Surviving Supply – Cover Work

Sometimes it may seem that no matter what Destiny’s Child harmonize or Gloria Gaynor belts out, a day of supply can test the hardiest survivor. As tensions start to build around exam season now is a good time to reflect on some top tips for surviving supply lessons. Today’s focus is on what to do when supply work doesn’t fit either the class or the length of the lesson.


Get to the classroom early to give you enough time to look over the cover work before the class arrives. This allows you to (most importantly) check that there is some cover work, but also to do numerous things. You can read over the instructions, giving you a chance to ask any questions of another member of staff if there is something you don’t understand. Ensure that the classroom has appropriate resources e.g. textbooks, stationery, etc., for the work set. All of these things enable you to set up with the correct equipment.


Make sure you equip yourself for the best possible lesson. Ask for a seating plan to refer to, the name of an SLT member that you can namedrop when setting your expectations for behaviour and find out where your nearest neighbour is in case you need help with anything from behaviour to turning the projector on. Students will inevitably attempt to avoid work by suddenly not having pens or paper. Arrive equipped with your own stationery to minimise the fuss and show the class that you’re not going to be fooled into spending fifteen minutes fumbling for the lined paper drawer. Having a wad of post-its with you at all times also means you’re prepared for lesson starts.

Lesson starts

You should also be prepared to give the students a starter task, a ‘Do Now’, activity to get them working straight away. Have a bank up your sleeve in case one isn’t prepared for you. Of course, this does not have to be directly linked to the learning in the lesson but reinforces your expectations of behaviour and engagement with learning. Asking students to create anagrams of keywords, finding the keyword with the highest Scrabble score or even just writing down 5 things they learnt the last lesson on a post-it are all viable options that give both you and the students five minutes of breathing space to settle into the lesson. If in that time, you evaluate the suitability of the cover work for the class and see that it won’t cut the mustard, you’ll need to use your creativity.


Your role is to ensure students are making progress within the lesson, but sometimes there is simply not enough cover work left. Let’s face it, the most engaging and exciting tasks are rarely left for supply teachers sadly! So, this is where your own professional judgement, experience, imagination and creativity make you a stand out supply teacher. Here are some key factors to look out for and think about when delivering a cover lesson:

  • Crystal clear – ensure that instructions for activities are repeated verbally and visually displayed clearly. Asking students to repeat the instructions back to you can help check their understanding.
  • Chunk it up – make sure that work is split up into 5-10minute chunks, any longer and students can become more easily unfocused. A good example of this is textbook work, splitting the pages into paragraphs and their accompanying tasks.
  • Time check – linking both your instructions and chunking up of larger tasks, make sure you relate a clear timing for the activity to the students and stick to it! If you give them half an hour for a task that they can do in five minutes, they’ll still manage to stretch it out for the whole 30minutes.
  • Follow up – if students know their work isn’t going to be checked, they will have little motivation to complete tasks, even if the lesson is moving on. By letting students know that there will be some form for self- or peer-assessment when their time is up, or the work will be marked by you or their usual class teacher, you provide motivation to complete the work set.
  • Extra, extra – sometimes the cover work just doesn’t fill the lesson time. In this case, you need to create your own activity. You will not be expected to teach the class something new but should instead use this time to reinforce their knowledge. Can they summarise the lesson in 5 paragraphs, then in 5 sentences and then in only 5 words? Can students create a diagram to remember the keywords from the lesson? Why not get students to write questions which can then be used to test one another or by you to test them in teams? There are loads of options for how to revise the content at the end of a lesson without ‘making a poster’.

If you would like any more support with your supply teaching, sign up to our ‘Supply Teaching Strategies’ CPD course at your London office on Saturday 15th June, 10am-2pm, or get in touch with the Training & Development Team at