Authors Visiting Schools: thinking outside the box

There are some good resources online about the basics of an author school visit and here are two of them.

ABCs of Author visits

scbwi resources

Rather than restate what’s already available, I’d like to look at the variety of school visit experiences an author might try or a school might ask for.

1. The whole school presentation

When most people think of authors visiting schools the image of an auditorium full of kids listening to an author tell the tale of how a story became a book is what comes to mind. Usually the author brings a power point presentation and sometimes, interesting objects for students to look at. Often there is reading aloud and almost always some time for Q & A.

2. The large group writers’ workshop

Here an author teaches a full classroom of students a writing lesson. It usually draws on an element from the author’s books and involves a writing exercise from the students. It usually works best to have a topic you’ve discussed with the teachers ahead of time and a writing activity every child in the room can feel successful with. Poetry often works particularly well, but any writing topic can succeed if it’s well taught.

3. Small group writers’ workshop

A more in-depth and longer writing workshop works best with a smaller group of students who either volunteer or are chosen for the experience because of their avid interest in writing.

4. The demonstration lesson

This works well with small and large groups and has the advantage of not requiring the students to bring their own pencil and paper and produce individual writing. A demonstration might show how an illustrator creates a character, or how a writer maps a plot using audience participation and usually a white board, smart board or document camera.

5. The author interview

This format allows more participation from students who plan the interview ahead of time and take turns asking questions. It works well with Skype. In a very large school, recording a video of the author reading and students interviewing the author for later viewing may be the most practical way to use an author’s time.

6. The author luncheon

Some schools have a tradition of inviting a small group of students to have lunch with the author and interact in a much less formal way. It can be a great place to run a few story ideas by them or get immediate feedback on a scene the author is working on. Often the children chosen are avid writers so it’s also a perfect venue to ask them to tell you their favorite stories.

7. The non-writing workshop

Sometimes authors will offer a workshop on a subject that pertains to their book and suits a school’s curriculum. It might be anything from drama to history. I know an author who has considerable expertise in historical costuming who brings in clothing from the historical era of her book and talks about how what people wear informs us about the way they live. Fascinating!

8. Family Literacy Night

Another option is an evening event for students and parents that highlights the authors books and the student’s writing. It can be an opportunity for promoting read aloud at home, family story telling, the writing and collecting of letters, or the keeping of diaries. Sometimes this involves author Q&A, snacks, games, or an art activity.

9. The author-in-residence

This is an ambitious and very time-consuming project both for a school and for an author, but it can be the most rewarding experience of all. With a daily visit over one week or one day visits stretched over a few weeks, you have the opportunity to develop the kind of trust with young writers that makes real writing growth possible. Solid teaching experience and an enthusiastic school is essential.

10. The personal visit

The best place for beginning writers to start out is with a single classroom visit where the teacher is a personal friend. The format varies from a simple reading plus a little Q&A to a writing lesson, organized by the teacher and assisted by the author. Here’s a place an author can learn the ropes of working with children and get honest and kind feedback from a trusted source.

I hope this gives you some idea of the range of possibilities. I’ll be following this post up in a few weeks with specific things an author can do to prepare for a school visit and then one more post on how schools can gain the most from their visiting author. I’ll also like to do a round-up of school visit questions, so if there’s something you’ve always wanted to know about school visits, leave me a comment and I’ll follow up later today or over the weekend.

Rosanne Parry on Instagram
Rosanne Parry
Rosanne Parry is the author of 8 MG novels including best sellers A Wolf Called Wander, A Whale of the Wild and her newest A Horse Named Sky. She sells books at Annie Blooms Bookstore in Multnomah Village and writes books in her treehouse in Portland, Oregon.
  1. Hey, good luck with your school visit Cathe!

    Stay tuned. I’ll follow up this post in a month with some tips for authors to prepare for their visit and things a school can do to get the most out of the visit.

  2. I’m on the other end of the school visit . . . I’m an elementary school library tech hosting my first author visit next month . . . Lee Wardlaw. She is doing a primary and upper assembly and in the afternoon we are having a tea where winners of a school wide writing competition can visit with her. I’m very excited. My students love her books.

    Still, there was some helpful advice in this post for me and I’m happy to know about all these different options for the future.

  3. Natalie- getting up in front of a group of children can be very daunting and I’d never recommend an author do it cold. I volunteered in my local schools for 15 years before my first book came out. That gave me ample experience and great contacts. If your public school doesn’t need volunteers, try the local library, scouts, etc. to get a feel for your readers and what they need. Ask at your local SCBWI if there’s anyone doing a school visit that you could observe. That would give you an idea if school visits are something you even want to pursue.

    Wendy–great advice about plugging into the local school list serve, and local moms who are active in their schools.

    Sheela–I’ll get into promotion of yourself as a visiting author in lots of detail next time I post. But one thing I’ve done is put together a nice flier that I don’t print but send out in email to schools who contact me that gives a brief summery of the types of workshops I’m able to present and a blurb on each of the books. If the school is interested then they can print out a handful of them to generate interest among teachers and funding from the PTO.

    I also keep track, by region, of every note I get at my website from a teacher or librarian and then if I am traveling to their area, I drop them a quick email saying, I’ll be in your area. Can I interest you in a school visit. That way you know you are approaching a genuine fan. You don’t have to sell them on the book, just on your ability to offer something valuable to their students.

    Great Questions! Keep them coming!

  4. Great ideas, all. I’ve got former peers at school waiting for me to be published, so I’ll be keeping this for reference. Thanks!

  5. This is a great breakdown of different types of school visits. Sheela – I got my first gig by mentioning my book to my child’s school librarian. And she has put me on the countywide listserv for school librarians. Talk to other moms, too – you never know who is a PTA prez, or has a connection somewhere.

  6. Wow, wonderful information here, Rosanne! Thanks so much.

    If I could ask a question, I’d ask, how do you get started? How do you get schools to hear about you and be interested in having you come? How do you get the word out? 🙂

    Thanks for sharing this range of possibilities. I do like Tami’s idea about auctioning off an author!

  7. Thanks for the suggestions. I have to admit the thought of school visits is kind of scary. Any tips would help about what works well.

  8. I enjoyed this post. Lots of good ideas for both authors and schools. Thanks!

  9. I love the author luncheon idea– as long as it’s planned in advance, not imposed on the author as a “since you won’t be doing anything but eating” extra.

    I’ve also “donated” lunch and a trip to a bookstore to an elementary school auction. Along with another adult (in this case the school librarian) we hosted the winner, a wonderful middle grade reader, to banana splits then browsing the children’s section at our neighborhood bookstore, with a signed book thrown in. The child loved it, the parents loved it, the school loved it and the bookstore loved it. And I had a great time and got lots of publicity for me and my book at the auction.

    Lately I’ve been doing lots of Skype school visits. They’re great!

    • @Tami Lewis Brown, what a great idea! And our school has an auction coming up, and several great writers in the vicinity. Thanks for the “lightbulb” moment.

      Rosanne, great information, wonderfully presented as always!