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Guest Speakers: What to do before, during, and after the presentation

Previously, I wrote a blog post on how powerful guest speakers can be and where to find them. I wanted to do a follow up post on how to prep your students so the experience is meaningful. Nothing is worse than having a student make an inappropriate comment or putting their head down. You can avoid any cringe-worthy situations with a little prep work.

A day or two before the guest speaker is scheduled to come in, talk to your students about the upcoming experience. I let them know who is coming and what they plan to talk about. Have students write out 3-5 questions they want to ask the speaker on that particular topic. 

Even though you may have the best behaved class, sometimes when someone else enters the room the dynamic can change. I always remind them what appropriate behavior looks like. These behaviors would include: coming to class on time, making eye contact, being an active listener, and not asking questions the speaker has already covered (unless they need some clarification). I also remind students that guest speakers are not only coming for free on their own time, they might even be burning some sick time at their regular job to be here, so it’s super important to be respectful.

Also, it’s not a bad idea to prep the guest speaker on a few things via email before they come. I usually include things like:

  • Background on your class- age level of your students, what they have been learning about, and what they should already know about the speaking topic.
  • Any pertinent information about your school  such as where to park and check in at the office.
  • I have found it to be super helpful to give them a quick teaching tip regarding wait time. Yes they are professional adults but that doesn’t mean they are used to speaking to kids all day! I’ve found that guest speakers tend to ask students a question, wait about 2 seconds, and then answer it themselves. Let them know that your students need some processing time (or time to get the courage to talk to a stranger) and to push through that awkward silence or rephrase the question before giving them the answer. No one has ever been offended by me giving a teaching tip (you can also do this the day of the presentation before they begin).

I’ve found students to be much better listeners when they have to take notes. You can decide if they should take notes on the entire presentation or just notes relating to the prepared questions they have. Either way, unless you teach upperclassmen, your kiddos need something to keep them busy and actively listening. Have them turn their notes in at the end of class for some points. You can even have them answer some exit ticket questions on the back of their notes like “what is one thing you learned from this speaker” or “what is something that impressed you about their job/background?”

Also, don’t be afraid to intervene when necessary- don’t let the speaker “sink or swim.” Sometimes it feels like a fine line between needing to loosen the teacher reins a little and let another adult teach, while also managing your students you know so well.

If the unfortunate happens and a student misbehaves, take care of it so the speaker can continue on with their presentation. If you have a particular student you are worried about, ask the teacher next door the day prior if you can send the student over to work quietly in the event they act up. This rarely happens, but it’s better to be prepared.

If you have middle school students, sometimes they have questions that might need to be rephrased. For example, you may have a student that raises their hand and asks “How much money do you make a year?” You could jump in and say “It’s more polite to ask what the average salary is for someone in your industry.” It’s a genuine question, but you can help so it’s not awkward for the speaker.

I always send a quick email after school that day thanking the speaker for coming. However, it’s even more meaningful to have students send thank you notes. If you are 1:1 with technology, have them type up a quick thank-you email the following day. You can compile them and send them off all together. Whenever I’ve done this I ALWAYS get an email back from the speaker saying how happy they were to hear from the students.

Also, if the speaker does a great job, be sure to file their information away in a safe place so you can invite them back in future years! Save their name and email in a guest speaker spreadsheet so you have quick access in the future.

Have any questions I didn’t cover or additional tips based on your past experiences? Leave me a comment!

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Hi, I'm Becca!

I help busy science teachers get your prep back by providing you time saving lessons, labs, and resources.

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