(Disclaimer: I am only relating my personal experiences. I cannot guarantee results. Get your hopes up at your own risk!)
Last year I was fortunate enough to bring three amazing authors (Jonathan Auxier, Grace Lin, and Erica Perl) into my 5th grade classroom via Skype to talk to my students about books, reading, and writing. One of them even came all the way to our “little burg” (in person) for a special after-school event. These experiences were monumental for my students. At the end of the year reflections many of them cited the author visits as the highlight of their year. Parents of reluctant readers commented on how connecting with the authors made a noticeable difference in their students’ attitude toward reading and writing. They wanted to do it – at home! They started writing in their free time – without coercion. They were asking to be taken to the library and bookstores to find more books. From a teacher’s perspective, this is all good! And a whole lot of fun to boot!
Here’s how you can do the same in your classroom.
- Choose a Book – Make it a good one. Don’t choose based on who you think will be willing to Skype with your class. Read good books. Nobody wants to read a poorly written book. No one wants to meet the author anyway. If you want to make sure the author will Skype before you begin reading, there are some lists out there on the web. Author Kate Messner has a nice list of willing authors with helpful tips of her own.
- Give the Author Some Love – Once you have your students thoroughly hooked start tweeting about your reading experiences with your students. Make sure to @theauthor so they know you are enjoying their book. We all want to hear what people think of our work. Especially the good stuff. Tell them. If you are lucky they will respond to you. Sometimes (maybe most times) you won’t ever connect with the author. Fear not. It was a good read if nothing else. But perhaps they will reply to your tweet. They may retweet your flattering comments about their book. They have opened the door for you.
- Ask the Big Question – You got their attention. What are you waiting for? Ask, “Would you consider an Author Skype with my (blank) grade classroom?” Not all authors have the time in their schedule to Skype with classrooms. Not all are going to do so for free. They are busy. They have school visits, book signings, tours, and they write. Many have families and “regular” lives as well. Be considerate of this. If they are gracious enough to take the time for you and your class consider it the gift that it is.
- Prep Your Kids – This will not be hard. The kids will be stoked! They fell in love with the book, the characters, and they already love the author. This is your kids’ version of the Superbowl. The Stanley Cup. The World Cup. The Indy 500. The… Well, you get the picture. It’s kinda big. Have your kids start writing questions for the author. I always have mine each write five questions. I compile them and pick the best questions to ask. Next, I create a script and give each student a role to play. You’ll obviously want the students to ask questions about books and writing, but it’s good for them to be able to ask about less academic things, too. Some examples my students have come up with are “What’s your favorite food?, “If you weren’t an author what would you be?”, “If you could be any character from any book who would you be?” The authors seem to enjoy these and the kids love the sometimes surprising responses. It’s fun!
- Prep Your Room -Make sure you have Skype downloaded on your computer and you have created an account. You will need to exchange Skype names with the author. Add them to your contacts. Do all this in advance. Don’t forget to consider your classroom set-up. I have a laptop connected to a projector. My students get face-to-face time with the author when they personally ask their question. The rest of the class gets to watch it on the projection. I call them up one at a time to ask their assigned and rehearsed question. You may want to decorate your room or create an Welcome Mural. I have my students draw pictures of their favorite scenes and characters from the book and create a kind of wall mural with the kids’ pictures. When we start the Skype I give the author a quick tour of our room and show them the pictures from the Welcome Mural.
- The Big Day – This is the easy part. Kids are prepared. You have your room ready. Your technology has been tested. Now you just connect via Skype and let the fun begin.
- Give the Author More Love – The visit was great! Your kids loved it. Your colleagues are envious. Now it’s time to thank your author for their amazing gift. Tweet about the experience, blog about it, have students write thank you’s, make sure you let your author know how much you appreciate them for the time they made for your students. It’s a pretty big deal. One this teacher doesn’t take for granted.