readilearn: Be prepared – a casual teacher’s motto

  • Published on August 31, 2018

be prepared - a casual teacher's motto - suggestions for teaching

It’s not always easy being a casual teacher, taking over another teacher’s class for the day. You might be in a different class at a different school, working with a different age group and a different set of expectations, and probably playground duty, every day of the week.

But it does have its advantages too. You can arrive just before school begins and leave when it finishes. You don’t have to do assessment, write reports or be involved in parent meetings.

But it is important to be prepared.

Familiarise yourself with the class timetable and program

Many teachers leave a program for relief teachers to follow and, if one is available, it is important to follow it to maintain continuity for the children and to avoid interrupting the teaching and learning schedule. However, there may be days when a program is not available, and a casual teacher needs to be prepared for these.

Whether a day’s program is available or not, it is important to remember that it’s not your class. There will be established class expectations, procedures and timetables. The day will work best if these can be followed as closely as possible, particularly if teacher aides, support personnel and specialist teachers are involved.

Introduce yourself and your expectations

a name card for a casual teacher to introduce self to class

Introduce yourself and tell the children a little about yourself and what you are looking forward to about the day. Write your name on the board as a reminder for children, or print it on a decorated card to display throughout the day.

Explain your own expectations, matching them with the class expectations which will likely be displayed prominently in the room. It is useful to ask the children to tell you what the rules and expectations are as it shows that they are aware of them and will be more likely to follow them. If the expectations are not displayed, you can write them, from children’s suggestions, on a chart for reference throughout the day.

set the classroom tone as friendly, respectful and productive

Set the tone for the day as friendly, respectful and productive. You want the day to be pleasant and go smoothly for both you and the children.

Get to know the children

You will find the day flows easier when you can address the children by name. There are a variety of strategies you can use to learn their names. The more times you speak to them by name, the quicker you will remember them.

The roll:  As you mark the roll, ask each child to stand up, say their name and tell you something they’d like you to know about them; for example, “I am Johnny. I like to play soccer.” Acknowledge each child, by replying with; for example, “Good morning, Johnny who likes soccer.” This adds only a couple of minutes to the routine and, as well as helping you remember their names, shows the children that you are interested in them.

Name cards: Another strategy that helps you get to know the children and makes it easier to identify them when calling upon them to answer a question or perform a task, is to get them to make a large name card.

have the children make name cards to assist your learning them

Give each child a large cardboard circle (paper plates are quite inexpensive). They draw their face on one side and write their name in large letters on the other. While they are decorating their cards, walk around and have a chat to them, speaking to them by name.

If they keep these name-side-up on their tables, you can refer to them throughout the day. They can also hold them up with their name facing you when they put up their hands to respond to a question.

have the children make name cards to assist your learning them

Alternatively, you could give each child an A5 sheet of card which they fold in half lengthways like a tent. They write their names in large letters on each side of the tent which they place on their desks with their names facing you. (For an example, see Busy Bee Desk name template.)

Set a positive tone with song

Songs are a great way to put children in a positive frame of mind for the day. Most classrooms would have a CD player, so you could take some songs along. If you play the guitar and sing all the better.

happy children singing

One of my favourite CDs is Anne’s Infante’s Special As I Can Be self-esteem affirmation songs. The joyful songs are easy to sing and for children to join in with, especially if you prepare a chart of the lyrics for the children to follow along.

The timetable

Follow the timetable and keep to the routine as much as you can. It is common for a literacy block to be timetabled in the morning, maths in the middle session, and science, HASS, the arts and other subjects in the afternoon.

Be prepared

It is best to be armed with some favourite lessons and strategies in case there is no guidance or the resources required are not available.

The casual teacher’s kit — essentials
  • a couple of favourite picture books — stories that involve discussion or lead to other work are especially good.
  • an idea for writing
  • maths games and activities
  • an art activity
  • movement games for transitions times or to break for a moment to refresh
  • songs on CD
How can readilearn help?

If you are taking a class in the first three years of school, readilearn has many lessons ready for you to teach, including lessons to use on the interactive whiteboard if you have access. Of course, you may not have access to an interactive whiteboard but readilearn has many other options to assist you.

In this post, I suggest some ideas that enable you to have a great day’s teaching, with or without access to technology.

With access to an interactive whiteboard

If you have access to the classroom interactive whiteboard, you can easily fill a day of effective teaching and learning with readilearn resources. Lessons ready to teach on the interactive whiteboard are available for both literacy and maths, and other subject areas.

Support materials and printable follow-up activities are available for many of the lessons. If you print and laminate lesson materials and ideas and store them in resealable bags or folders, you will be prepared for a day’s teaching in any P-2 classroom. A master of each of the follow-up worksheets kept in a folder makes them easy to find and print too.

Note: If you log on to your account first thing in the morning and keep one readilearn tab open during the day, you won’t have to log in again when accessing interactive resources.

An example of one day’s planning


The ice cream shop an original readilearn story prepared as a covered cloze activity

Begin with The Ice Cream Shop as a covered cloze reading activity.

  • After reading, discuss and list children’s favourite flavours and types of ice cream.
  • Invite children to share their experiences of ice cream. Write some of the words, including their feelings, on the board or chart. Children could write a recount of one of their ice cream experiences.


  • Write a creative narrative. Discuss problems that could occur with ice cream: it melts, it drops, the store doesn’t have your favourite flavour, or doesn’t have any ice cream at all because the power goes off. Perhaps they could be imaginative stories; for example: What if a witch turned all the ice cream to sawdust?

As children write, move around, discussing their stories with them. When they are finished, have a sharing circle in which children read their writing to the class.


  • Data. Give each child a small square of paper on which they draw or write their favourite flavour of ice cream. Make a graph of the information on chart paper or the board. Discuss the information; for example, Which flavour is the class favourite? Which flavour do fewer children like? How many children like x? How many more children like x than y?

an interactive problem solving activity to use on the interactive whiteboard

Display and discuss the problem solving interactive activity Two scoops of ice cream please.

a lesson about possible and impossibe,discussing ice cream flavours

Follow up with the Three scoops of ice cream – possible and impossible lesson. Note: You will need to prepare materials in advance for this lesson.

And follow up with turtle science in the afternoon

Let's find out about sea turtles cover

Read information about sea turtles using the interactive resource Let’s Find out about Sea Turtles.

interactive quiz about sea turtles and living things

Follow up with the interactive quiz What do you know about Sea Turtles? Or the Interactive 9 square turtle puzzle, or even print out copies of the 9 square tutle puzzle for children to complete individually or in pairs. You could print twenty-five sets, number the pieces of each set on the back and laminate them for durability and reuse. Store each set in its own resealable bag.

Alternatively children could draw and write what they know about sea turtles.

This is just one suggestion for just one day. There are many more lessons and resources to support your teaching in the collection.

If you don’t have access to the interactive whiteboard

You may not always have access to an interactive whiteboard, so a collection of readilearn lessons, activities and suggestions prepared and organised in folders will have you ready for your day’s teaching.

An example of one day’s planning

Read a favourite picture book. Discuss alternate endings or situations, or ways in which the book relates to their lives. Encourage them to write a story in response.

phonics syllabification

Develop reading skills using the children’s names, for example those suggested in Name games – teaching phonics, syllables and reading long words.


Most classes have quantities of counters available to use for maths activities. Sometimes children may have counters ready to use in their desks.

Read the picture book The Doorbell Rang by Pat Hutchins. It is great for introducing an activity involving sharing or grouping.  After reading, ask each child to place ten (or twelve or fifteen, for example) counters on their table. Then have children share the counters to show the following: If you made fifteen cookies how many of them could you have? What about if you shared them with one other person? How many could each have? If you shared them with three, four, five others, etc. Explain that everyone should have the same number and discuss whether any are left over.

ideas for teaching using number lines and diced

Have a class set of number lines and some dice ready to play maths games that support learning; for example those suggested in Busy Bee Number lines and dice.

subitisatioin cards to print with bees and insects

It is also good to have a set of subitisation cards for a quick activity too; for example, Busy Bees and Insect Subitisation Cards.

And follow up with a story and artwork in the afternoon

Read a picture book by Mo Willems; for example, Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus. There is a lot to discuss in the books, including emotions and responses shown by lines in Mo Willems’ artwork. It is good to encourage the children to have a go at drawing their own pigeon by looking carefully at the lines Mo Willems has used in his illustrations.

busy bee chants about being happy about being in grade one, can be adapted to other year levels

Finish the day with a song or a chant to send them home happy; for example, Busy Bee Chants.

These are just a few suggestions to get you started. A quick look through the readilearn collection of teaching resources will provide you with many more ready-to-use lessons and strategies.

Register now to begin using free resources, or Subscribe  for access to all readilearn resources, assisting teachers of children in their first three years of school.

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    This is wonderful. I had many substitute teachers who treated their day (or week) of teaching as a babysitting job with little to no interaction with students. My son has had similar experiences. I wish more substitute teachers would adopt a plan and attitude like this. If you’re going to teach, you should teach even if it is a temporary situation. Another great post and resources from Readilearn and “Norah: SuperTeacher”. 🙂

    That’s very disappointing, Sarah. I agree with you – if you are employed to teach, you should teach. There is plenty that can be done to advance children’s learning even if you don’t know exactly what they are studying at the moment. Getting them to talk about ideas, write, and problem solve are easy and enjoyable lessons to progress their learning.

    These are great tips, Norah. My Greg doesn’t like change. Even now at 15 years old he gets very upset about changes to his routines. Substitute teachers were always a nightmare for us with him and I am sure it would have helped him if the teachers had used some of your tips presented here. We are away and I am getting about 10 text messages and a few calls a day from my anxious young man.

    Hi Robbie, Some of us do find change more difficult to cope with than others. I think it is great when teachers do their best to settle students in before they hit them with too many instructions. I hope you are enjoying your trip and that your son’s anxiety isn’t anxiety-causing for you.

    What a smart idea to have a casual teacher’s toolkit to be prepared when substituting for the regular teacher. I like the paper plate name tag idea, too. You have such a wealth of knowledge to share, making an organized classroom sound so simple.

    Hi Charli. Thank you for your supportive comment. I guess my ‘wealth of knowledge’ comes from many years in the classroom. If I can help other teachers along the path and make their journeys a little easier, that would be wonderful.

    Thank you, Debby. That is my aim – fun for children and easy for teachers.

Please share your thoughts. I love it when you do.

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