Top 10 tips for... Interesting assemblies

Written by: Suzanne O’Connell | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Assemblies can help you to develop your whole school ethos and bring your learning community together. As part of our regular top 10 tips series, Suzanne O’Connell considers making assembly time better

1, What are they for?

Why not take your assembly practice back to scratch and give careful consideration as to what they are actually for. It is likely that their purpose includes:

  • Celebrating individual, class and school achievements.
  • Uniting the school and reminding them of your aims and values.
  • Introducing and sharing visitors with particular skills or information to give.
  • Providing a time for performance – musical, theatrical or dance.
  • Singing and appreciation of music.
  • Religious activities – depending on the denomination of your school.
  • Story-telling and creating the story of your school.

Consider how these different purposes are covered in your assemblies and how wide the audience needs to be. For example, does the whole school need to celebrate individual achievements every week? Would visitors be more effective with different phases and year groups? How many of your pupils actually sing in assembly?

2, A mixed bag

Many schools due to size and facilities, break down their assembly times into class, group, and whole school. How are the purposes you consider are important in assembly divided out between these different groupings? Is this the most effective way of organising them?

Review your weekly and termly timetable. For example, if a class delivers the whole-school assembly once a term is this contribution seen as worthwhile and how is it managed? Who do they present this to and is this the most fitting audience for their efforts?

And when presenting yourself, make sure your personality shines out and build on your strengths. If you are good at telling stories, singing, playing a musical instrument, or telling jokes – whatever it is, bring your character and personality to it. Build on the skills of your staff too – they might enjoy the occasional opportunity to shine.

If some staff are anxious, then could a teacher with an interest in drama be given time to help those who are less confident?

3, Keeping order

With careful thought and organisation assemblies should not rely on sanctions and rewards. However, you might want to devise your own reward system that could include, for example, golden tickets for randomly identified children who are sitting well, listening well, etc.

4, Seating arrangements

Where do your children and the staff sit? It is worth reconsidering what happens if you swivel your position and present from the back, the side or even in the round? Story-telling in particular can benefit from a reorganisation of your room to bring you closer to your audience. Why not light a candle to signify the beginning and end of the story – blowing out the candle can be a special treat for someone.

Older children can particularly resent sitting on the floor, can you organise benches or chairs to recognise different ages as they move through the school? Try varying the seating to keep everyone on their toes and wondering what’s going to happen next.

5, Entering and leaving

Depending on the size of your group, entering and leaving the assembly room can take time. Consider whether they can exit through two doors and the order they exit in. Make sure that entry and exit are calm and dignified – this sets the scene for the assembly itself and the next lesson.

6, Time of the day

Traditionally held in the morning, why not consider if there is a better time to hold the assembly. Morning is generally considered to be the best time for learning so perhaps after lunch or even before they leave at the end of the school day, particularly on a Friday if it is your celebration assembly event. Of course, you must weigh this up with the level of restlessness when the weekend is so close to hand.

7, Keep a record

Your cycle of assemblies will follow similar themes over the year. Some you will be able to repeat and others you will want to make sure happen in a planned way over the time a student spends in your school. Keep a record of each one – the aims, content, visitors, songs, and prayers. You can also record a comment of how well you thought it went and what you might change next time. You can keep a record of any visitors and whether you would like them to return (or not!).

8, Welcome parents

You will want to invite parents to selected assemblies. This is a good opportunity for you to “tag” on something afterwards. If you have volunteers available, why not arrange a coffee morning, drop-in or question time activity – your parents are there already and should hopefully be in a receptive mood.

9, Get children involved

There is nothing children like more than to see one of their own on the stage. Take every opportunity to bring them up, help you out, demonstrate something. It is guaranteed to grasp the attention of the others.

10, Don’t be hijacked by announcements

Too many people telling children about too many events can soon eat into your assembly time, and you cannot be sure who is actually listening. It is probably better to let class teachers deliver specific messages to the children.

  • Suzanne O’Connell is a freelance education writer and a former primary school headteacher.

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