Last week was Book Week. I visited four schools and did six readings. It is a busy time yet one of my favourite times of the year as I love being invited into schools to read to so many wonderful little children. The delight and excitement on their faces makes every moment so worthwhile. I am happy to visit school anytime throughout the year, it just so happens that Book Week seems to be a particularly special time. This year the theme was Australian Stories, so Emma the Eager Emu and Frazzled Freya were a perfect fit. Here are my six tips or strategies I would like to share that help make a school visit so successful.
- Be Organised Ahead of Time. Never underestimate little people. If you think you can just go in and read your book, think again! Kids expect to be entertained. You need a plan. A well thought out lesson plan. Teachers and parents like a reason for your visit. They anticipate some kind of learning to be taking place during the session and afterwards too if you can organise it. Teachers always appreciate a good follow up activity. Part of my package is to send them an idea of what I plan to be speaking about as well as a couple of possible follow up activities. The complexity or simplicity of these depend on the level of the students. It can be as simple as a colouring in page, a craft activity or a comprehension page.
- Send the school a Pre-Order Form. If you hope to gain a few book sales while you are there, then the best marketing strategy is to forward a pre-order form to the school at least two weeks prior to the visit. This way the school has time to send the form home in the newsletter and parents have time to respond. I always add a note about the benefits of reading at home, reading a book from an author the children have met, books make great presents etc. Include your website so that parents can make an informed decision. I also usually give a discount for an author visit as an encouragement to purchase a signed copy of the book on the day.
- Have a Poster for the School to Display. You want to advertise your upcoming visit. Don't expect the school to make up a display for you. Schools are very busy places so they will appreciate the effort you make in having a poster ready for them. It should include a photo of yourself so the students can see who the author is coming. A copy of the cover of any of your books. The date of your visit and your website information. Forward it along with the pre-order form at least two weeks in advance of your visit.
- Be Prepared to Mix it up a little. When reading your book vary your pitch, tone and expression. Use puppets where you can. Kids love puppets! Ask questions, involve the kids, encourage participation. If there is repetition in your story, (as in Emma The Eager Emu) the kids can join in and help you recite certain lines. Have a discussion at the end. What did they learn from the story? Was there a moral? In my case, my books are about unique Australian animals, so that allows for an opportunity to discuss the nature of these amazing creatures, what makes them special and even what their habitat is. I have a video of a frill-neck lizard in the wild that the children find fascinating and a video about an emu that we can all sing along to.
- Be Flexible. Sometimes not all goes to plan and you may have to change things. Kids can get restless. Don't persist if something isn't working, don't stress, move onto something else. This is where another activity can be useful, that video or craft. Sometimes things might be going so well, that they may ask for more! Last week I planned to read and do my lesson around my latest book, Frazzled Freya, each session lasting only half an hour. The children in several groups were listening and responding so well that I was asked to continue. I pulled out my emu puppet and proceeded to read Emma the Eager Emu.
- Finish on a high. Sometimes I use the video of the emu song to finish. It's a great way to end a session. The kids are laughing and are happy. Now I have Freya to add to the mix, I remind them of the games they can now go outside and play just like Freya does in her story, (Shadows and Hide and Seek) then we all finish with a special frill neck lizard wave.
Do you have any other ideas that help make a school visit successful? Share them in the comments below.