Sheri Bell-Rehwoldt, author of award-winning children's books, including You Think it's Easy Being the Tooth Fairy?, offers tips on creating a successful school program...
You've been invited to visit a school to talk about being an author. Only the school wants you to talk to the students in large assemblies, with multiple grades. You say "Yes!" when you hear they're going to buy your book(s) PLUS pay you a nice chunk of change. But later, in thinking about your presentation, doubts begin to creep in. You realize it's going to be a challenge to connect with 600 kids at one time, given their wide range in interests and age. So what to do?
Here are a few tips, based on two 45-minute school assemblies I just did, the first for kids in kindergarten through 4th grade, and the second for kids in 5th through 8th grade.
1) Make sure that you'll have plenty of teachers in the room (probably the gym or cafeteria, unless the school has an auditorium), to help you quiet the kids down when they get rowdy (which you want, as you'll need to be as interactive as possible to entertain them!). Make it clear you're the entertainment, not the babysitter, and that the teachers need to be engaged, not talking amongst themselves in the back of the room. Find out if the school uses a gesture to ask for quiet. Use the gesture yourself. But stay positive. No frowning, no mean comments. Stay in control of yourself and you'll keep control over the crowd.
2) Set the tone of the presentation from the very beginning. I used body language to signal that we were about to have fun. And that I wasn't there to embarrass them or pick on them.
3) Find a way to get the kids interacting with you from the first minute. I used a get-to-know-you game I call "Author Fact or Fiction." A number of students were called up to the front to stand next to me (the students were selected for being the biggest help to the school librarian this year). They were given a card with the words "Fact" on one side and "Fiction" on the other. Then they had to guess whether the statements the librarian read about me were true or false. The statements ran the gamut from "Miss Sheri once held onto a car for three days as part of a radio contest" to "Miss Sheri has a pet lama named 'Pearl'" to "Miss Sheri just wrote a pranks book for boys that includes recipes for fake vomit and poop." The students were REALLY impressed when they found out that was true! HA!
4) Another good way to get younger kids engaged is to play word games with them or have them repeat a set of movements. To encourage the younger assembly to brush and floss, I had them sing "Brush, Brush, Brush Your Teeth" to the tune of "Row Your Boat." The kindergarteners got the easiest movements, the first and second graders were given harder movements, and the third and fourth graders had to copy the most complex -- including turning around, peering between their legs, and wagging their butts. They loved it. They loved it even more when I asked all the students to raise their hands if they wanted to see their teachers copy them. The place went wild -- and the teachers were good sports. ;-)
5) In both assemblies, I spent 10 minutes reading to the kids. I read my tooth fairy book to the younger assembly via a PowerPoint presentation (I asked my publisher to send me a digital copy of the book). The kids read the story along with me. In the older assembly, I read a chapter from my unpublished middle grade novel.
6) Treat the kids and teachers with respect. Smile at them. Playfully tease them. Act like they're the star, not you, and they'll embrace you -- even the older kids who walk in with guarded, bored expressions. It also helps to give the students a chance to hear you answer questions they have. The librarian who organized the event solicited questions from each teacher several weeks before my visit, emailed them to me, and let me pick the ones I wanted to answer. Having the chance to really think about my answers allowed me to give the kids comprehensive responses. The kids whose questions I answered got to stand up, which made them feel special among their peers (even if they acted like they hated it! HA!). They also got a ticket, which earned them a free book (purchased by the school) after the assembly.
I had a great time, and you will too, if you remember one thing: you're there to entertain, motivate, and BE YOURSELF. It's amazing how cool the kids think you are simply because you're an author. One little girl kept hugging me. "I LOVE you! I LOVE you!" she kept saying. Another, after I wrote my name on her arm (her suggestion, not mine!) said, "I'm never washing this arm again!"
J.K. Rowling, I finally know how you feel!!
To learn more about Sheri Bell-Rehwoldt, visit her profile by clicking here.