June 3, 2010



School ends for our children today, so why are we talking about school visits at the beginning of summer? This is the ideal time to prepare and perfect your school visits. The beginning of the school year will be here before you know it. Will you be ready? Of course you will. Read on . . .

Two words describe Cynthia Lord: GENUINE and GENEROUS! I've had the pleasure of getting to know Cindy through her warm, wise blog, which I've enjoyed for years.

Cythia Lord's debut novel, RULES was a New York Times Bestseller and has received numerous awards, including a Newbery Honor. A former elementary and middle-school teacher, Cynthia also spent a year teaching on a Maine island, which is the setting for her second novel, TOUCH BLUE, August 2010. Her first picture book, HOT ROD HAMSTER, was published in February and became a Publisher's Weekly Bestseller. She lives with her husband and two children fifteen minutes from the ocean in Brunswick, Maine. You can visit Cindy on the web at www.cynthialord.com.

Cindy does about 40 school visits a year.


1. Be very clear with the person coordinating the visit what your needs and requirements are. I use a contract and then I also connect with the school about two weeks ahead of time to confirm everything (equipment, number of presentations, schedule, travel issues). It also lets me check in to see how much preparation the school has done for my visit. For a novel, I tweak my presentation based on whether or not the kids have all read the book, so it helps to know that ahead of time.

2. After the kids are seated, be introduced by someone at the school. That person has authority with the students, and that will be passed on to you through that introduction. That person will also know the school's way of getting kids' attention (two fingers up, clapping, etc).
The first few minutes set the tone for the whole presentation, so you want to engage the kids quickly. The most challenging student behaviors will come in the "down" times and the "dull" times, so the best thing you can do for classroom management is to keep the down time to a minimum and have an interactive and engaging presentation. Think of your presentation like a novel: a strong beginning, followed by rising emotion, logical sequencing with exciting scenes, and a strong and satisfying ending. And leave some time for questions at the end.

3. If you use PowerPoint, keep your slides simple. Use only keywords and high-quality images. It will keep you from being tempted to read off your slides, and the kids will be paying attention to you and not reading the slides.
A remote to advance your slides is a very worthwhile investment. You can get a good one for around $40, and it will allow you to move around the stage--which keeps the kids' attention more than if you are stuck behind a podium. Also, in a big group, some kids will have a better view of you than others. By moving around, you give more kids a chance to see you.

4. The school wants a personal connection for their students. Be sure that you are the star of your presentation, not your slides. Have at least a few things to show the kids or stories to tell them that they cannot find on your website or read in interviews with you. If the school has prepared the students well, students will have already been to your website and read available interviews with you. They should get something new from seeing you and hearing your speak.

5. Give students practical writing advice that supports school writing curriculum--teachers will love you for it. Some examples would be: thoughts about first drafts, adding sensory details, revision tips, etc.

6. If the students have been a good audience, compliment them and tell the teachers they can be very proud of them. It builds a lot of good will. Also tell the principal how wonderful the media specialist (or whoever organized the visit with you) has been to work with. It's a nice way to affirm the hard work that went into bringing you to the school.

6 - 1/2. After a successful visit, ask that media specialist to write a recommendation or to recommend you on her state librarians' listserve. Word of mouth is always a powerful tool in marketing for your school visits.

School visits can be a wonderful, fun way to get up close and personal with your #1 audience--kids!

Thank you, Cindy, for sharing your expertise and experience with us!

For more great information about successful school visits, visit this link -- Verla Kay's message board.


Barbara Ehrentreu said...

Great info from Cindy.:) I have known her for over 10 years and had the pleasure of finally meeting her a few years ago. If anyone can give you good tips, she can.

Cindy, if you are here I have one question. Do you distribute anything to the kids afterward, like worksheets or even a souvenir bookmark, etc.? Is this a good idea?

Anonymous said...

Hi Barbara!

Kids love to receive things, so if you have things to distribute, I'm sure they would like it.

I usually speak to whole schools, so giving something to each student isn't often practical. But I do often give things to the *teachers* to use with the students. So that's another possibility.


Julie Musil said...

Thanks for the tips. I hope I'll need them someday! I loved RULES!

Wild About Words said...

Thank you, Julie, for stopping by!

Jean Reidy said...

Fabulous advice! It appears that little things can make a big difference. I loved the idea of having someone at the school introduce you to set the tone for the presentation and gets the kids attention. As a school visit newbie, I appreciate the help.

Wild About Words said...

Thanks, Jean!

Gayla Abel Hollis said...

Cindy, In May I'm bringing my puppets out of retirement to do shows in schools as I did this mainly as a volunteer many years ago. Recently getting closer to having finished products for my kid's songs & story books. Thanks for the tip of asking the media connection to write about it. Thanks, Gayla