For Educators…25 Tips for a Successful Skype Visit
By Wendy Martin
- Your students’ needs and your classroom lesson plans will determine who and what to do for a Skype visit. Many picture book authors list the types of presentations they give on their websites. Some focus on certain age groups, while others have programs geared for all ages from pre-school to college.
- Talk to librarians, teachers, schools, and even the authors and/or illustrators themselves for suggestions. Or check out the Skype an Author Network or Skype in the Classroom speaker programs. You’ll want to invite someone who is dynamic, animated, interesting, personable, and comfortable in this kind of setting. While it’s not necessary to invite an author with a lot of Skype experience, you do want someone who is experienced with talking to your classroom’s age group.
- If you use one of the above services, and send out multiple requests for a visit, please be courteous and reply to all the authors who answered you even if you have selected another presenter. Authors and illustrators frequently hold time slots for visits while waiting to receive a reply. It’s only fair to let them know you won’t be using the spot.
- Many authors have several different programs set up for Skype visits. Some offer free 10-20 minute visits, while others have longer, paid presentations. Check with the author or illustrator to see what they offer within your school’s budget. If you opt for a paid presentation, make sure you know how the author would like to be paid and when.
Before the visit:
- Make sure the students are familiar with the author and her books. Many authors will provide you with the info needed to purchase their books. Coordinate with your school’s librarian to procure the books in advance of the visit. Depending on the age of the students, you can just read them the book or you can have them research the author by visiting her web site or following her social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. Some publishers will have a bio page for the author on their web sites, or you can ask the author herself for links to visit. Ask for volunteers to write an introduction and read it to the class before the author visit begins.
- Find out if the author has any teacher’s guides for her books. Download them and incorporate the suggested activities or writing projects into your classroom lessons.
- Help your students become excited for the visiting author. Engage them in making a welcome sign (hang it behind the children during the visit so it’s visible to the author) or have them create a fun bulletin board or book display. Older students can write about the author visit for the school newspaper. Have students prepare questions for the author prior to the visit and discuss them before hand so there are no duplicates. Have the students vote on their favorite questions to ask the author. If there is time, send the author a list of the questions so she can prepare any props that may be appropriate in answering them.
- Make sure other faculty is aware of the date and time of your visit to reduce the traffic on your school’s internet connection. Skype works best when usage throughout the school is at a minimum.
Where to hold the visit:
- Decide on an area for the visit. Many classrooms have Smart Boards, which work well for visits. If you only have a computer monitor available, keep the audience as intimate as possible so all the children can see and hear the presentation.
- A library is a good choice for a visit with more than one classroom. It is best to keep the age range limited because many authors will gear their presentations to specific age groups. What works well for younger students may bore older ones.
- Decide if you want students sitting in chairs or on the floor.
- Do a Skype test session at least 15 minutes before the appointed time of the visit to make sure the connection is clear, that the classroom or library lighting isn’t interfering with the view of the screen, and that the audio and visual feeds are working well on both ends.
- Make sure all attendees are seated and ready for the call before the Skype connection request is sent. Classrooms joining the session after it has begun are distracting for both the audience and the presenter.
- While the author is speaking or engaged in her presentation, keep an eye out for disruptive or fidgeting students. Even though she is teaching your class, she can’t see everyone nor can she act to resolve any issues within the audience. She’ll need your help during her presentation to make sure everyone is paying attention.
- After the presentation, if you have a small enough group and plenty of time, invite each student to stand and read his or her question aloud. Use a hand microphone that can be passed around if you have one. Ask students to introduce themselves before asking their questions. Remind them to speak loudly, clearly, and slowly. Some students may develop stage fright and freeze. Be prepared to help these students by asking their questions for them or calling on another child.
- Be considerate of your guest’s time by keeping an eye on the clock so that the questions don’t exceed the scheduled visit.
After the visit:
- Host a book sale. Authors and illustrators doing free Skype visits especially appreciate this since sales of their books will help offset their time spent with your class by increasing the royalties they receive from their publishers. Ask if the author is willing to send autographed bookplates for purchased books.
- Ask the author if she can send an autographed bookmark to photocopy for each child so everyone goes home with a souvenir.
- Ask volunteers to write thank you notes or emails to the author. If you took photos of the session, share them with the author.
- If you enjoyed the author’s Skype Visit, remember to recommend her to other schools and libraries!
- Make sure that you are connected on Skype by sending your username to the author so she can send a friend request. Accept this request as soon as you receive it to avoid delays on the day of the visit.
- Decide ahead of time which person will initiate the call. It is usually best for the teacher/librarian to do this since they know when the students are settled and ready. Skype allows for typed chat communications to coordinate with the author before starting the call.
- Schedule morning visits when everyone is fresh. When you invite the author or illustrator to visit, make sure you are both aware of any time zone differences. Skype allows classroom visits around the world.
- Exchange landline or cell phone numbers to reach each other in case of technical difficulties.
- Warn the students about possible technical difficulties. Sometimes Skype will not be functioning as well as you might like; have a back-up plan. Other technologies such as Google Hangouts or GoToMeeting can be back-up plans.