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Must-Have Math Activities for Substitute Teachers

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When you’re a sub, you need math activities that are both simple and fun.

We’ve got a list of winning math activities for substitute teachers.

Must-Have Math Activities for Substitute Teachers

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Subs in Math

Math can be an intimidating subject to substitute teach.

Since math is taught sequentially, it’s helpful to know what the students have already covered.

As a sub, you often don’t have that knowledge.

Also, the students in the room are likely in different places with their math skills.

It can be a challenge to teach in a way that engages all the students.

If you have any apprehension about math, you can easily make it vanish.

The trick is to have some go-to, stand-alone math activities that students of all ages enjoy.

Must-Have Math Activities for Substitute Teachers

What Makes a Good Math Activity for a Sub

Great math activities for substitute teachers must fit several requirements.


The ideal math activities for substitute teachers are fun.

You want your students to pay attention and participate.

By picking activities that are hands-on or game-oriented, you increase your chances of success.

Stand Alone

Likely you don’t know what the students have been learning recently or how they have been learning it.

Therefore, you should present stand-alone content.

It should be something the students can pick up in a single lesson and apply right away.

Another tack is to pick a foundational math concept (like math facts) and review it in a creative way.

Must-Have Math Activities for Substitute Teachers


When choosing math activities for substitute teachers, simple is best.

You want activities that are simple to prep.

You’re a sub!

You may have had little or no time to prepare.

You also want activities that are simple to explain and do.

Don’t frustrate the students by picking something overly complicated.

Types of Math Activities

Here are examples of types of math activities for substitute teachers.


Symmetry is an ideal math concept because you can explain it in a single lesson, and it works across multiple ages.

A lesson on symmetry can work with Kindergartners all the way up to middle schoolers (as we see symmetry in chemistry, biology, and art).

You can teach students to identify symmetry (a perfectly reflected image along a center line) by using pictures of items like a ladybug, an airplane, a butterfly, and a starfish.

A lesson on symmetry is not complete without making it hands-on.

You can use these worksheets to let the students draw symmetrical snowflakes.

The geometric patterns in snowflakes make them perfect examples of symmetry.

You can also use these spring symmetry pictures.

The student will draw the other half of a ladybug, bumblebee, flower, and more.


Identifying patterns practices logical thinking and spatial reasoning.

Put shapes or numbers in a pattern and ask the students to figure out what comes next.

You can also give them graph paper and coloring supplies and ask them to create their own patterns of colored squares.

Paper Math Puzzles

Select paper math puzzles and have the students cut them up for one another to play.

You will need at least two different types of paper puzzles (one to cut and give away and one to solve).

Here are some puzzle ideas to get you started: counting money puzzles, multiplication and division puzzles, and addition and subtraction puzzles.

Must-Have Math Activities for Substitute Teachers

Three-Dimensional Shapes

Students love learning about shapes.

Three-dimensional shapes are even cooler!

You can teach your class about cubes, pyramids, rectangular prisms, triangular prisms, cylinders, and spheres.

You can show students how to draw the first five (graph paper can make this easier).

Even better, make the shapes out of toothpicks and marshmallows!

SNAKE: The Math Activity Kids Love

If you are looking for math activities for substitute teachers, the game of SNAKE is a winner.

Snake is a dice game that can work for multiple grade levels.

You can use it to review addition or subtraction.

The thing to remember about this game is that if you roll a 1, that’s bad.

You lose all your points from that round.

If you roll two 1s in a single roll (that’s called snake eyes), you lose all the points that you have earned thus far in the game.

How to Play Snake

  1. Each student draws five columns on their paper and labels each column with a letter: S, N, A K, and E.
  2. Everyone stands up.
  3. You roll two dice and call out the numbers. (Let’s say you roll a 6 and 2.)
  4. The students add those two numbers and write the total (8) in their “S” column.
  5. If they want to “lock in” those points, they sit down. They can’t earn any more points that round but they can’t lose points either.
  6. You roll the two dice again for the students who are still standing; say you roll 3 and 4.
  7. The students add the numbers (7) and write 7 under the 8. They now have 15 points total. They can sit down and lock in these points if they want, or they can remain standing for another roll.
  8. You roll the dice again: 5 and 1. Uh oh! I told you ones are bad! Every student who is standing loses all their points in the S column. The round is over.
  9. The students must write their totals for the S column at the bottom of their papers: 8, 15, or 0.
  10. You play the remaining rounds (N, A, K, and E) the same way. Remember, at any point, if you roll a snake eyes (two 1s), everyone standing loses all the points they have earned thus far.
Must-Have Math Activities for Substitute Teachers

How to Win

After all rounds have been played, the students add their totals from the bottom of the paper.

The person with the highest total wins.


If you are teaching older students, you can make this game more advanced by multiplying the numbers on the dice instead of adding them.

The Best Math Activities for Subs

As a substitute teacher, you want your math class to run smoothly.

You also need activities that take minimal prep.

Enter these five activities and games.

Your math class will be the highlight of the school day!

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