Assembly point - Play it again, Sir

14th November 2008 at 00:00
Think big and offer pupils control if you want a memorable assembly, says Paul Warnes

The dreaded class assembly was approaching and I needed a blockbuster. My Year 5s effort earlier in the year had been well received: a music confection featuring zombies, robots and secret agents (not all at the same time). But having raised the bar I was now under pressure to leap over it.

Our primary school's class assemblies had been conceived initially as brief, biennial celebrations of pupils' studies and achievements. But over time they have become lavish, full-scale productions. Parents love them and attendance has increased from a dismal handful to standing room only.

My modus operandi followed a fairly fixed template. I wanted the event to be primarily the pupils' own projects, so encouraged them to choose their theme, write scripts and organise rehearsals. My job was to ensure that they were all involved and that the finished product would be informative and entertaining. A little subtle steering goes a long way.

Our science topic that year had been on sounds and my pupils had enjoyed making a variety of instruments that used striking, blowing and plucking techniques to create different noises. Somebody suggested that we play those instruments in our assembly. They decided they would give a concert and so the next two weeks were devoted to a kaleidoscopic array of cross- curricular activities.

We issued invitations and wrote programmes. We tracked down rehearsal rooms and store cupboards and empty halls, corridors and courtyards reverberated to a cacophony of discordant noise. But we soon made progress and the children learnt valuable lessons in co-operation and compromise.

The assembly was a sell-out and the audience took their seats, led by ushers, in front of a stage arranged to look like a real concert venue.

My class had dressed up in approximations of evening dress and proudly held their elastic band harps, dried bean shakers, paper-and-comb mouth organs, ice-cream tub drums and water cup xylophones. The conductor, selected for the wild eccentricity of his hairstyle, stood at his music stand lectern, tapped his ruler baton and called the orchestra to order.

The hall rang out to the sounds of "When the Saints Go Marching In," "Nellie the Elephant" (with enthusiastic comedy trumping) and "We Will Rock You". The place was rocking.

It is a tradition that at the Year 6 leavers' assembly pupils describe the highlights of their time at school. They always mention their pride in their class assemblies, even if they were a bit of a performance.

Paul Warnes is a primary supply teacher in Kent.

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