When do you need an emergency lesson plan? Picture this, it’s Thursday lunchtime. You’ve just rushed into your staffroom to inhale your lunch, and the next class is about to start in 10 minutes.  Only problem?  You have NOTHING planned. You need an emergency lesson plan NOW!

Cue the feeling in the pit of your stomach, slowly sinking as the minutes tick down to class time.  You HATE that feeling. And you’re not alone.


You need to come up with a plan for a seventy-minute lesson in about five minutes, including time spent wrestling with the recalcitrant photocopier.  

Your brain ticks on overdrive as you eyeball the clock – seventy minutes equals three blocks of twenty minutes, with five minutes on either side of setting up and packing up.  You need three activities ASAP. 

If only you had a list of useful resources to get free, instant activities.  Oh, wait, you do! They’re in this blog post!

Read on for five no prep emergency lesson plans and emergency lesson plan ideas for when you have nothing planned. 

Idea #1: Show a Crash Course video and get students to take visual notes

Teachers all know how to lesson plan, and generally agree that lesson planning makes lessons run more smoothly. Most teachers would agree that walking into the classroom with a plan ensures that students learn what they’re meant to.

And usually, we get the added bonus that student behavior is generally better because students have a set of different activities to keep them engaged.

After practice, most teachers learn how to lesson plan quickly so it doesn’t suck all of the hours of the day into a black hole. But sometimes unexpected things crop up and we just run out of time for preparing a lesson plan. how-to-lesson-plan-quickly-without-time-being-sucked-down-the-lesson-planning-black-hole

And sometimes your kid wakes up vomiting at 3 am and you are braindead when you walk into your staffroom at 8 am to plan. So you aren’t your usual efficient self when lesson planning. So we all need those fantastic 30 minute lesson ideas to get us through the day. 

My favorite emergency lesson plan idea is to show a video in class. Not only does it often engage students quickly, but it also gives you a few extra precious minutes to get your shizzle together so that the rest of the lesson runs smoothly.

I also love getting students to take visual notes because the onus is on them to take the notes. You don’t have to listen to the video, create a worksheet, and photocopy them ahead of time. You just have to find a video and press play.

Why a Crash Course video you ask? 

Well, they’re short, engaging, and funny. And they have so many videos that you’re bound to find something that you can use regardless of which subject or topic you are teaching.

Set up a few years ago by Hank and John Green (otherwise known as the Vlog Brothers), Crash Course has a massive arrange of free videos on just about any topic. You can find them on the Crash Course website or YouTube.

Their different series cover topics such as 

  • World history
  • US history
  • Literature
  • Psychology
  • Engineering
  • History of science
  • Media literacy
  • Theater and drama
  • Biology
  • Ecology
  • Statistics
  • Sociology
  • Computer science
  • Chemistry
  • Big history
  • Anatomy and physiology
  • US government and politics
  • Intellectual property
  • Economics
  • Philosophy
  • Physics
  • Games
  • World mythology
  • Astronomy
  • Study skills
  • and Film history, production, and criticism 

Most of the Crash Course videos run between 10-15 minutes, so they’re not too long to hold students’ attention. They do a great job of introducing topics and have an engaging mix of presenter-led information and animation.

And the best part, all you have to do is find a relevant video and press play. Presto, you have another 10 minutes to get your shizzle together for the rest of the lesson.

How can you use this as a last-minute lesson idea?

Using this strategy, you could easily make one video last an entire lesson.

First, you spend 5-10 minutes getting the kids in the room, and then explaining and modeling what visual notes are. You could also spend some time and give the video some context so students know why they’re watching it.

Then you spend 10-15 minutes watching the video. Make sure you pause every few minutes to give students a chance to process the information and take notes (the Green brothers talk fast!). 

That’s at least 20-30 minutes of your lesson plan sorted (depending on how long you take to get kids in the room, explain the activity, and pause the video).

After the video, you can get students to discuss the main ideas from the video in groups before opening up a whole-class discussion. That’s another 15-20 minutes of time used, taking your total to between 50-70 minutes.

And finally, if you still have time left over, students can write a reflection about what they’ve learned in the lesson. You can make this as long or short as you want, in whatever format you choose.

So if there are 10 minutes left, you can get them to write a paragraph response. If there are five minutes, you can ask them to write a one-sentence summary. And if there are two minutes left until you’re released from the purgatory that is an unplanned lesson, you can get students to choose three words to write down.

And all you need for this last-minute lesson idea is internet connectivity, a projector or student laptops, access to YouTube or the Crash Course website, blank paper, and pens. Winning!

Idea #2: Start  with silent reading


Another easy way to buy yourself time when you have no lesson plan is to start the lesson with silent reading. This is a godsend for when you are trying to think up those no-prep, no-materials activities that are the backbone of every emergency lesson plan idea.

Students can silently read their own books (if they have them), their textbooks, an article you’ve photocopied, or an article that you project on the board. 

If their books or the article are long enough, you are buying yourself 10-ish minutes of silent time to collect your thoughts and get a plan together.

Easy last minute lesson ideas to use with this are to get students to create a comic book summary of what they’ve read or to create visual notes summarizing what they’ve just read. This works for just about any subject and topic, and all you need is this free comic book template or blank paper.

Once students do that, you have hopefully thought up a few no-prep activities for them to do.

Easy no prep activities or strategies include
  • Students write one-sentence summaries about the topic
  • Students take Cornell notes about the topic 
  • In groups, students create 10-15 quiz questions to review the content. You shuffle them and read them out. Each correct answer gives each team a point
  • Students create visual notes about the content
  • You make up a list of true/false statements about the content. Read them aloud and students sit or stand for true or false
  • Use a movement or brain break to buy yourself an extra 5 minutes 
  • Students skim through what they’ve already read in silent reading and identify different features (for example, four adjectives or five nouns) 
  • Play hangman using vocabulary words from the content
  • Students practice active listening through a dictation activity – you read (or speak) aloud a passage. Students must write and punctuate it
  • Students review previous learning by using a ball (or scrunched-up paper) game. The teacher starts the game by asking a question and throwing the ball to a student. If the student can answer correctly, they get to think of another question and pass the ball along
  • Review previous learning by using the tic-tack-book game or the horse racing game. Students have to answer a question correctly to either put an x or o on a tic-tac-toe grid drawn on the board or to move their horse along the ‘racecourse’ drawn on the board
  • Students do a brain dump of everything they can remember about the content
  • Play charades with a word or idea from the content

All of these last minute lesson plan ideas are fast, easy, and require minimal equipment or materials. Some of them require you to know your content well. Others do not and work better in a true emergency lesson plan situation.

Idea #3: Use Khan academy

Another great emergency lesson plan tool is Khan Academy. It has free lessons, videos, and quizzes.

It covers a huge amount of content, including topics such as

  • Grammar
  • Test preparation
  • History
  • US government and civics
  • Life skills
  • Math
  • Science
  • Computing
  • Reading and language arts

Students can use it individually for one-off learning. 

Or you can create a teacher and student accounts and 

  • Track student progress 
  • Differentiate students’ learning
  • Find standards-aligned work
  • Assign students tasks

Idea #4: Use Freeology to find graphic organizers 

Freeology has great last minute activities for students with a plethora of free printables.  Worksheets you can print include

  • Graphic organizers
  • Planning templates
  • Writing prompt worksheets
  • Blank calendars
  • A worksheet creator
  • Journal topics
  • Poetry worksheets
  • Fun and games
  • Coloring pages
  • Classroom signs
  • Alphabet worksheets 
  • Awards and templates

Most of the printables are print-and-go. 

But if you have an extra five minutes, you can also personalize them for your class by inserting them as images into a Word doc or slide show and then typing over the top. Or you can print, hand write any changes you want, and then copy.

Idea #5: Use WordWall to find games


WordWall is an online platform where you can create your own learning games. However, you can also access other people’s games (some of them are free, and some are available only to paying users).

The variety of games that you can find and create is huge. They include

  • Match-ups
  • Quizzes
  • Cloze activities
  • Sorting 
  • Matching pairs
  • Unjumbling
  • Flashcards
  • Word searches
  • Anagrams
  • Labeling diagrams
  • Quiz show
  • Crosswords
  • Whack-a-mole

These games are a great way to review content. But they’re also great when you need to fill up 10-15 minutes at the end of a lesson because an activity took less time than you anticipated.

Using WordWall does require a little time to find games that are relevant to your content and the age of students. But if you have no lesson plan, you can do that while students are silently reading or watching a video.

If you’re prepared ahead of time, you can create your own games to match the content you’ve taught in class.

Idea #6: Use Discovery Education

Ok, this one is cheating, as it requires planning ahead. But, for those of you with a lack of access to technology, you can use the free Puzzlemaker section to quickly (I’m talking 5-10 minutes) to make puzzle activity worksheets. 

You can use it to make worksheets such as

  • Find-a-words
  • Crosswords
  • Cryptic clues
  • Word puzzles
  • Number puzzles
  • Fallen phrases
  • Maths squares
  • Letter tiles
  • Cryptograms. 

Crosswords and find-a-words are far more engaging than looking up dictionary definitions. Plus they’re a great way to reinforce vocabulary.

Bonus idea: Use TPT

Now, I’d be remiss if I didn’t say TeachersPayTeachers has loads of no-prep activities to use for the odd emergency lesson plan. However, it can take some time to find what you need. And you don’t always have the time to spare.

Sometimes it’s better to go with the low-prep, pencil-and-paper activity that students can do on blank paper or in their books rather than trying to find the perfect lesson on TPT.

Like when you are inhaling your lunch on a Thursday afternoon and the clock is ticking away the last seven minutes of lunchtime before your class starts. And you really want to pee before the bell goes.

So what happened in that Thursday afternoon lesson?

We’ve all had those lessons where we have just not managed to prepare for a lesson for whatever reason. (We’re looking at you vomiting toddler who kept us awake all night and sapped all of our concentration in the ten-minute-before-school-planning-time we had).

Or we’ve had those last-minute presentations, plays, or guest speakers sprung on us that ran for less time than a whole lesson. And we always need a few 30 minute lesson ideas or a last minute emergency lesson plan to last until the lunch bell.

Hopefully, these tips have helped you breeze through that Thursday afternoon. If you’ve used any of these ideas, or have more to add, find us on Facebook or Instagram. And ditto if you have some great no prep lesson plans and activities you’ve used from TPT.

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Last updated 24/4/23