This post originally appeared on the blog Teaching ELA with Joy Sexton.

Have you thought about preparing emergency lesson plans in the event of your school closing? If you’ve been informed of a closing, chances are you’re being asked to provide home instruction materials. Some schools call it distance or remote learning, or virtual teaching. And if you teach in the north, maybe you’ve been asked to create a “blizzard bag” for snow days. But whatever the term, you’ll need some stand-alone lesson plans where your middle school students can learn and gain practice at home on their own.

Digital Lesson Plans or Paper?

If your school is 1:1 and all students have devices and at-home Wi-Fi, you’re probably panicking the least. You can continue to deliver your digital lessons through Google Classroom or another LMS. But if you’ll need to go all-paper, you might be scrambling to type up some quick direction sheets for the ideas you have. It’s practical to go ahead and assemble stapled packets that are clearly marked in terms of what students need to do. Try to include some creative elements that will engage them along with the more rigorous tasks.

Here are 5 quick emergency lesson plan ideas for ELA distance / home learning (computer and print options):

1. If you haven’t heard of Kelly Gallagher’s Article of the Week, just Google it. You’ll find an archive of tons of non-fiction articles of interest to students. The beauty is, instead of having to answer a bunch of questions, students are asked to:

  • Annotate on the article as evidence of close reading
  • Mark any confusing spots
  • Write a one-page reflection

The requirements are listed right on the article, along with some possible ideas to guide the student reflection. These will be quick to grade, too! You can easily notice annotations and confusing spot markings, and the written reflections can be graded for completion. Just print out your selected articles, or create links so your students can access each one online.

2. Locate all your graphic organizers that work with any literature. Most likely, you have some of these for character traits, vocabulary, plot mapping, etc. You can quickly make story packets students can use to guide their reading and deepen their understanding. If your students have computer access, use stories that can be found online. Otherwise, decide on a few not-too-long titles and head for the copier.

To extend the packets, ask students to pick a short passage that creates a picture in their minds. Then they can create a colored drawing on plain white paper with the passage neatly quoted below. Have students attach the drawing to the packet with a paper clip. That way, you can slide off the artwork and make a wall display when school resumes.

Here’s a FREE literary response page to add to your collection. Students imagine they can step into the text and interact with characters and plot. Just click the image to print out on Google Docs.Here's a literary response page teachers can print and add to ELA distance learning packets. Use with any literature for middle school and high school students.

Another writing idea for story response is have students extend the ending. They can get creative and continue the plot to an ending of their choosing. I have a writing assignment you can use with any story called “Extend the Story.” Grab it free in my TpT store by clicking HERE.

3. You may want to include standards-based writing as part of your ELA emergency lesson plan. If so, you’ll need a way to hook your students and get them motivated. For an argumentative piece, use some current, hot topics. Try connecting the topic to the reason why school is closed. Students can express their opinion, reasons for their opinion, and then some details that help back up or illustrate their reasons. Or, let students be the experts and write about their own lives and experiences in a narrative format.

Whatever you assign, it helps to use sentence starters or journal-type topics to ease students into the writing. Then ask them to extend a short piece into a longer piece with paragraphing and more details. It would help if you put together a quick pre-writing organizer. That way, students can jot their ideas in order under labeled headings. You don’t have to require a formal essay, but students can write their piece guided by the organizer.

I wouldn’t go overboard with expectations for student revising and editing. Simply ask them to read it over slowly, fix any problem spots, and create a neat copy.

4. You can conveniently differentiate by assigning a quick research project. Let students choose their own topics of interest and conduct internet research. The assignment can be simple. For example: Create a slide presentation (of 6 or more slides) that reflects what you learned. You will need:

  • Notes from two sources
  • A well-written paragraph (in your own words) and at least one related image on each slide
  • Both sources cited on an additional slide entitled “Works Cited”

Or how about if students create a poster showing what they’ve learned. Ask for the topic, 10 pieces of key information, and 4 related images displayed neatly and accurately on the poster.

If you want to narrow the topic choice a little, you can give a category, such as research a specific place you’d like to visit with your family. That way students have a focus, but can still personalize their learning experience.

5. Are your students reading independent novels? If so, it’s a no-brainer to use choice reading and response as part of your emergency lesson plans if school closes. You can require a certain number of pages (or minutes) of reading per day, and have them write a short reflection. A simple half-page reflection on lined paper should be manageable. And these will be easy grading for you—just skim and assign credit. If you’re teaching through Google Classroom, you may be interested in this digital reader’s journal.

Whatever types of assignments you decide to use, the key is organization! Attach a cover page for all your packets and really spell out the directions and requirements. Whether you teach at a middle school that is not-so-techy or one that is 1:1, I hope these ideas will help you pull together some quick emergency lesson plans for ELA distance learning.


Joy Sexton has close to 30 years of ELA middle school teaching experience, all at grades 7-8. She has taught in both Florida and New York, and currently designs ELA teaching materials offered on Joy holds both a B.A. and an M.A. degree in English Literature from the University of Central Florida. Along with her passion for creating engaging classroom resources, Joy enjoys nature, music, books, and adventurous road trips. Connect with her on FacebookInstagram, and her blog Teaching ELA with Joy Sexton.