how to use ai to make sub plans

How to Use AI to Help You Make Substitute Teacher Lesson Plans in a Snap

Substitute teachers, like teachers, are heroes. As I wrote in “There is No Substitute for Great Substitute Teachers,” when we need a substitute, it is rarely planned. I'm so grateful for those who are flexible enough to fill in with limited notice. But when you're sick, it can be hard to write great lesson plans. Here are my tips on how to use AI to help you write your plans.

When you have to be out, set up the substitute and your students up for success. Learning moves forward in my classroom and students get so much done. Even when I am sick, my classroom can still learn and be a healthy place for progress.

But when I'm sick, I'm sick! 

One of the most useful things for AI is to help me convert my regular lesson plans into substitute lesson plans quickly.

In this post, I'm going to guide you through this process. Additionally, because effective substitute teacher lesson plans are more than just a lesson, I share some of my tips for ensuring your students and their substitute have a great experience.  My substitutes often comment that they have a great experience, which is what I want. 

I have tested this in ChatGPT and Microsoft Copilot. Either will help you with it, although as of the writing of this post, ChatGPT will format with bold and enters and Copilot gives you a text file that you'll have to format.  That said, the Microsoft Copilot has a down button that will take the lesson plan straight to Microsoft Word. That is pretty cool.

In this case, Copilot has a button that will open the plan into Microsoft Word, although the formatting has to be done by me. Test the AI tool of your choice to determine what works for you and what is fastest.

STEP 1: Decide the Format for Your Lesson Plan

The first step and perhaps the easiest is deciding the format you want your lesson plan to use.  My format is simple:

  1. Class Grade: (e.g., 8th Grade, 9th Grade)
  2. Day of the Week and Date: (e.g., Monday, Tuesday) (eg. 11/23/23)
  3. Class Time: (e.g., 12:47 pm – 1:38 pm for 8th Grade)
  4. Lesson Goals: Briefly describe the main objectives for this lesson.
  5. Time Allocation: Provide an estimated time (in minutes) for each activity or segment of the lesson.
  6. Assignments Due: Specify any assignments, quizzes, or other assessments that are due for this class session.
  7. Additional Notes: Any other notes or items you'd like to include such as rubrics, Biblical integration, or special accommodations for individual students.

I keep my template in Evernote along with the prompts. I could make a customGPT with this, but for this blog post, I'm demonstrating with the free version of AI.

Step 2: Prompt AI Depending on the Method You Want to Use

There are two basic ways I prompt ChatGPT to help me with lesson plans for substitutes. 

Prompt and then Paste in a Full Lesson Plan 

In the first method, I give it a prompt, then paste it into the full lesson plan I already have in my lesson plan database. (We use Chalk, and they roll over from year to year.)

⭐️I use this prompt when I'm sick because I typically have not planned to be out. My lesson is written, and my work is posted in Google Classroom. This method helps me adapt quickly for the substitute and helps my class make progress.

One Question at a Time

In the second method, I have it prompt me by asking me one question at a time. 

⭐️ This is for those days where something special may happen or something unique or different that isn't in my lesson plans already or that I want to think it through one step at a time.

One Class at a Time

In secondary, I have found it is best to generate lesson plans one class at a time. If I try more than one class, total confusion ensues inside AI, and sometimes AI will even change the template format.  Elementary teachers have a different format and prompts below that they can use and refine.

How to Read and Get These Prompts

I've loaded the different prompts in an “accordion” below to keep this page from being too long. That means you click the plus, and it expands the section. You can just copy the prompt and then tweak it for your own purposes. 

I want you to help me develop lesson plans for my substitute teacher. I will paste in my regular lesson plans and I want you to convert the lesson plan to the format I want to use for the format I want for subs. Additionally, if there are items you think are missing to be super clear and helpful for a substitute teacher who is not an expert in my content area, please prompt me and ask questions before creating the plan. Before creating the plan ask if there is anything else I want to know. After you create a lesson plan, ask if there are any changes or if it is ok before creating another lesson plan. Here's the format I want us to use:

  1. Class Grade: (e.g., 8th Grade, 9th Grade)
  2. Day of the Week and Date: (e.g., Monday, Tuesday) (eg. 11/23/23)
  3. Class Time: (e.g., 12:47 pm – 1:38 pm for 8th Grade)
  4. Lesson Goals: Briefly describe the main objectives for this lesson.
  5. Time Allocation: Provide an estimated time (in minutes) for each activity or segment of the lesson.
  6. Assignments Due: Specify any assignments, quizzes, or other assessments that are due for this class session.
  7. Additional Notes: Any other notes or items you'd like to include such as rubrics, Biblical integration, or special accommodations for individual students.

I need you to help type up my lesson plan for my substitute teacher. Assume the substitute has no content area knowledge. Ask me the following items one at a time so you can type them up for me. Class Grade: (e.g., 8th Grade, 9th Grade) Day of the Week and Date: (e.g., Monday, August 10, 2023) Class Time: (e.g., 12:47 pm – 1:38 pm for 8th Grade) Lesson Goals: Briefly describe the main objectives for this lesson. Time Allocation: Provide an estimated time (in minutes) for each activity or segment of the lesson. Assignments Due: Specify any assignments, quizzes, or other assessments that are due for this class session. Resources needed: Any websites, page numbers of textbooks, or worksheets needed. Additional Notes: Any other notes or items you'd like to include such as rubrics, special announcements, or special accommodations for individual students.

I want you to help me develop lesson plans for my substitute teacher. I will paste in my regular lesson plans, and I want you to convert the lesson plan to the format I want to use for the format I want for subs. Additionally, if there are items you think are missing to be super clear and helpful for a substitute teacher who is not an expert in my content area, please prompt me and ask questions before creating the plan. Before creating the plan, ask if there is anything else I want to know. After you create a lesson plan, ask if there are any changes or if it is okay before creating another lesson plan. [Add any other special instructions]

Here's the format I want us to use:

[paste in your format]

I want you to help me develop lesson plans for my substitute teacher. I will paste in my regular lesson plans and I want you to convert the lesson plan to the format I want to use for the format I want for subs. Additionally, if there are items you think are missing to be super clear and helpful for a substitute teacher who is not an expert in my content area, please prompt me and ask questions before creating the plan. Before creating the plan ask if there is anything else I want to know. After you create a lesson plan, ask if there are any changes or if it is ok before creating another lesson plan. I want it to be very clear where the class is to go and where things should happen.  Here's the format I want us to use:

Full-Day Elementary School Lesson Plan Template

  1. Grade Level:
  2. Date:
  3. Substitute Teacher's Name (if applicable):
  4. Classroom Rules/Procedures:
  5. Special Needs or Considerations for Individual Students:

Daily Schedule:

  • Arrival/Start Time:

    • Morning routine activities (e.g., attendance, morning work)
  • Period 1 (Subject and Time):

    • Lesson Topic:
    • Activities:
    • Materials Needed:
  • Period 2 (Subject and Time):

    • Lesson Topic:
    • Activities:
    • Materials Needed:
  • Specials (Time and Type):

    • Gym, Art, Music, etc.
  • Lunch and Recess (Time):

    • Lunch procedures, playground rules
  • Period 3 (Subject and Time):

    • Lesson Topic:
    • Activities:
    • Materials Needed:
  • Period 4 (Subject and Time):

    • Lesson Topic:
    • Activities:
    • Materials Needed:
  • Snack Time/Break (Time and Instructions):

  • Additional Activities:

    • Any other special activities or events planned for the day
  • End of Day Procedures (Time):

    • Cleanup, homework distribution, dismissal routine
  1. Emergency Procedures:
  2. Contact Information:
  • School office, nurse, other important contacts
  1. Notes for Tomorrow:
  • Any preparation or important reminders for the next school day

I need you to help type up my lesson plan. Ask me the following items one at a time so you can type them up for me. Assume the substitute has no content area knowledge. If you notice areas of confusion, please remprompt me with suggestions or questions for how to simplify the substitute plans so it can be easily followed and the substitute and students will have a good experience for the time I'm out of the classroom. Here's what I want you to ask me one step at a time:

Full-Day Elementary School Lesson Plan Template

  1. Grade Level:
  2. Date:
  3. Substitute Teacher's Name (if applicable):
  4. Classroom Rules/Procedures:
  5. Special Needs or Considerations for Individual Students:

Daily Schedule:

  • Arrival/Start Time:

    • Morning routine activities (e.g., attendance, morning work)
  • Period 1 (Subject and Time):

    • Lesson Topic:
    • Activities:
    • Materials Needed:
  • Period 2 (Subject and Time):

    • Lesson Topic:
    • Activities:
    • Materials Needed:
  • Specials (Time and Type):

    • Gym, Art, Music, etc.
  • Lunch and Recess (Time):

    • Lunch procedures, playground rules
  • Period 3 (Subject and Time):

    • Lesson Topic:
    • Activities:
    • Materials Needed:
  • Period 4 (Subject and Time):

    • Lesson Topic:
    • Activities:
    • Materials Needed:
  • Snack Time/Break (Time and Instructions):

  • Additional Activities:

    • Any other special activities or events planned for the day
  • End of Day Procedures (Time):

    • Cleanup, homework distribution, dismissal routine
  1. Emergency Procedures:
  2. Contact Information:
  • School office, nurse, other important contacts
  1. Notes for Tomorrow:
  • Any preparation or important reminders for the next school day

Step 3: Revise the Plans

Sometimes the plan is not done or I notice changes. While I could tweak it, if I have already typed it in ChatGPT and it “ignored” something I said, I will prompt it (as I did below) to go back and get the items it left out of the final plan. This actually happens quite a bit just because I do things differently than many others. Here's where you can really get a great plan.

How to revise lesson plans
In this case, ChatGPT ignored something I had asked it to include about peer review and I had to reprompt it so it would go back and get the content from the prompt.

Step 4: Create Your Lesson Plans and Revise

I have a substitute teacher manual (I sell an inexpensive copy on TpT that you can grab and customize). I copy and paste these lessons into Microsoft Word and print them for my substitute teacher manual under the lesson plans page.

Note that I already have rosters in the book, emergency plans, and all troubleshooting items. None of that needs to go on my lesson plan. I even have things like how to find the bathroom and notes on the cafeteria and breaks.

When I need to be out, I don't want to spend a lot of time compiling all that the substitute needs to have an awesome experience. If I know beforehand that I will be out, I also review the lesson plans with my students. If it is a complex task, I will recruit a student or two to be tech support and list that on the lesson plan (I ask for volunteers.)

Step 5: Save Your Prompt

When you are done, you can ask your AI:

“Write a prompt that I can use to give me the type of lesson plan you just gave me. Be specific and adapt the prompt I gave you at first.” 

⭐️TIP: I have a place in Evernote where I save prompts. This helps me quickly grab them when I need them. When I find a new prompt that works well for me, I update it to the new one.

DO THIS NOW! The time to test your substitute teacher's lesson planning prompt is when you're well! Work through and find what works for you and then save it for when you need it! Put some time on your calendar, or just go back up and copy and paste the prompts and try it out right now! You'll be glad you did.

Learning always goes on. I always like to keep on track, and this does that.

Now, I do want to point out one thing. If you're super sick or the worst happens – you'll want emergency plans. I keep copies of emergency plans right beside my desk. The plans are already planned, and a timeless lesson plan can be used any day. This is another important thing to do now; perhaps you can use AI to help you do it right now! 

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Vicki Davis

Vicki Davis is a full-time classroom teacher and IT Director in Georgia, USA. She is Mom of three, wife of one, and loves talking about the wise, transformational use of technology for teaching and doing good in the world. She hosts the 10 Minute Teacher Podcast which interviews teachers around the world about remarkable classroom practices to inspire and help teachers. Vicki focuses on what unites us -- a quest for truly remarkable life-changing teaching and learning. The goal of her work is to provide actionable, encouraging, relevant ideas for teachers that are grounded in the truth and shared with love. Vicki has been teaching since 2002 and blogging since 2005. Vicki has spoken around the world to inspire and help teachers reach their students. She is passionate about helping every child find purpose, passion, and meaning in life with a lifelong commitment to the joy and responsibility of learning. If you talk to Vicki for very long, she will encourage you to "Relate to Educate" or "innovate like a turtle" or to be "a remarkable teacher." She loves to talk to teachers who love their students and are trying to do their best. Twitter is her favorite place to share and she loves to make homemade sourdough bread and cinnamon rolls and enjoys running half marathons with her sisters. You can usually find her laughing with her students or digging into a book.

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Vicki Davis writes The Cool Cat Teacher Blog for classroom teachers everywhere