A System for Bringing Speakers (Based on Student Interest) into the Classroom

Bringing weekly speakers into the classroom broadens the interests of students and encourages individual passions. The setting is more intimate than a school assemble. By inviting speakers to your classroom, you will:
  • expose your students to a wide range of subjects and people
  • show young people that their interests and ideas are valued
  • begin career education at an early age

Here are a few examples of student interest and speakers used at the elementary school level.

Student interest: Astronomy
Speaker: A scientist from The National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) brought a wonderful slide show on solar flares and explained their many effects to students.

Student interest: Animation
Speaker: The owner of a local animation company brought in a short video about his company, presented some animation production cels, showed the kids how to make flip books using their own animations, talked about jobs in animation, and explained the education that one should have in order to follow a career in animation.

Student interest: Snakes
Speaker: A member of the local herpetological society brought in some live snakes and talked about his own personal interest in the animals, their life habits, and what we should all know and understand about snakes.

Parent Volunteers
Because it can be very time consuming for teachers to find speakers, parents can play a vital role with the teacher's guidance. Here are some suggestions for setting up a similar program:
  • Survey students to find out areas of interest that they would like to learn more about. Do not give them a list of possibilities to check off. Instead, just have each child write on a piece of paper at least three things that he or she would like to explore. These ideas do not have to be academic.
  • Have a small group of volunteer parents sort through the students' ideas and try to group them. Are there some recurring themes?
  • Have the same group of parents brainstorm about places where they might find speakers that would address student interests.
  • After discussing their ideas with you first, parents begin making contacts.
  • Once schedules are set up for speakers, ask parents to contact the speaker again a week or two in advance to confirm the date and time and find out if there is anything special that the speaker will need.
  • Make sure that parents keep you informed of any communication that occurs with the speakers.

Locating Potential Speakers
  • Start close to home. Are there people you know personally who would match a student's interest?
  • Are there parents at the school who have a strong personal interest or a profession that would match a student’s chosen topic?
  • What are some of the companies in your community that might have individuals who could present? Many larger companies actually have speaker bureaus.
  • What about people who work at museums, theaters, orchestras, or universities? Or, what about individuals who work as mathematicians, authors, or cartographers? No matter what the interests of the students, you can probably find a speaker nearby if you live in a large metropolitan area.
  • Don't be afraid to approach people. They can always say no, but I think you will be surprised by the people who say yes.

Setting Up Guidelines for Speakers
  • Decide what day and time you would like to have the speaker. (I always chose Friday afternoons, because it was a nice end-of-the-week activity.) We tried to have a speaker every week that it was possible.
  • Be clear about exactly what time you need the speaker to start, the physical condition of the classroom, the types of students that they will be working with, and whether or not you want the talk to be interactive. Sometimes those outside the school system don't understand the difficulties that are presented when an expected person doesn't show up right on time, and so be careful to explain all of that.

Making the Speaker Feel Welcomed
  • Make certain that the class has reviewed appropriate behavior for honoring a guest in the classroom. Remind them that this is a special occasion and a privilege.
  • Have someone meet the speaker at the front door of the school building. This could be a parent and/or student (depending on the grade level). Let the speaker know how much the class is looking forward to the presentation.
  • Have the student or students who chose the area of interest briefly explain to the class why they selected that particular topic.
  • Decide on a way to thank the speaker for taking time to come to the classroom. Students may write letters, draw pictures, create something to send to the speaker, or anything else that you feel suits the situation.

It takes quite a bit of time and organization to set up a program like this in a classroom, but I know that you will find it well worth the effort.

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