I don't know whether I'm shocked or not that I got no responses on my previous post regarding the best ideas for a substitute teacher in a French class. I had hoped there would be great ideas flowing my way, because there is obviously a need for this type of information all around, but I wasn't really expecting much... I think we second language teachers all have similar struggles. But, who knows.... maybe you're just waiting for me to "show you mine" before you reciprocate with your own awesome ideas!

Here goes: Let's start with advice for the supply teacher.

  1. No matter how desperate you are for work, please do NOT accept a French opening if you plan to start out by telling the students you can't help them with ANYTHING because you don't speak any French! (Yes, I've actually had supply teachers introduce themselves with this caveat!) You are just inviting chaos and a day full of "bein' dissed". You will also not leave a good impression with the teacher for whom you are filling in (who is likely to pass his or her impressions on to other staff within the school), and so why burn that bridge, when you can just stay on the other side of it?

    You certainly don't have to be fluent, but in Ontario, everyone is forced to generously provided the opportunity to study French regularly until grade 9. That... and an open mind... is usually adequate along with general teaching strategies to get by for a day, or even a week. 

  2. Come prepared with some basic materials and ideas! There are tons of lists available online for things to bring with you as a supply, and the same concept applies to the French classroom. Some post it notes, a couple of pencils/pens, paper. Here are a couple of my favourite lists:
  3. Come prepared with an emergency lesson of your own! If you are able to do this, and keep all students safe throughout the day, you will be an absolute favorite amongst second language teachers in your area!  Bring a storybook that will work for many different grades and a list of discussion questions that suit varying grade levels. (If the story book is in French, get the kids to take turns reading it aloud, projecting it with a document camera!)
  • I recently found this web site, which lists activities that you can do based on the curriculum in a variety of grades and subject areas.  In particular, I liked their suggestions for playing DIX, which kids always seem to love, or having a set of blank bingo cards per grade level, as well as what they called the "YES OR NO game".   I created a free list of French questions that could be called out when playing this game.  If you're fearful of your own pronunciation, have a student lead... pick one with a good loud voice! 
  • From TeachersPayTeachers, you could download and carry a copy of a crossword for the main three types of French verbs or this opposites matching worksheet, or even this mini-unit/lesson on the geography of France that would suit middle-schoolers and beyond in a pinch.  Be sure to leave a comment and rating if any of these free offerings get you out of a tight spot!
And now, some lesson advice for the regular French teacher who may be absent at some point unexpectedly.  I'm sure your school has policies about leaving a copy of your schedule, class lists, special instructions for assemblies or other deviations from the regular routine and many other things, so I won't even discuss these basics preparations.
  1. If you have a lot of structure in your class, and everything is working well for your students, feel free to have the class run as per usual.  Kids won't notice or mind that things are familiar but not actually being evaluated (or the supply teacher can even leave some observations that can be incorporated into your assessment as appropriate).  For example, for the past couple of years, my daily routine has included a student-led, student-centred warm up activity.  Even in my absence, I've found that students will ASK the occasional teacher to let them do the usual routine. Sometimes the OT will be confident enough in his or her French abilities to mark it for the participating students, and if not, that's fine too.
  2. Either way - regular-type plans or something a little different, leave good, clear, simple notes for your supply teacher. Do it both through whatever booking system is used, and on paper in the room. Because... stuff happens. More advice from a supply teacher can be found as a Guest Blogger post on 2 Peas and a Dog here.

  3. What I said before in my previous post still applies... the specific day right in the middle of a culminating project, where the students already have the vocabulary, the grammar structures, the idea planned out, the timelines, and all they have to do while you are away is actually execute the work (or suffer the consequences of having to get caught up upon your return, ideally during their "moments de loisir") - that's the perfect time to have an illness.  It can't be anything serious, mind you, because although they can handle their own work for a day (or possibly two at the most!) things will fall apart after that, so no influenza or broken leg!

  4. The best substitute teacher lessons are SAFE

  5. Book the computer lab if it's available and assign some specific online learning games that are relevant to what has been recently taught in class.  See my previous post about educational games online for three game sites to get you started!

  6. A short movie with accompanying activities. (Or even just part of a longer movie.)  Here are a few ideas for movies that I found activities for online if you aren't prepared to create your own. 

    • I use this free summary writing activity with La Guerre des tuques. It's great for taking things one day at a time, while waiting for longer-range plans to get put in place, or if you're stuck in a situation where you're going off work unexpectedly and need to fill a few days' worth of Emergency lessons. 
    • FilmArobics is a web site where you can purchase a movie with pre-set lessons on various segments in French, Spanish, German and Italian.

  7. A series of  simple and possibly low-educational activities related to your regular class work.  (This only works if the assignment needs to be handed in to the supply teacher!) Word searches, word scrambles, themed mazes, title page assignments, simple matching activities that are easy enough for students to complete without support can all work in a pinch.

  8. For a brand new teacher, this will take some time to build up, but if you set aside a day over the summer to scour through your resources with this goal in mind over the summer, or if you are diligent about grabbing things and filing them appropriately as you come across them in the course of your regular planning and resource review, you'll have a nice bank of activities in no time at all!
So, now that I've shared my thoughts, and hopefully a few resources that might be helpful to you, please share back.  Tell me in the comments below about one lesson or day that went extremely smoothly in your absence, and if you can identify why, I'd love to hear it!


  1. Tammy, sooooooo désolée for not responding to your post earlier. I got too wrapped in my own things... Your tips for supply teachers are great! And YES! all teachers in Ontario should know (speak and understand) some French! Franchement!!! That being said, as an Immersion teacher, I always plan lots of work that students can do on their own. Reading in French is always an option. My favorite is the word search in which I have removed the list and students must recreate it. Of course, it is a sujet under study or familiar topics. Students love it! Computer time is not often an option for me as it booked weeks ahead... Tes suggestions sont fantastiques! AM:)

  2. Merci beaucoup! I find that in my absence, my students often claim to not be capable of "reading" in French... one way I found around that recently was to provide some comprehension questions in English, with them having the option of answering in full sentences in either language.

  3. Love the idea of the word search with no word list too, by the way! Thanks for adding that!

  4. Moi aussi je suis désolée de ne pas avoir répondu! :( Same reasons as Mme Rocheleau... You are so incredibly thorough, creative, AND generous! Thanks for the wonderful ideas!
    I have to say that most of the time I leave worksheet or a wordsearch / crossword to practice whatever we're working on. Also, if I'm away and it's almost time to start a new set of "5 Par Jour" questions, I will leave that for the kids to start working on. Another thing that I've done is to have the kids create mind maps about what we're doing. For example, earlier this year, my son was sick, so I had my grade 7s create a mind map about everything they had learned about adjectives thus far (possessifs, demonstratifs, qualificatifs). A final quick and easy-ish thing to leave is a set of speech bubbles (en Français) that kids have to create a comic strip with. So all the sentences are there, they have to understand them and demonstrate their comprehension in a picture - comic strip :)
    Merci encore une fois Tammy! :)

  5. OH! One more VERY important piece of advice...if leaving the game DIX, make sure that you write in the pronunciation ('dis'). I had a supply teacher sound it out phonetically and my grade 8 students had QUITE the laugh about it, luckily she was a good sport, but I still laugh about it! ;)

    1. That's hilarious Natasha! I really like the idea about the comic speech bubbles, especially if providing sentences that they have to make work. I'll definitely try to add a few of those to my Emergency File.

  6. superbes idées, Tammy!! Wow! you are a wealth of info!! Glad we met this week!

  7. Merci Dominique! Moi aussi, je suis très contente que nous nous sommes rencontrées cette semaine!

    Merci bien pour ta remarque si gentille! :-)

  8. One more idea that works if you've taught the game ahead of time is Verb Battleship or even some Guess Who :) Both could last almost an entire period, however you probably want a good supply teacher to manage that .... especially the French speaking part of it ...

  9. Hi Tammy, as an OCT when the calls come in and they are for french as a second language I typically decline the offer out of fear. Fear of not doing well by the students and fear of letting the teacher down due to my poor french skills. But, I do know that when I get a call there is a need for a teacher in the room and also I hate to decline work. I am extremely grateful for your blog and some fun game ideas that even I can use in the class.


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