, your lesson plan probably won't do any
good. I leave brainteasers and critical thinking exercises. They are fun and give
kids an opportunity to work in pairs or small groups with a minimum of noise.

Another possible idea is a video related to what you are doing. Example: We perform
Joyful, Joyful with choreography. The sub is to show the video, discussing how
performance includes the whole body; facial expressions, vocal projection, etc.

Videos are a good way to introduce new songs. I've had subs who carry their own
video that they show to everyone, regardless of what the class is. It is better to
have a video with a purpose!



Depending on how musically capable your students are, you can have
students (up to you whether you designate them as section leaders or not)
lead sectionals on those days. I used to leave that as my sub lesson plans,
regardless of whether they were "emergency" plans or not, and it
worked pretty well.

I also created a worksheet called "first glance," which took
through looking at the key signature, the meaning of the text, the form, and
any potential rhythmic or melodic problems. For my less experienced
ensembles, this worked relatively well.

Hope this helps!

Alexa Doebele
DMA Student in Choral Music, University of Colorado at Boulder
Conductor, CU Women's Chorus
Interim Director of Music, Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Wheat Ridge, CO

Normally, I leave a movie. It can be somewhat
educational or totally fun. One requirement I have
for all of my choirs is to learn to review recordings
(audio or visual/audio) of choral concerts. We go
over this process in class. Then you can leave any
number of sub plans where they view a concert on video
or simply listen to a concert and write a review. I
like to start with specific questions in middle
school, such as, "Do you hear the melody? What voice
part is singing it?" Which song has the most contrast
in dynamics?" It's really sort of a listening guide.
Given that many students now need help with writing
this also becomes an instrument you can use to show
you are addressing national standards in writing and
critical thinking. However, be warned that the
process of understanding and writing a good review
takes quite a while. Clip a few you like from the
paper and go over things such as, "What makes the
first paragraph grab you?" "What information is being
Hope this helps.
If you are short of time, a musical such as Newsies or
Oliver are wonderful.
Valerie Middleton
Downing Middle School

Dear Jerry: Your request is quite interesting and personal to me. I'm a
substitute teacher and can give you a few general pointers. I haven't
subbed for a chorus yet but I have subbed for a music class and it was a
disaster. Even though I have a degree in music, there was no way that I
could be involved in what the students were doing in class. The plans were
for me to hand out worksheets and then the students would write up a report
about some project they were doing. It was literal chaos and arguing. The
chance of your getting a sub with a musical background is probably very
remote. My suggestion would be to leave a 20 minute video and a worksheet
that the students can fill out. Leave the answers for the sub. Then have
the students go around the room and read their answers. Try to have
something for the sub to do that requires interaction. I've spent too many
days being a glorified babysitter.

Another idea for a chorus is for you to appoint several musically gifted
and responsible students to do tasks in your absence - warm-up,
sight-reading, rhythm exercises, theory worksheets music history
worksheets. The other students would know that these students are your
deputies and that there will be an accounting of what went on in class the
next day. At least in a chorus, the students want to be there as opposed to
a music class where they have to be there.

Since I'm not a music teacher, I can only offer advice from my perspective
as a sub. It's disgusting when an an entire class period is wasted.

If I get some more ideas, I'll email you. Sincerely, Frieda

Good morning,
I have to do the same thing.
I have no books even though I have had to teach a Music Appreciation class.

What I have done:
1) ordered MUSIC ALIVE! magazine, comes in 30 student copies. It has some
activities built in.

2) look over the web and find 2 or 3 pages on various composes or styles of
music. From there, I print off a copy...sometimes I even save it to Word so
I can edit it a little...and decide what activity or activities I want
students to do. I copy the web pages, write our instructions using our
state objectives and I am done.

3) I find a couple of really good music quotes. Because writing is
stressed here, I have the students write a short essay or at least 3
paragraphs on what they feel the author of the quote was trying to point

Debbie Coleman
GMEA State Choral Chair-Elect

Here are a couple of things I did with middle school students:

(1) I always assumed that the sub that they had to end up hiring would
know nothing about music. A good film or video of a (same age) choral
group performing is always excellent. With a handout of questions for
the students to answer so that a discussion can follow (same day, if
it's a short presentation) a critique of the performers and

(2) I compiled a word sheet of Beatles songs, in the same sequence as a
CD, so they could enjoy a sing-along. (Do they still know all those
songs??! I was surprised how long they remained popular with that age,
but haven't had a recent update....)

Hope you're enjoying your new job! That age can be a real challenge,
and also lots of fun.



Emergency Sub Plans-A few ideas:
1) I keep a couple of good music videos handy (subject matter:
composers' lives, musical styles) and have viewer guides printed up for
the students. They follow the guides which include some fill in the
blanks, or questions that are answered in order as they watch the
video.(Junior High & High School)
2) If I have CD's of the choir parts made, then the section leaders are
each responsible for taking their section into one of our practice rooms
and working parts in the music we're working on. I do this during part
of many or our 80-minute rehearsals anyway, so it's not new to the kids.
The substitute only has to walk around and monitor that no student is
creating a problem for their section leader. I've found the students
usually listen and respond quite well to their section leaders.(High
3) At the high school level, study halls usually work well as a last
resort, and some kids make full use of the extra time. At the junior
high, it does not work as well.

My accompanist is also a
substitute, so sometimes I actually ask her to do a rehearsal when I am
gone. I have left movies like Stomp Out Loud and Broadway musicals, and I
have left theory worksheets. One fun activity I've found for middle school
is Cheryl Lavender's game, Solfege Bingo. It comes with a CD so the
substitute doesn't have to know solfege to do it. It is published by Hal
Leonard and is $39.95 for the packet. The first few levels are very easy,
and the levels get progressively more difficult. You should be able to
order it from Pepper or whoever you order music supplies from. I always
leave the sub some candy to give away as prizes for the winners!
Good luck!
Kristi Bowers

Hold elections for officers for each group. Then also
appoint section leaders within each section, because
as you know sometimes the officers were elected
because they were popular and not music leaders.
Then assign each section leader the different tasks to
run a rehearsal. Warm ups, sectionals, rehearsing
each can even set goals each quarter with
deadlines for certain pieces being memorized by a
certain date.etc..
I find this works much better than busy work.
Also...have on hand a parent you know that plays the
piano to use as a backup.

Hi Jerry...

Just some quick advice as someone who spent 6 months as a substitute teacher (I
am actually a choir director myself):

Don't sweat the sub plans. There is no real way for you to leave effective
plans while you are absent unless you KNOW and TRUST your sub to be a competent
musician. Or, you could leave a student-director in charge. However, I would
suggest talking to your choirs about respecting this student "as they would
respect you." I doubt this would be an effective strategy, though. Your
best bet is to leave a video on proper vocal technique...or something musically
historic (Amadeus?). If your absence is indeed an emergency, then it will most
likely be possible to catch your choirs up upon your return.

Best of luck for a wonderful (and less stressful!) school year.

Ken Litvack