5 Easy Lesson Plans for Drop-Dead Exhausted Teachers

Every teacher should have these ideas in his or her emergency toolbox.

5 Easy Lesson Plans

I’ve learned, through much trial and error, that I can more or less function on five hours of sleep a night. Get much below that, though, and things get dicey, especially when you add 96 middle-schoolers into the mix. And at the moment, I have a teething baby, which means I’m often stumbling toward the Keurig on three hours of shut-eye.

Maybe you’re in a similar situation. Or maybe you’ve got a snoring spouse, a yappy dog, an overactive bladder, or a good ol’ case of insomnia. Never fear. While sleep-deprived teaching will never be fun, it doesn’t mean you have to hand out a packet of worksheets or let Professor Netflix take over. (Yes, your 11th graders have already seen Zootopia. Just because it’s streaming doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.) Here are a few great, easy lesson plans to have on hand for those days when you just can’t.


1. Webquests

There are a million of these out there, and it’s relatively easy to make your own if you can’t find one you like. The combination of graphic features and video added to the text makes the kids automatically more interested and focused. Seriously, find five or six on topics you cover during the year, and it’s a pretty great fallback.

WeAreTeachers has webquests on:



2. Narrative response

Rather than answering the questions at the end of the chapter, consider having students research an event and write a first-person account of it. If you’ve got the rubric and a list of websites already, this is a really easy opportunity for kids to self-direct their learning.  A couple of years ago, a group of students in my class researched Operation Pied Piper, the evacuation of children from London during World War II. They created identities as sibling groups that were separated into different foster homes, and wrote a series of letters to one another describing their experiences. It was some of the best writing I’ve gotten from my students, and required virtually no input from me.


3. Self-reflection

Older kids love assignments that allow them to think about their own lives and personalities. Have them take an online personality quiz, like Myers-Briggs, and write about it. Let them create a soundtrack to their year and explain why they chose each song. If their lives were movies, who would play them and their family and friends?  There are endless variations on this assignment, and all you have to do is go over the instructions and then sip coffee for the rest of class.


4. Write a skit.

If you don’t need silence and your kids can handle group work, this is the way to go. It’s versatile and can expand to fit almost any amount of time. I like this especially as a way to incorporate vocabulary. Kids actually enjoy this assignment, and it’s easy to grade on the spot. The noise and hilarity will also keep you awake, ensuring that nobody writes on your face with a Sharpie.


5. Make a board game.

Once again, you can adapt this to almost any topic. Water cycle. Novel. Order of operations. War of 1812. It’s totally flexible, can be done in groups or individually, and incorporates a variety of summarizing and analytical skills. If you’re having a whole sleepless week and need additional downtime, kids can play each other’s games and evaluate them.

All of these activities require at least a little prep upfront, but once that’s done, they’re high-interest enough to mostly manage themselves. And remember, any activity done in groups of four leads to only one-fourth of the grading for you!

Teaching is a demanding, high-energy job, and nobody is at 100 percent every day, but that doesn’t mean your kids have to suffer. Plan ahead some hands-off assignments, then kick back and let your kids do all the work!

What easy lesson plans would you add to the list? Please share in the comments.