Lesson Plans for Last Minute Split Classes

Hey, y'all. Almost all of us have been there. It's 20 minutes before school and the secretary tells you that your teammate's sub isn't coming. Or the bell just rang and in comes an administrator with ten extra kids because there's a sub shortage. Or a teammate had to leave unexpectedly to take care of their own sick kid.

Whatever the reason, last minute split classes can be a real challenge and cause for stress. If you've never experienced this, you've been blessed. I, on the other hand, have had this happen more often than I can count.

So what do you do when you suddenly have ten more kids than expected?

Most of the time, I don't have a chance to make some more copies before our guest students come in. Occasionally, our guests come with a packet of work and can sit quietly at the horseshoe table and get to work (although they often have questions or the work is too hard or easy--which presents a whole new problem), but most of the time this is not the case.

That's when it's time to bust out the trusty toolbox of tricks. Here are some quick and easy options for keeping the whole class learning and engaged without having to run to make extra copies. I keep a stack of blank paper on hand just for these purposes.

1. Draw and write
There's been a time or two when I've had more than one grade level of students in my room during a split. This meant that continuing on as usual was going to be extra challenging. So...we did a directed drawing on one side of a blank sheet of paper and on the other side, students had to write a story about their drawing. We talked about story elements and students added details to their drawings to make them align with their writing. The beauty of a task like this is that it naturally differentiates. Students can write or draw on their level and work together no matter what their learning level is.

2. Book searches
This one is such an easy task to implement. All you need is some blank paper/notebook paper, books, and a task. I lay out the books I want my students to analyze and give them a task. This might include finding the main idea, outlining the plot of the story, finding text features, identifying character traits, or any other standard you're currently working on (or need to review). Students work alone, in pairs, or in groups to identify the chosen element. Students simply write the name of the book and their findings on their papers. You've practiced identifying the standards and didn't need to make any extra copies.

3. Writing prompts
This is such a versatile one because it can be used in most subject areas with all learns. Prompts can be as simple as answering a question or writing a story about a picture, or as complex as writing a poem, song, or play to teach classmates about a specific topic. This is super easy to differentiate and to vary the level of rigor. Bigger tasks like writing a song or play can take great lengths of time and can play on different students' strengths. Allowing students to perform their final drafts can build student moral and community and enables students to teach each other the material.

4. Vocabulary 4 squares
Group students in teams and give each team a vocabulary word the class has been working on. Each team has to divide their paper into four squares. In the squares, teams define the word, illustrate it, use it in a sentence, and provide an antonym(s). When teams complete the vocabulary activity, they then teach the class the word they worked on. Extra points for creativity on this one ensure students take their time and do their best work.

5. Vocabulary or sight word hunt
This can be done in several ways. Students write the letters from A-Z on their papers. If going on a sight word hunt, students write the room looking for sight words that begin with each letter. If going on a vocabulary hunt, students use the resources they've collected during the unit to find a vocabulary word related to the topic for each letter of the alphabet. Add a game element by giving students one point for each word found. Top scores can earn prizes like homework tickets, cute pencils, stickers, etc.

6. Make an ABC book
Like the activity above, students are identifying a word for each letter of the alphabet. When I taught first grade, we made a Texas ABC book and came up with a Texas-related word for each letter of the alphabet. This can be done in any subject at any level. Even big kids get excited to see their work in a "published" book. I give each student (or pair of students depending on how many kids and the difficulty of the task) a letter and help students (as needed) come up with a word that begins with that letter. Students write their word, use it in a sentence, and illustrate their page. Binding the book can be as simple as put a piece of construction paper on the front to make a cover and stapling it all together. Kids love to have their book read to them as soon as it's finished (even the big kids that think they're too big for this).

7. Have a read-in
If your kids are big enough and have the stamina, have a read-in. Let them get comfy, find some good books, put on some calming instrumental music, and read as long as they're able. This is the perfect time to work with a small group for interventions or extensions.

8. Play Quiz-Quiz-Trade
If you haven't played this yet, I highly recommend it. Students have a card with a math problem or vocabulary word on one side and the answer or definition on the other side. Students pair up with their card and show their partner one side of the card (the math problem or the word) and the partner gives the answer/definition. The other partner does the same thing, then students trade and find another partner. I play music while my students are transitioning between partners and when the music stops, students find the closest person to be their partner (think musical chairs). The kids absolutely love this game and get so much more out of it than traditional drill and kill exercises. Don't have a set of math problems or vocabulary cards ready to go? Pull out some index cards and have students make their own before playing. It's a win-win!

9. Hold a debate
Start with a question that's controversial enough for students to have opinions but not so controversial that those opinions will get heated. Give students a few minutes to choose a stance and gather their thoughts in support of their opinion. Depending on the size of the group, you could have one large debate/discussion, you could have two or three groups discussing, or you could have a speed debate (like speed dating) and come back together for a full discussion in the end. This is a great opportunity to not only discuss the issue, but also to teach respectful disagreement and strengthening our arguments.

10. Play a quiz game
You can even have students make the questions! Divide students into teams. Play Jeopardy style or traditional Q & A ways. Award points and give the top teams special status. Games can be played in any subject with just about any content. This can be as high-tech or low-tech as needed. The more you play it up, the more excited your students will be to review content questions.


Any time we have to split classes, especially when it's last minute, it can be super stressful. However, the learning doesn't have to be put on hold for the day and we don't have to let our guest students sit alone to work independently all day. There are many ways we can keep all students learning and engaged for the whole day without losing our sanity.

I hope the next time you find yourself with a handful of extra kiddos in your room, you'll be able to use these strategies to keep things engaging and in control. What other strategies have you used? Let me know in the comments.

Thanks for stopping by and stay tuned for more great ideas coming soon. Have a wonderful week and stay sweet.