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Four alternatives to the class assembly

Don't waste time putting together a theatrical production for your class assembly, says Ben Connor; try some of these ideas instead

Class assembly

You turn over a page in your planner and your heart sinks. There it is: the date for your class assembly.

In some schools this can become a production worthy of the West End. The pressure to create a memorable performance ratchets up throughout the year as, one after one, your colleagues display new depths of theatrical skill.

What’s worse is that preparing for this groundbreaking performance will take two weeks of your learning time. And since every parent expects their little darling to be centre stage, each child gets no more than a single line to recite. Parents applaud, the assembly ends and all that preparation was for very little.

Don't get me wrong, the children enjoy performing and it is a good way of engaging with parents – but I think we need to shift the focus of these assemblies.

In my opinion, speaking skills are some of the most important skills on the National Curriculum. Yet we tend to spend very time on them. 

So, here are four ideas to use the dreaded class assembly to promote those skills more effectively.

1. Wax museum

Each child prepares their own "museum exhibit", consisting of a poster and a short speech about an element of the topic you are studying.

When the day of the performance arrives, the children stand in their own presenting space, dotted around the school. Visiting parents and other pupils walk around the school listening to each speech.

In this model, each individual pupil delivers their presentation dozens of times, allowing them to practise their public speaking skills with small audiences. This gives confident speakers a real opportunity to shine. For those children for whom public speaking is difficult, they have the comfort of speaking to only a few people at a time, which is less daunting. Presenting in a busy hall also means those nervous children don’t have to worry about their peers listening to their speeches.

When we used this method in my previous school some unexpected children shone, especially by their 14th or 15th performance.

2. Work sharing

Rather than staging a performance, use this opportunity for pupils to sit with their family members and talk them through their learning. Get all their books out, invite parents in and get them talking.

Children can talk their parents through the learning process and choose work that they are proud of. It’s a great opportunity for them to share their successes, but also the points in the year where they have struggled and still made progress.

Pupils could also demonstrate their knowledge with quizzes or activities to show not just completed work but work in progress. Any children whose parents aren’t able to attend could present their work to older or younger pupils in the same manner.

3. Learning walk

Rather than the assembly taking place in a hall with chairs set out in rows, set up groups of children in classrooms throughout the school to present short pieces of work to small audiences who then rotate through the school. Each group is then able to perform their section multiple times within a smaller, more intimate setting.

4. Round table

Arrange the chairs in the school hall into groups of tables instead of long rows: make your presentation a seminar rather than a lecture. Assign each table to a group of four pupils who will present to the adults who sit there for a set amount of time. The children can then rotate to the next table, "speed dating" style, until they have presented to all the adults in the room.

Each of these ideas presents the class with the benefits of an assembly: public speaking, building confidence, sharing learning, interacting with parents. However, rather than having a single line to deliver, these ideas ensure that everyone's contribution counts.

So, ditch the rows, ditch the sing-song and give children a real chance to learn about speaking in public.

Ben Connor is a senior leader and English lead in Lancashire. He tweets @bbcteaching

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