We all have those days. You’re exhausted. You don’t feel well. You don’t have the energy to go on with your regular lesson plans. Something happened at home and you are not mentally prepared for school. It’s one of those days when you “just can’t”. I have had quite a few days like this. I don’t feel well but I can’t miss another day of school. When you have days like this, it’s really nice having some backup activities ready. Here are activities that I’ve used in my own classroom with great success.  I like these specific activities because they take most of the work and energy off the teacher and put it on the students. I organized this post into three sections: activities for the worst days, activities for other “just can’t” days, and reading activities (since we read so much in my classes). Please keep in mind that any of these activities could work well on a normal day too. Adapt and use them however you would like.

ACTIVITIES FOR THE WORST DAYS – These are the days when you would stay home but you can’t for whatever reason. You are not in a good state mentally or physically. You wake up and go to work, but you cannot teach. You need to sit there and just monitor. You don’t have the energy for anything else. These specific activities work well on the worst days because they are no prep and (usually) low energy. You will need access to technology, though, for many of these.

  • Señor Wooly – This is my absolute favorite site because students are still getting quality input for the day in an engaging way. I have the PRO version so each student has their own account and can choose which video they want to work on. I also use this as zero prep sub plans when I have the Chromebook cart.
  • Gimkit – If you have a Quizlet list already made, you can export it to Gimkit. For that reason, this is almost no prep for me and can last the entire class period. This is also the game that students request to play the most.
  • Duolingo – I like this website because it is zero prep. Students can just go to the website and create their own account. You can sit back and relax while students work through the levels at their own pace.
  • Quizlet – This can involve some prep if you don’t have any lists created. However, you can always search a topic and see if someone else has already made a list that you can use. If I want it silent, I will have students play individual games on Quizlet. If I can handle some noise, I will have them play Quizlet Live in groups because it’s so engaging.
  • Free write (Ben Slavic) – Students can silently free write for a set amount of time. You could have them create their own story and then illustrate it afterwards. Below are some additional ideas to go along with a free write.
  • Color by number pages – Not all students like doing this, but I still will have it as an option for some. I almost always have a stack of color by number pages in Spanish printed off just in case I need them. It’s very low energy and relaxing for many students. There are a lot of great ones available on TPT. Here are the ones that I currently have available for my students:

ACTIVITIES FOR THE OTHER JUST CANT DAYS  – These days are not as extreme as the worst days, but they are not great either. You don’t feel great or you are not fully prepared for the day. You can walk around and interact with students, but you don’t have a lot of your own energy to share. You need something that is low/no prep and doesn’t require a lot of movement or a loud teacher voice. These activities will vary so you decide if it’s something you can handle or use in your own classroom.

  • Card games – The only thing you need is decks of cards for students. I bought mine at the dollar store years ago. Students can get into groups of 2-4 and play card games. The games can get a little intense so I always walk around and monitor closely. It takes the energy off of me, though, and puts it on the students. The two card games below let students practice numbers.
    • Mano Nerviosa (numbers 1-13) – I have seen lots of teachers use this game, which is similar to Slap Jack. This link from Spanish Mama also includes a video explaining how to play the game.
    • Noventa y Nueve (numbers 1-99) – I use this with older students. The link brings you to a 10 minute video tutorial, which makes it even less work for you as the teacher.
  • Dots and Boxes – This game is very fun for students and I have them play in pairs. If you need one that is zero prep, you can pay $1.50 for the already made game boards here. It comes with 5 different versions. If you have extra time, you can easily make your own. I like to make my own if I need it to be more specific to my own plans. What I do is I print off a blank game board and write in the vocabulary myself. Then I make copies of the finished board and it’s ready to go! I have two versions:
    • Short version: This board works well if you want the game to be shorter or if you want write whole sentences in the boxes.
    • Long version: This board works well if you want the game to last the entire class period; the boxes are very small so you can only fit one word or number in each one. I like to use this when we’re practicing telling time in Spanish. I will write the digital time and they need to say it aloud in Spanish.
  • Elimination – Students stand in a circle. When it’s their turn, they say one or two numbers. If they say a multiple of 5, they have to sit down. The game continues until only one student is left standing.
  • Number ball – Students say a number, then toss the ball to another student. This is a way to practice numbers but I like to use it when I need a break and need to sit down. Plus students really enjoy it.
  • SEIS dice game – This game can be used with any worksheet. You can use it to translate sentences or complete a worksheet. Each pair has one pencil and one dice. One student writes while the other rolls the dice. They keep rolling until they get a six. Once they roll a six, they grab the pencil from their partner and write. The cycle continues until one student completes the entire worksheet. I like it because I can just print off a worksheet quickly and it’s ready to go!
  • Ladrón (Thief) – This is zero prep and highly engaging. One student goes in the hall while another student (the thief) takes something of theirs. The student comes back in and tries to figure out what is missing and who the thief is. Just project this FREE handout from Martina Bex on the screen to help students with the questions. I help students as they ask the questions but it’s nice that it involves no prep.
  • Mafia – This is another zero prep game. It involves talking on the teacher’s part so keep that in mind. I like using these rules and materials from AnneMarie Chase.

LOW PREP READING ACTIVITIES – Reading is a great source of input for students and there are so many activities that you can do with a story. These are all low energy/low prep activities that I’ve used with my students. Plus, it doesn’t involve me speaking so I can save my voice for the day.

  • FVR (free voluntary reading) – If you already have a classroom library, this is a very easy activity to have students do. We read silently twice a week, but they can also read on days when I need the silence. Many of them really enjoy it and it’s so beneficial.
  • Zombie Story Sub plans – Martina Bex created this amazing resource as a sub plan. Not everyone has access to technology so this works well in that situation. Just print off the plans for your students and you are ready to go! Even though it is a sub plan, I have used these plans myself on days when I had no energy and needed to sit back. You could have students complete the story/activities alone or with a partner.
  • Revista Literal – This free magazine can be used for free reading time or for other reading activities. If you do not already have a story to use, you can find plenty in this magazine.
  • Read and Draw – Give students a story to illustrate. Either project it on the board or print it off for them. They can spend the entire class creating a comic for the story.
  • Write and Discuss – Even though it has the word “write” in it, it’s more of a reading activity for my students. I am the one writing it as they read along and help fill in the missing information. This is such a calm, relaxing way to end a lesson. If you want to read more, AnneMarie Chase wrote an excellent post about this topic.
  • Textivate – You can take any story (text) and put it into Textivate. This is a great way to get students reading through a variety of activities. It does require technology since it is a website.

I am sure there are plenty of other activities out there, but these are the ones I have personally used in my own classroom. Let me know if you have any other activities that work well on those “just can’t” days!


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