Tags: Assemblies | Classroom Teacher | Deputy Head | Headteacher | NQT | Teaching and Learning

Gerald Haigh concludes his series on primary assemblies by giving some tips on preparation, along with some advice on how to deliver an unplanned assembly

Having considered the importance of values and the role of the assembly leader, we will now look at preparation.

Ideally you’ll have lots of time to prepare for your assembly. That won’t always be the case though, and we’ll deal with the ‘instant assembly’ scenario presently. Firstly, here are the points to bear in mind when you find yourself on the assembly rota with time to think. 

  1. If the topic for the assembly isn’t stated, go and talk to the head (or whoever has management responsibility for assembly) about it. For all the reasons we’ve outlined about the role of assembly in promoting the school’s values, you can’t afford to put a foot wrong choosing either the subject or the style of your assembly.
  2. When the topic’s agreed, go to your school’s Primary Assembly File collection and see what’s available. When you find one that suits, again flourish it before the head for approval. 
  3. Obviously you’ll want to prepare plenty of material. You don’t want to run dry after five minutes. Even that, though, is much better than over-preparing. In most schools, the timing of assembly is quite tight, because if it’s held first thing in the morning, the following lesson is invariably an important one covering the core curriculum. No one will be pleased if a literacy hour has to be squeezed into forty-five minutes. (Yes, we know that the assembly itself might be a better learning experience, but that’s a discussion you can have another time.) The answer is to find two or three places in your assembly where you could stop and skip to the conclusion. 
  4. At an early point in your preparation, go into the hall and run through the assembly (silently if you can’t bring yourself to rehearse out loud) from the place where you’ll do it on the day. This will remind you of any props or furniture you need, and give you an early feel for what it will be like to perform in a larger than usual space.

Choosing a topic

In many schools, the assembly programme is planned for the whole year. If it’s not, and you have to pluck a topic out of the air, here are just a few sure-fire winners. Each of the following is an opportunity to highlight proper attitudes of care and consideration for others. 

  • Bullying. Children are always interested in bullying. Even if they’re not bullied, they know what bullying is, and they’re often afraid it will happen to them. 
  • Pets. Children have a lively feel for the welfare of animals and are interested in caring for pets. 
  • Older brothers and sisters. Children like stories about young people slightly older than themselves. Stories of relationships with older siblings always go down well. 
  • Parents at work. The idea that the adults in the house have a different life at work, with a different set of people, fascinates children. 
  • Caring for the environment. Children are much more concerned about this than we realise. 
  • Developing world issues. Again, huge interest in world hunger, water supply, street children.

But what if there’s no time to prepare? We all know that ‘instant assemblies’ shouldn’t happen. But we all know that there are times when that first part of the primary school day goes completely awry. There’s an accident on the bypass and staff are held up. Three of the classrooms are flooded. Maybe even both things at the same time. This is the moment for you to say, ‘Don’t worry. Just bring the children into the hall and I’ll do an assembly.’

Imagine it! Your approval rating is climbing through the clouds. Of course, if you’re the type, you could do the whole thing on a wing and a prayer – telling a story you remember from your own school days, or getting some children to talk about their weekend. But your really solid friend when this happens is Primary Assembly File. That’s because our assemblies are written so that, if necessary, they can be used on the hoof with no preparation. You’ll find everything there, from the introduction to the final reflection. Where props are required, they are usually easily available, or you could manage without them.

Things to think about

Here are twelve key assembly issues, with some brief notes about each. What’s really important, though, is that you think about each of them in relation to your own style and your own school’s philosophy and practice.

  1. The start – entry of the children. Are you going to be there at the front before the first class comes in? How can you arrange that? Are you going to expect a silent entry? If so, staff need to know that. 
  2. Your opening words or actions. Don’t be hesitant or apologetic or nervously jokey. Stand still. Don’t fiddle and fidget. Be confident – assertive but friendly. 
  3. Length of the assembly. Assemblies invariably take longer than you think. Prepare more than one finishing point, and keep an eye on the time. 
  4. Voice. Don’t shout. Speak clearly, more slowly than you normally would, and direct yourself to the children at all times. 
  5. Body language. Make eye contact with the children. Smile. Don’t walk about. 
  6. Use of support material. Whatever you bring in to use, make sure it performs as expected. But prepare to do without it when it goes wrong. 
  7. Use of drama. Drama’s always good in assembly. But keep it simple, punchy and without too much talking. Keep it to a simple scenario of mime and minimum of words. Best to display the key message on whiteboard or OHP. 
  8. Use of child volunteers. Children like to come out to the front to help you. Build up your knowledge of which children are good at this, can pick up quickly on what you want, and add their own contribution. But don’t use them exclusively – other children will be learning by watching them, and you need to give them a chance. 
  9. Humour. Most children like simple slapstick humour involving falling about, simple puns and groan-inducing jokes. Why else are the Chuckle Brothers so popular with the under-nines? 
  10. Prayer. Pray if you’re comfortable with it and the school policy allows. If not, have moments of reflection. Silence is always good in assembly – a few moments of quiet, perhaps with a lighted candle to focus on. 
  11. Music, including songs. Children enjoy singing, and appreciate being taught to do it properly. Spend some music curriculum time on assembly songs and how to sing them. Introduce live performers into assembly as often as possible – use the local secondary school music department to help. 
  12. Ending. The close and dismissal is important. The overall feeling should be of children going off quietly to do their work. So don’t let assembly finish in a confusion of uncertainty and noise. You need staff cooperation to ensure it’s done properly.

If you missed parts one and two of this series, you can read them here:

  • Part one – values
  • Part two – the assembly leader

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