Plan B, C, or D

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Continuing my classroom management posts…

In some previous scrap of writing, I included a bit about back-up plans for lessons that go awry. As the school year starts, I want to emphasize that idea. At some point, the internet will go out in your school. Or your computer will die. Perhaps a presentation will inexplicably evaporate into cyberspace. Critical cables connecting your computer to the smartboard will vanish during the night. You may suddenly realize that you transposed steps in the nitrogen cycle and cannot use your PowerPoint or Google Doc. The administration will schedule a sudden assembly that cuts your class in half. Aliens will land in Washington. D.C. Whatever. The set of weird ways that best-laid-plans can be wrecked is no small, finite function. In financially-disadvantaged schools, technology glitches are especially common.

In classroom management terms, downtime may be your worst enemy. Students can fill a learning vacuum with trouble in mere seconds, starting a conversation, pulling out a phone or tossing an insult at the rival gang member across the room. Adolescents hardly ever sit quietly with nothing to do.

Your back-up lesson plan should not be technology dependent. Most of the time, if you need back-up, faulty technology will probably be the reason. I recommend banking language lessons with an additional writing component. To promote engagement, tell students that they will have a spelling* or vocabulary quiz the next day — this can be fast — and that those with good grades will be allowed to substitute that grade for a lower, previous grade on another assignment. Keep this hook in mind generally. If you need students to be engaged, grades work for most.

You can also try a tangential area of interest in your field, such as the eruption of Krakatoa in 1883, or the story of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his wife Sophie in 1914. If you have a particular academic passion that doesn’t fit easily into the curriculum, this can be your chance to show what you know. Passion can be catching, too.

No time to prepare any extra lessons? Go look at sharemylesson or the Teachers Pay Teachers website. For some grades, an subscription can be worth the money. A Google search will reveal plenty of sites that offer possible lessons, not all of them for $$.

Your teaching life will be much easier if you always have a lesson plan waiting for days when you need to go sideways. Try to avoid using “your” lesson plan as a sub plan. Substitutes should always receive a plan designed specifically for the day(s) you are absent. But you always want to have a plan B or even a plan C or D for yourself. Maybe you won’t want to use the great Franz Ferdinand plan on a day when one-third of the class is out due to a virus, but you won’t want to teach the planned lesson, either, since that third needs to know why Woodrow Wilson could not sell the League of Nations.

If you don’t have plan C or D, teachers in your building may be able to share their emergency plans. If all else fails, pull out the construction paper and markers and have students draw what you are teaching. In math, you can have them make posters of key conversions such as “1/2 = 50% = 0.5” or have them make up story problems for each other.

In addition to extra lesson plans you prepare, I suggest making subject-specific crosswords and word searches. Multiple websites exist that allow you to do this, such as While not pedagogical heavyweights, word searches and crosswords will rescue a blown-up day. Fill a folder with these search options for the day when you are truly stuck — or the day when your lesson plan runs 20 minutes shorter than you expected. Wordsearches work great for filling in unexpected end-of-period minutes. Crosswords can be a fun group activity. A well-designed crossword can stimulate critical thinking and discussion, too.

I also have always banked a few “Jeopardy” games as well. If I have my computer, I can use these Jeopardy games for review. I keep candy around to use as prizes. If I have three teams, the winning team gets three pieces apiece, second gets two pieces apiece, and last gets one piece apiece. Everyone gets something. I avoid teams that seem too uneven. If Team 1 has too many top students, Teams 2 and 3 may opt out early in the game. Other games work well, too, once the class has become used to the game routine. Blank bingo cards can easily be printed off the internet. A bag of pinto beans, and you will be all set. Students can fill in their own bingo cards: You give them the answers, they decide where to place those answers.

I feel I should add a cautionary note on games. Games can be complicated. They need to be structured, at least until a class has become familiar with the game procedures. Assign any teams yourself. “Find three friends and make a team” may be fun for most students, but it’s also time-consuming and risks some students being excluded. Don’t rearrange teams, either, unless you have very good reason. If you do, the next voice you hear will be saying something like, “But I don’t want Ray on my team!” You have to protect those Rays, the kids who are never chosen.

Eduhonesty: Free time creates disciplinary problems. I recommend advance planning so free time does not happen. I also recommend against using free time as a reward. If you use this reward, you will be fending off requests for free time on a regular basis. A few minutes here, a few minutes there, and pretty soon hours of learning time have been lost. Games or crossword puzzles in groups make better rewards,

*Spelling has gone out of fashion, but many kids still like spelling quizzes. They are easy wins for kids who study in a time when sometimes there are no easy wins, no matter how hard you study.