Crowd Control: Starting Your Program

Google - Angry Mob - Cartoon2

There’s a buzz in the room.  Kids are excited to see you – to see each other – to be out of the classroom for something special. The kindergarteners are twisting around to talk with each other – some are stretched out on the floor. 

Your time is limited, the classes have come late and you have a lot to accomplish in your assembly or workshop. Is it really necessary to get them totally quiet and focused before you begin your program? 

Yes. It’s really necessary.

Do not begin until the audience is quiet and focused — even if it takes you all day (and it won’t). Why? If you show kids at the start that you are in control, you’ll be able to rein them in more easily during your assembly if things get a little chatty. They’ll appreciate it (kids do love rules and order, believe it or not) – and the teachers will love you (they want to have fun in your assembly, too, and not be disciplinarians).

The worst thing you can do is attempt to talk over the chaos. No one will hear you. And once kids know that you don’t mean it when you call for quiet, they’ll continue to ignore your requests. 

Here are some tips for getting – and maintaining – crowd control. 

Greet the kids & teachers as they come into the room. I stand by the multipurpose room door, saying hello to kids as they walk by and shaking teachers’ hands.  This is a subtle way of showing them that they are guests in “my” space and that I know that they exist. As classes are getting seated, I also circulate and ask the older kids, “What books are you reading now.”  This extra eye contact forges a stronger bond with them before the program begins.

Have a “quiet down” signal. Most schools have a physical symbol that means “Quiet down right now.” Ask your host what it is and use it when you need to.

Don’t be afraid to wait. For particularly chatty groups, it may take a bit of time to have the quiet spread, but it will. Don’t give up too soon.

Say, “Criss-cross applesauce.” I do mostly elementary assemblies where kids are seated on the floor. During the interactive parts of my program, kids get excited and a bit wound-up.  But to bring them back, I say, “Criss-cross applesauce” which gets them back to the “listening” position.  If that alone doesn’t work, I’ll add, “Hands on laps,” and demonstrate it.  And. Wait. Until. They’re. Ready. For. The. Next. Part. Of. The. Program.

A last resort. If you’ve tried everything and there are still too many distractions to begin, you can always say, “Teachers? Can you lend a hand?” and they’ll jump in.

Everyone in the school is excited to have you there. When they know that you’re “in charge,” they can relax and have a good time. They’ll know that, even if things get a bit wild, you can lead them back to civilization where great experiences await!

13 Comments on “Crowd Control: Starting Your Program”

  • Excellent tips from such a veteran. You ROCK Alexis! Thank you!

  • What wonderful advice! I recently had a very CHATTY group and had to ask the teachers to step in- but your extra added tips here will help me for next time. Thank you!

  • Great advice!

  • Great advice as usual! Here’s an additional tip: Have the principal introduce you. Many principals expect to do this. Then the principal does the work of settling down the kids. AND, when the kids see that the principal thinks you are an important person worth listening too, they will be ready to listen too.

  • Alexis, this is a fabulous post. A veteran teacher and presenter, and I still learned some important tips. Thanks!

  • Caroline – Great tip about getting the principal to do the settling down part.
    Joanne – I appeciate the compliment! Be sure to tune in next week, too, when I’ll share advice on special crowd control issues.

  • Thanks for the tips and encouragement! I must remember to ask what the school’s “quiet down signal” is.

    Something that helps me a lot is to play music while students come in. I play the Olympic Fanfare for my Olympic book talks, French accordion tunes for my French-kids chapter book, or Vietnamese folk songs for my Vietnamese holiday book. It’s festive and it leads to the books. When all are seated, I turn the music off, and typically the librarian does all the necessary crowd control before introducing me.

  • Thanks, Alexis. Much needed advice, as you know about my unruly assembly experience :) I like the idea of standing by the door to let them know they’re coming into “my” space. Excellent!

  • Hey Alexis, great tips as always.

  • Wow Alexis, that was wonderful advice.

  • Hi Alexis,
    great tips – I also liked the clapping game you demo-ed at the SCBWI summer conference. It gets the kids (and adults) engaged and quiet/ready to listen. Inspiring!
    Thanks and Namaste,

  • As a teacher at a school that was lucky enough to have Alexis visit, I can tell you how impressed teachers were with the “meet and greet” at the door. It set such a positive tone and let everyone in the room (teachers, included) know what a pro Alexis was. It’s one of those very simple things a presenter can do that carries a lot of “bang for the buck.”

  • Thanks for the responses, folks! And Caroline — the idea of playing music as the kids come into the room is terrific! It can really set the mood for what’s to come. One principal at a chool I visited had his own playlist that included the ukulele version of Somewhere Over the Rainbow. How can you not smile and be happy with that playing?!