Inviting an author into school, whether for a day visit or a residency, can help to raise the profile of writing and reading within the school while children get to meet the face behind the name on a book jacket. The Poetry Zone asked Brian Moses, who has been involved with book events in schools over the past 25 years both as a teacher and a writer and is one of the UK’s most published and experienced children’s poets, to give us the benefit of his knowledge.

Who will you invite?

There should be a sound reason for picking a particular writer. Perhaps it will be someone whose work is being looked at as part of an English topic or someone to provide a focus for a Book Week or Poetry Week. In a primary school consider whether the writer will be asked to meet both infants and juniors and whether his/her books are suited to both age ranges. Remember that many writers are booked up months in advance so plan ahead – particularly if you want the visit to coincide with National Children’s Book Week in October, with National Poetry Day (usually the first Thursday in October) or with World Book Day (6th March)

How to contact writers and poets

Many of the poets who feature in The Poetry Zone can be contacted directly by visiting Authors Abroad or Book a Poet. You might also try The Poetry Society, contacting their publishers, who are usually happy to help, or the writers themselves.

When contacting a writer, he or she will want to know the location and size of the school as well as what you have in mind for the visit. (See – Planning the day)

You, of course, will need to know the writer’s fee as well as his/her preferences for size of groups and number of sessions. Discuss expenses. If the writer is travelling some distance you might consider approaching another school in your family to discuss the visit. If, for example, your writer visited them the following day you would be able to share this cost.

Finally, confirm the visit in writing setting out the timetable that has been agreed, details of the fee and expenses, and enclose a map showing how to find the school. Your writer will also need to send you a booking form or confirmation letter. He/ she may also have a publicity pack to send you or can tell you which publishers have publicity material that you can request.

Planning the day

Think about what will be required from the writer. Most will be happy to offer three or four sessions in a day visit. Some writers will undertake workshop activities, others will only give talks about their work. Where workshops are offered it will be unrealistic in a large school to expect a writer to meet the whole school in one day visit. Most writers will conduct workshops with a class or class size group of children so it will be necessary to target specific groups or ages. Writers may well agree to give talks to much larger groups and poets often give readings to a whole key stage.

Have some idea of what you want when you talk to the writer but allow for flexibility. Instead of single classes for workshops you could try taking children from different classes in the same year group to form a class size group. These children can then “cascade” what they have learnt to the rest of their classes and their own poems can act as a stimulus to others.

Many writers will offer to stay on after school to sign books and you will need to arrange whether the writer will supply the books or whether you need to involve a local book shop. Signing sessions are a chance for children to talk with the writer and to take away a personally signed book.

Preparing for the visit

Try to make sure that the writer’s work is familiar to the children. Some writers may ask you not to read certain books as they wish the children to hear them for the first time on the day of the visit. However, the general rule is that where children know something about a writer and his work they will be much keener to meet him.

(I once had letters from a class of children who informed me that they had been told to write to me and that they hadn’t read any of my poems but they felt sure that they were very good!)

You could also mount a display of the writer’s books in the school entrance hall and encourage children to think of questions that they might like to ask.

The day of the visit

Some important do’s and don’ts – often obvious but it is surprising how many can get overlooked.

Do offer your writer a tea/coffee when he/she arrives, particularly if the journey has been a long one. Show him the staff room & the cloakroom.

Do ensure that children are ready on time and with pen/paper for workshop activities.

Don’t mark books during the writer’s session. It gives the wrong message to the children.

Don’t deliver your writer to the staffroom at breaktime and then say, Someone will get you a cup of coffee but I’m on playground duty.

Do make sure that adequate staff are involved in each session. Writers may not be insured to be with children on their own.

Don’t forget lunch arrangements. Some writers may be happy to eat with the children. Others will appreciate a quiet lunch hour or may even like to leave the premises.

Build the writer up. If your children believe that your visitor is “special” then the day’s writing or poetry will be special too. Give the day a sense of occasion.

Hopefully, as the day progresses, there will be an excited buzz around the school. Children who have already met your writer will be telling others about the session and there will be a great deal of rewarding follow up work for everyone to be involved in.

After the Visit

Consider how best to follow up the day. Children may have begun their own poems or stories in their sessions with the writer and these should be developed and completed in any ways that were suggested. Finished work could then either be gathered into a class or school anthology, mounted as wall displays around the school or featured on the school web site. If any photographs of the event were taken these can be added to books or displays.

Talk with the children about the visit. Discuss the author’s methods of work and whether they can be applied to classroom practices. Ask the children what they gained from the visit and whether they now look at the writer’s books in a different way. It is often useful to reread some of the writer’s work, particularly if there are sections that were highlighted during the writer’s talks.

It would also be useful to discuss the visit at a staff meeting and to consider the value of future visits. Some writers make annual visits to the same school or return later for an evening with parents and children.

© Brian Moses

A version of this text first appeared in Junior Education.