The last time you were in church might have been a tipsy midnight mass or a friend's wedding. But now you're a teacher, religion is back on the agenda. Schools are required to provide a daily act of collective worship. This can be unnerving if it's your turn and your experience of religion is a hazy mixture of hatchings, matchings and dispatchings of friends and family.
Only 20 per cent of schools begin their working day with the statutory "broadly Christian act of collective worship", but there will be an assembly of some kind - by year or house group, or, in smaller institutions, for the whole school, every day. Sooner or later, you'll be asked to take an assembly. Here's how.
In the same way as you would when planning a lesson, decide on your learning objectives.Keep them few and simple. You'll have at most 10 minutes to fill, and you'll have to spend some time giving out information.
A well run school will have a schedule of assembly subjects related to events in the school calendar but it may also include opportunities for delivering parts of the citizenship and PSHE curricula.
What you choose is less important than the ways in which you help your pupils build a positive group identity, and in making the values and purposes of the school their own. Assemblies, religious or not, are important in supporting the social, moral and spiritual growth of your pupils.
You'll need to work on your presentation skills. Use music to set the mood, and have it playing as pupils come in. Turning it off is a clear signal to even the largest groups that you're about to begin. Don't be afraid to use new technologies - a laptop and a portable projector can produce images that everyone in a large hall can see, and can let you share content from any medium.
Assembly rooms are bigger than classrooms. Will everyone be able to hear you? What about lines of sight - will everyone be able to see you? If you have visual aids, are they big enough to be visible from a distance? Eye contact is especially important when you're working with large groups, so pick three or four pupils in different parts of the room, and make eye contact with each of them in turn. You'll look engaged with the audience.
Aim to involve your audience. If the core of your assembly is a story, begin by asking questions to help pupils focus on its subject, and remember that stories are better told than read. Master the bones of the story then improvise around that structure. What you say will sound more personal and convincing. Remember to speak more slowly than usual, too. Give your words time to sink in.
Make pupils work. If one of your learning objectives is to get them to examine and to change their views on an issue, begin by taking a vote to establish what they think before your presentation, and take another after it. You might even use a mini-debate between two well-prepared pupils to help you make your point. Borrow formats and ideas from performing arts and television, such as hot seating, news reports, quiz shows.
Use your tutor group or class to research and deliver their own presentation, perhaps as a short play or interview. It's a good use of tutorial time, and will involve the performers in real learning.
Relate the subject of your assembly to pupils' own experience - take news items as your starting point, or situations from soap opera (or, even better, from The Simpsons). Help them take what they know and encourage them to think about it, and reflect on their own experience.
Use outside speakers. All the public services will be only too happy to visit you. Firemen and police dog handlers always go down well. Mobilise parents. They have a surprising range of skills and experience, so use them, too.
Finally, remember that pupils will be going off to lessons after you've finished with them, so don't over-excite them. Your colleagues won't thank you if they have to spend too much of the lesson to calm them down. End your assembly with a couple of minutes for reflection.
• Keep it simple. There is plenty of time for all-singing, all-dancing extravaganzas once you have found your feet.
• Encourage children to brainstorm when you are planning your class assembly. Even young children will come up with exciting and fresh ideas.
• Child-generated props, masks and costumes add to the fun.
• Involve parents. Does your school usually invite parents to class assemblies? It may be a nice idea to record the assembly on video. The children will love to watch themselves performing, and working parents will appreciate the opportunity to see the assembly, although some schools and local authorities have policies that would preclude this.
• Ensure that every child has a part to play. No one must feel left out.
• Don't get too stressed about it. Assemblies should not interfere with classroom time.
Make sure your class behaves
Assemblies are unfortunately rife with opportunities for enterprising individuals to create havoc. Make sure your class understands that you expect them to file in and out calmly, and praise those who do, as well as children who have been particularly co-operative.
Position your children carefully. Separate any noisy cliques and friendship groups. Position any who can be disruptive at the end of the line and sit within calming distance. A touch on the shoulder and a stern look are often enough to quieten a child. If not, you are close enough to remove offenders quietly.
Take into account different religions
When planning assemblies or any kind of celebration first check out the different religions in your class. Here’s a quick guide. Jehovah's Witnesses do not celebrate birthdays, Valentine's, Mother's or Father's Days, or other unbiblical celebrations such as Guy Fawkes or harvest festival. Even Christmas and Easter are not celebrated as they are pagan holidays, or fall at the same time as pagan celebrations. Festivals of other faiths, for example, Diwali, are equally proscribed since "we do not celebrate holidays that have non-Christian religious origins or those that promote nationalism". Do not expect Witnesses to join classmates' birthday celebrations, attend firework displays or make Christmas cards that call for celebration (seasonal ones would be OK). Other faiths (Islam, Judaism) may have problems with material, such as Nativity plays, that assumes the divinity of Christ.
TES Resources has an assemblies channel with hundreds of free downloadable assembly ideas
The British Humanist Association promotes the idea that assemblies should support shared values and the school community and has advice and ideas on its site for inclusive assemblies
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