I’ve done several dozen classroom Skype visits and I keep refining my techniques. (Yes, I have actual techniques!) I found that many author friends were nervous about doing Skype visits and I’m here to tell you—they’re the best thing since sliced smoked-meat knishes from Caplansky’s! (What can I say, I’m hungry and I just saw them on Food Network.)
Skype visits allow you to stay at home while spreading the joy of reading all over the world! I’ve visited Sicily, Brazil, Kuala Lumpur, and yes—even Canada—from the comfort of my laptop.
Here are my best tips for planning a fun and memorable author Skype visit…
I love Skype visits because I don’t have to get dressed up. I can stay in my jammies all day! I tell the kids as a children’s book author, pajamas are my “office uniform.” No suit and tie or fancy-schmancy pearl necklace for me!
I have several pairs of cute themed jammies and I let the class predict which ones I’ll be wearing for their visit. Some teachers use this as a math exercise, plotting the results on a chart, like this Kindergarten:
Other classes have even worn jammies to school on the day of my visit!
Sometimes a teacher will read one of my other books prior to the Skype. Suggest something the class can do in advance to create anticipation! Goodie, goodie gumdrops!
Add magic and secrets.
Besides reading my book, I perform a magic trick during the visit, but I won’t tell you what that is. A magician never reveals her secrets.
But, I promise to tell the children a secret about the book once we’ve read it. Every book has at least one. Mine typically have to do with the book’s creation. For instance, I let the illustrator choose what kind of animal NORMAL NORMAN should be. I was giddy with glee when S.britt made Norman a purple orangutan! And the character “Mr. Scruffles” is named after my daughter’s favorite stuffed animal. Speaking of stuffed animals…
When I visited a school in Florida, it was snowing here and most of those children had never seen the fluffy white stuff. So guess what? I took my laptop outside! I threw a few snowballs at my husband’s car. They loved it! (Husband, not so much.)
I’ve showed the kids my bookshelves, made popcorn and even interviewed my own children. There are a ton of fun things to do—you’re only limited by your imagination. And if I know you, you have one outrageous imagination!
Ensure the teacher/class has the book you’re reading.
It’s difficult to hold up your book for the webcam. And if you display an electronic copy from your screen share, the kids aren’t seeing YOU. (I make tons of funny faces while I read dramatically.)
It’s preferable for the teacher to have a copy (or two or three for a large group) to show to the kids as you read aloud. Do character voices! Comment on the illustrations!
Back in the 70’s when we viewed slide shows at school, the recording beeped, signaling the teacher to forward the slide. Now I beep for the teacher when it’s time to turn the page! (Because sometimes I comment A LOT on the illustrations.) Plus, the kids get a kick out of it.
Have the kids participate.
I prompt the kids to knock when reading THE MONSTORE at the “knock five times fast” part, which happens twice. I also ask them to read the repetitive refrain with me. With LITTLE RED GLIDING HOOD, I ask students to listen for the other nursery rhymes and fairy tales and count how many there are. Other authors have kids act out character parts. Create some way for the kids to interact with your story.
Have the class develop author questions prior to the visit.
I used to open the floor to questions at the end of the visit, but then I might have kids asking repetitive questions, or, with the preschool and Kinder-crowd, just making statements. (My favorite: “My grandpa has hair in his ears!”) It works best for the class to arrange questions ahead of time. I ask them to come up with about 4-5. The teacher can pick students to ask the questions.
Reading my book, performing my schtick and answering five questions usually takes up the entire 20-minute time slot. (I’ve been known to go over!)
Provide a follow-up activity.
Email the teacher afterwards with a thank you and an activity sheet for the class to do following the visit. (Or you can email the activity in advance.) Some authors also send bookplates, bookmarks or other SWAG to the class.
Coordinate your visit with special days.
Is your book about doughnuts? Well, promote Skype visits on National Doughnut Day! Ninjas? International Ninja Day! Of course, there’s also World Read Aloud Day and International Literacy Day for non-doughnut-and-ninja books. (“The Doughnut Ninja” should be my next project.)
Don’t limit yourself to an age group or group size.
I write picture books but I’ve done Skype visits for middle schools and high schools. With older students, I share writing tips and talk about life as a children’s book author. I adjust my presentation for the age group.
Many schools display the Skype session on a large screen or Smartboard, so you’re really not limited to the size of group you can accommodate. All the kids can see you well. I’ve Skyped with over a hundred students at once and it’s been no different from a class of 18.
Ask the teacher to share your info with parents and other teachers.
You’d like the parents to know that you visited, right? Ask the teacher to provide that info in their class newsletter or other missive. Some teachers will even send home a book flyer so the parents can purchase your books. Create one to have ready should they request it.
FOR TEACHERS AND LIBRARIANS
Have the book ready the day of the Skype visit.
Ask the author if you should read the book with the class in advance or not. I often have the teacher read one of my other books prior to the visit.
Test out your Skype connection in advance.
Many authors will visit via alternative services, like Facetime or Google Hangout. Just ask.
Create an activity the students can do prior to the visit and/or afterwards.
Ask the author if they have ready-made activities or suggestions.
If you enjoyed the visit, let others know.
Tell teacher friends, suggest that author for an in-person visit or a paid Skype seminar, write a testimonial or tell the parents about the visit. Do whatever feels right. Authors are taking time out of their day to do these visits and they appreciate the support.
So, do you want to Skype with me for free on World Read Aloud Day on February 24th? I’m available for any grade or preschool and can adjust my content to meet your needs.
Just email me at tarakidlit at gmail dot com to schedule it! Should I run out of slots on the 24th, I’ll gladly do a Skype visit another day that week.
I also do more in-depth Skype sessions to teach writing concepts, for a nominal fee.
If you have questions, suggestions or knish recommendations to add, please leave them in the comments.