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Classroom Presentation Tips from a Guest Speaker

As I have recently been providing pioneer and science workshops for local groups, I've learned a few things. If you getting started with school or group presentations, I hope this may help you.

For those not-yet-published authors and illustrators, I hope this will inspire you to begin sharing your talents prior to publication.

Plan what to say.

As you prepare for the presentation, be sure to write
out all you intend to say. You should NOT use your written presentation when speaking to children. They need your eye contact and energy. Planning will ensure your presentation is effective. Above all, know how to hook your audience right away so they tune into what you say.

Limit open-ended questions. 

A classroom teacher must prompt out-of-the-box thinking. Open-ended questions are fabulous in a regular classroom setting. However, as a guest presenter in an assembly or classroom visit, it's best to limit or skip this style of questioning with younger children. (Consider skipping questions altogether for kindergarteners and preschoolers. Even first graders...For these younger groups, consider asking the teachers to come up with a couple of questions as a group in advance for you to answer during the presentation.)

Knowing a group of second graders had completed an entire westward movement unit, I (foolishly) asked the question, "Who are some famous American pioneers?" One child answered, "Albert Alvin." His accomplishment? Inventing electricity. Hmm. Maybe I should have been more specific in my question!

Yet middle school students can brainstorm with you all sorts of information. I've engaged this group most successfully with both history and science. With a week-long science and engineering camp, they really built on their previous knowledge from earlier in the week. The lead teacher can be really helpful to you to know what the children have already learned.

Engage the children, provide information, and lead the conversation where you want it to go. 

Prep the Audience.

Even if your program is hands-on, explain why you are there and how the presentation connects with what they learn in the classroom. 

In addition, if staff assist you with small groups, be sure to clue them in when to listen to your instructions. Written instructions are highly effective, as well. 

Don't expect too much.

Just because you explain what to do at a the various stations and even demonstrate to the large group, don't expect the children (or adults) to remember. Provide written instructions, too.

If time is running out, instead of fitting in one more rushed activity, take the time to reconnect with the students and remind them why you visited.

Have fun.

Whether you speak from a stage or work with individual groups, have fun while you engage the audience. Use humor and props to keep the children's interest. Don't be afraid to exaggerate gestures and expressions. Get those kids excited! Smile, because working with children really is fun! (If you aren't enjoying yourself, neither are the children.)

Get comfortable.

I'm a former classroom teacher and thoroughly enjoy each opportunity to inspire and teach children. If that's not you, find resources (and a small test audience) to help you be your best. One of my favorites is Cool School Visits. You don't have to be an author to benefit from the information there.

~ Annette Whipple