Stand tall in the hall

30th May 2003 at 01:00
Lynn Huggins-Cooper offers advice for first-time assembly leaders

The last time you were in church might have been a tipsy midnight mass or a friend's wedding. But now you are a teacher, religion is back on the agenda. Schools have to provide a daily act of collective worship. This can be unnerving if it's your turn and your experience of religion is a hazy mixture of hatchings, matchings and dispatchings of friends and family.

Many schools have a variety of acts of worship: whole-school assemblies, key stage assemblies and class-based activities.

Whole-school assemblies are often led by the headteacher or a member of the senior management team. Some schools also have rotas that give staff members a turn at leading an assembly. Watch and take part in some so you become familiar with the techniques. Check the school policy and guidelines - is there a set of themes to follow?

You can also ask experienced members of staff what they find works well for them. Some teachers share a story. If you do this, try to use props to enliven proceedings. Simply reading a book to a hall full of children does not work; save this strategy for smaller groups.

Assemblies are unfortunately rife with opportunities for enterprising individuals to create havoc. Make sure your class understands that you expect them to file in and out calmly, and praise those who do, as well as children who have been particularly co-operative.

Position your children carefully. Separate any noisy cliques and friendship groups. Position any who can be disruptive at the end of the line and sit within calming distance. A touch on the shoulder and a stern look are often enough to quieten a child. If not, you are close enough to remove offenders quietly.

Class-based acts of worship can be special. Make sure you have an area in the classroom set aside for artefacts to support collective worship. Drape a table with fabric, together with a candle in a holder (to be lit when the act of worship begins), and add beautiful natural objects such as large shells and pine cones. Photographs of people of a variety of religions at prayer add meaning to your "altar".

Give the children the vocabulary of worship, because they may be unfamiliar with it. Type words on the computer, and mount print-outs on laminated cards. You can display these on the fabric draped over the table. Hang streamers made from rainbow-coloured strips of crepe paper to the ceiling, and attach words and clip art to them. Other tips include:

* Keep it simple. There is plenty of time for all-singing, all-dancing extravaganzas once you have found your feet.

* Encourage children to brainstorm when you are planning your class assembly. Even young children will come up with exciting and fresh ideas.

Child-generated props, masks and costumes add to the fun.

* Involve parents. Does your school usually invite parents to class assemblies? It may be a nice idea to record the assembly on video. The children will love to watch themselves performing, and working parents will appreciate the opportunity to see the assembly, although some schools and local authorities have policies that would preclude this.

* Ensure that every child has a part to play. No one must feel left out.

* Don't get too stressed about it. Assemblies should not interfere with classroom time.

Lynn Huggins-Cooper is a PGCE lecturer and writer

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