The Perfect Sub Lesson for Any Grade Level


All teachers, at one point or another, have gone to school sick because it’s just too much work to write up sub plans. That’s why having a set of emergency plans in your sub binder or sub tub is such a great idea. But how do you decide which plans to include?

Today I’d like to share an idea that not only asks kids to think deeply and collaborate with each other, but also works as an advocacy tool when displayed in the hallway. My subs love it; my kids love it…in fact, my whole school loves it!

Next time you’re out and need a quick lesson, try the “What is Art?” Collage! Here’s the plan.

1. Prompt the students with the question, “What is art?”

I tell my subs to ask this question to the whole group. After students have discussed for about five minutes, have the sub stop the conversation and tell the kids instead of answering the question with words, they will finish answering with images!

2. Pass out collage materials.

At this point, the sub explains students will be creating collaborative collages with their table mates. Their task is to look through magazines and other available collage materials to find things to answer the question “What is art?” Direct the sub to pass out magazines at this point.


3. The hunt is on!

Next, students will begin searching for images or words to answer the question individually. The search will comprise most of the work time.

4. Time to collaborate!

When there are about 15 minutes left of class, have the sub pass out a piece of colored or black 12″ x 18″ construction paper to each table. Then, have them direct students to glue their images onto the paper, creating a collaborative piece to answers the prompt, “What is art?”

kids working

5. Share

If there’s extra time, students can walk around the room and share their “answers” with their classmates.

6. Return to some amazing work!

I love coming back to school after my students do this activity. We can have a lovely conversation about the images they cut out and what they think art is! It turns out; the students realize art can be everywhere and anywhere! It’s the clothes we wear, the furniture we sit on, the houses we live in, the cars we drive, the jewelry we wear, the songs we listen to – shoes, socks, airplanes, books, water bottles, boats, flash drives, mirrors, the list is endless and students begin to realize without art, we’re all basically “naked on a beach!” because ART is EVERYTHING and EVERYWHERE!

7. Hang the results for all to see.

After our discussion, I save the work to hang in the hallway with a “What is ART?” sign students help me create. It’s a powerful way to show the staff and community members in your building how art influences all aspects of our lives.

This lesson is a powerful, educational experience that needs only a few simple materials. Plus, it connects well to many of the National Arts Standards. (For more info on these, check out the course Implementing the New Arts Standards where you’ll determine how the four subcategories fit within units, lessons, and experiences.) I hope you give it a try next time you have to be away from your students. Remind your sub to have the kids clean up the scraps, and you will be set with just about the perfect sub lesson! If you decide to give it a try, please share your results!

Do you have a go to sub plan your students love?

How do you get your students to think deeply about art and the meaning of art?

Magazine articles and podcasts are opinions of professional education contributors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Art of Education University (AOEU) or its academic offerings. Contributors use terms in the way they are most often talked about in the scope of their educational experiences.


Debi West

Debi West is one of AOEU’s adjunct instructors and a former AOEU Writer and NBCT art educator. She loves sharing with others and enthusiastically stands behind her motto, “Together we ART better!”

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