1. Music speaks
You needn’t only use music at the start of a school assembly. It can form an integral part of each session. Children will listen and respond to a wide variety of musical genres – can they articulate their emotional response to a piece, or explain how the music links to the assembly theme.
2. Kids’ takeover
Getting the children up and involving them whenever you can is essential to holding their attention, beyond simply asking them to answer questions. They could perhaps help tell a story, hold props, have some input into deciding school assembly themes across the term or even take the lead themselves via a ‘flipped assembly’ format (see opposite).
3. Picture perfect
Picture books can be a great way of breaking down barriers when dealing with a wide age range. Younger children will be interested in the images, whilst older children can practise inference and explain how the moral of a given story relates to our everyday lives.
4. Keep it short
Build on key school assembly themes across a term or even year, so there’s plenty of time to deepen children’s understanding over a longer period. Keep your assemblies fresh by making them short, snappy and memorable. The children will be keener to participate and more likely to engage.
5. Whole school assembly
A gengathering of the whole school is the perfect opportunity to highlight schoolwide initiatives. Use assemblies as a launchpad for school improvement projects and take the children on the journey with you. Giving something like times tables a regular spotlight might be just what you need to focus children’s minds.
6. Speak passionately
Don’t shy away from the personal – children can tell when you’re speaking from the heart, and it makes them sit up and listen. Using stories and examples that are important to you will lend your presentation effortless enthusiasm, while also providing an important insight into your core values.
7. Video variety
Using video clips is a great way to keep things fresh. There are a huge number of short films online that can provide ideal starting points for assembly discussions. There’s lots at the Literacy Shed and TED Talks archive to help you get started. If you have the resources, you could make your own to support particular themes.
8. Change it up
Ask different members of your school community to contribute – children, teachers, governors and support staff may all have something to share with the school in their own unique way. Not everyone feels confident speaking publicly, but some will. Assemblies are a great way of getting people involved.
9. Keep it real
In a rapidly changing world, there will always be new topics to cover in your assemblies. Leave space in your planning to respond to national and international events or new trends in your school. The children will benefit from the opportunity to explore these as a group.
10. Stay dynamic
One size doesn’t fit all. and you might feel that you have a ‘tried and tested’ approach to your assembly, but it’s always worth experimenting from time to time. Ask other members of staff to sit in on some pupil conferencing afterwards, so you can keep track of what’s working for the pupils in your setting.
Flip your school assembly
Conducting assemblies can build confidence and public speaking skills – so why not share the benefits with your pupils?
At St Martin’s CE Primary School, a small setting in rural Berkshire, children in years 5 and 6 are taking the lead when it comes to assemblies.
The initiative sees each child take a turn in leading an individual assembly on a subject of their choice that links to at least one of the school’s core values: courage, friendship, creativity and respect. The topics chosen are wide and varied, reflecting the children’s diverse interests.
As headteacher Katy Bartlett explains, “Children have chosen to focus on topics as diverse as Disney, Harry Potter, the RAF and Nelson Mandela.”
The children appreciate the freedom of being able to break free from the curriculum, “We have the choice to cover different subjects that might not be part of our normal lessons.” says Thomas – a pupil at the school who, for his own assembly, opted to go with the topic of YouTube.
Some children choose to work on their assemblies in pairs, whilst others prefer to work independently. The children plan and prepare their assemblies in their own time as a piece of homework with minimal input from their teacher. The requirement for all assemblies to make wider connections to the core school values gives the children a forum in which they can demonstrate their own understanding and interpretation of what those values are in a variety of contexts.
“We try to weave the school values through all aspects of school life,” says Bartlett, “and this gives the children an opportunity to demonstrate their understanding of those concepts.” The pupils themselves have responded positively to the initiative, and look forward to taking their turn in front of the school once they reach upper key stage 2.
Year 6 pupil Emily, for one, appreciates the opportunity her school has given her to take the lead: “It feels like you have an important responsibility, and you get to teach people about something that’s important to you.”
Bartlett comments: “We’ve found it a great way to give the older children in the school an opportunity to build their independence and confidence in public speaking before they move onto secondary school. Class teachers also find that it gives them an added insight into the children’s wider interests, which we might not ordinarily hear about in the course of the school day.”
For some children, the experience has certainly been an eye-opener. “It helps you understand how teachers feel when they get interrupted,” says Elri. “It shows you how hard a job it is, and why you need to respect teachers.”
For more information, visit st-martins.hants.sch.uk; Lucy Starbuck Braidley is a primary school teacher and subject leader for English and PE.