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Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Hazards of Elementary School Presentations

Remembering back to my own childhood, I would say the most awful presentations I sat through were those that bored my tiny tights off.

With this in mind, when I was asked to do an elementary school presentation as part of World Book Day, I aimed to amuse. I put together an interactive play using my book, "Logical Larry", as a reference. I strung together the various parts of a story and had the children come up and act out the hero, villain, helpmate and such. It played out like "The Twelve Days of Christmas", adding each new role after we discussed it.

While the kids got a few chuckles from their dialogue, which consisted of "Ta-daaa!" (the hero) and "Aargh!" (the villain), I underestimated how long it would take to get kids comfortable goofing off with a stranger. We were over halfway through the presentation before they loosened up. They seemed most excited when I had them sit down and write their own stories. Note to self: Not so much interaction next year.

Fast forward to this year. I thought I had it made. In "The Author's Apprentice", I would have them write their own story along with me. As I went over the importance of obstacles, goals, etc., the kids could fill in their own main character, goals and such and read back what they had written at the end of the evening. I even made up nifty forms for them to use, writing out the entire story except for blank lines that they could fill in. Easy peasy, right?

1. Interruptions

This was an after school event involving parents. You can't make parents line up and march into a classroom. I began ten minutes late with only three sets of child/parent. Ten minutes later, an entire group filed in, and I had to backtrack to get the newcomers caught up. This happened twice more, and the last time, the event photographer came with them. A few minutes more and both parents and children started slipping out, which was a bit of a distraction, but at least I didn't have to restart the presentation.

2. Kids Will Be Kids

I don't have my own children, so I have "sucker" written across my forehead. At least, that's what it felt like. The teacher had supplied a box of sharpened pencils. One boy came up and explained that his was broken and he needed to sharpen it. I almost said yes, but then I saw the frenzied light in his eyes and realized that sharpening pencils represented hours of fun to a young boy. I gave him a replacement and accepted his disdain.

Another child insisted that he had to go look for his mother. She didn't know he was in this class, and she was with his brother somewhere. When he reached the near-tears level, I let him go. The school is locked up, so I didn't worry about him escaping, but I will check out what the school policy is next year.

3. Level of Difficulty

Because the group included children from various classes, I had to aim for the middle grade, and I geared my presentation towards the fourth graders. However, I overestimated their writing skills, and none of the children finished before the end of my class.

Conclusion? I needed more interaction.

Next year, I'm going to go for writing games, maybe with prizes to get their attention right away. And I'll mix in a short writing assignment, such as coming up with a great first sentence. If that fails, I'm going to hire a magician to take my place!

2 comments:

  1. Well, halleluia! I was able to post a comment when I got here (to your blog) via Google Chrome. I wonder why I can't on IE or AOL? Oh, well.
    This post about your adventures in an elementary school is hilarious. I can picture you there, directing a mini-play, refusing pencil-sharpening crazed kids, getting "see Dick run" when you were expecting "to be or not to be" with your young writers. My big questions, is HOW you are able to go into a school/classroom in the first place. Do you have an "in" that you can share?

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  2. The administrator is a neighbor. They usually notify me too late to get other authors involved. (Two years running the authors have been booked already.)

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