The Challenges of Putting on a Children’s Literacy Presentation

I was recently asked by a school administrator to put on an Author Presentation for Children’s Literacy Day. Having written an early middle reader, a talk to third through fifth graders sounded like an excellent opportunity. What a learning experience!

Fight to Get the Details

As the first Literacy Day this school had ever put on, the details about what the organizer needed and wanted were hazy, and they kept changing. I assumed the woman in charge would let me know what she finally decided on once she figured it all out, but we all know what Felix Unger said about ass-u-me. Mistake. Even as the day approached, the emails I received were few and lacking detail.

If the school is unclear about what they want, take charge and tell them what you’re willing to do. You may help them come to a decision. At the very least, if what you are willing to do and what they want are two different things, telling them may force out additional details they “thought” they had already given you.

At first I was one of several authors giving a half an hour presentation. A week before the event, that changed. I was the only author giving a forty-five minute presentation twice the same evening to two different groups of students. When I arrived, I discovered I was one of four choices that the students would be assigned and was assured that, however long my presentation was, it would be fine and I could dismiss the students when I finished.  Then the administrator told me I needed to fill an hour and a half!

Prepare More Than You Need

Before the event, I worked to fill the original half hour and then quickly added a few thoughts for the extra fifteen minutes. When I discovered upon arrival that I had to fill an additional foty-five minutes, I had to wing it. Not a pretty site.

Even Young Audiences Need A Warm Up

When the kids took their seats, I jumped right in. I had arranged an interactive presentation and was surprised by how shy the kids were when it came to participating. They finally got into it at the very end of my original presentation, which, due to a lack of participation, only filled ten minutes! Had I warmed them up with questions and jokes and stories, they would have been ready to jump in and enjoy by the time I started asking for volunteers.

Understand How Kids Learn

I thought that an interactive presentation would keep the children from getting bored, but jumping around and shouting in the classroom was foreign to them, and it took the kids a while to get used to the idea. When I ran out of content, the school administrator rustled up paper and pencils and we asked the children to use the information I’d given them to write their own story. Writing an assignment and then reading it aloud was something they understood! I like to think they enjoyed my original presentation, but like good little students, they were comfortable with familiar “homework”.

Literacy Day was a fun experience, and I hope to do more Author Presentations for other schools. Next time I’ll come prepared. I’ll take control by telling the school what I’m willing to do. I’ll prepare extra content for last minute surprises. Warming my audience up will take priority, and I’ll be sure to include some traditional methods of learning.

Does anyone have experience with these types of presentations? I’d love to hear about what you did to ensure a fun and educational time for the kids.

3 thoughts on “The Challenges of Putting on a Children’s Literacy Presentation”

  1. You are one brave woman, Jack! But those are really valuable pointers. I always find that including the audience (as you did) gets them more interested. If I feel that I'm not getting their attention (regardless of the age), I'll stop the presentation and ask if they're interested, or if they would like to talk about something else. As long as we know our topic, we can go anywhere in a presentation. Good work!


  2. Boy, does that make me want to have a few sock puppets in my back pocket just in case I am doing an event and realize I have to vamp for another forty-five minutes.

    I do always have a few selections to read aloud depending on the timing. I can cut them or read them all.

    When I know the time frame, I practice my act in front of my dogs. They are a great audience unless they fall asleep. That's when I read something. Most of my stuff has good dialogue that wakes up the audience.

    But I sure will keep in mind having an extra backup just in case.

    And as Sheila said, you are a brave gal facing kids, alone, no whips or chair.


  3. (darn it – posted a long comment and it didn't come through, so maybe this will come through this time – grrr – hate that)

    I've done two school visits. The first was for an afterschool program for 1st through 4th graders and was okay but I think my group was too young to really understand what I was presenting. The second was for a group of 4th Graders as part of the Savannah Children's Book Festival this past November. I started my presentation out asking if they knew what geography was, then we talked about geography (my books are the 50-state mystery series) and we talked about writing with me asking them what the three elements were that made up a story, having some back and fourth questions and letting them answer and then I read part of my NaNo story because I was kind of stuck so got some what will come next scenarios from them (and they were smart little whippersnapers – lol).

    This summer, I'm embarking on some homeschool conferences/curriculum fairs as a vendor/exhibitor where I'll be doing a presentation at each one. The workshop will be half creative writing – brainstorming a mini story – and half a geography game, “Road Trip,” where they will be kind of competing to trek across the United States (49 of the 50 states since you can't drive to Hawaii). The game has four starting points (thus they will be divided into four teams with each having a different starting point), and the object is to go through the 49 states without entering any state more than once. You can enter Canada several times but not any state. There are eight possible routes. The team that finishes correctly first will receive a USA map puzzle (Dollar Tree – gotta love it, lol), the second team that finishes correctly will receive some mini composition notebooks (again four in a pack for $1 at Dollar Tree), and the third and fourth teams will receive prizes as well (working on which items of my giveaways will be used for which team's prize – have some things ordered from Oriental Trading and am looking at some items from Rhode Island Novelty also).

    I'll be doing a practice run at the library as a free workshop (they have lots of conference rooms they let patrons use for free as long as there is no food involved, wihch isn't a problem for me) and my daughter will be helping me out so she can give me pointers of what worked, what needs changing or fixing and what needs to be taken out (she won't be with me during the conferences/curriculum fairs, so need to do this beforehand). I'll keep you all posted on how this workshop goes and if it goes well, it will be my standard workshop as listed on my website. E 🙂

    Elysabeth Eldering
    Author of the Junior Geography Detective Squad, 50-state, mystery, trivia series
    STATE OF WILDERNESS, now available
    STATE OF QUARRIES, now available
    STATE OF RESERVATIONS, coming April/May 2010
    STATE OF ALTITUDE, coming May/June 2010
    STATE OF SUCCESSION, coming summer 2010
    STATE OF NATURE, coming fall 2010


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