When was the last time you had a guest speaker in your classroom? What did they share? What did your students learn? And why is it important to have guest speakers in the first place?
Guest speakers can be a valuable element of a teaching unit. The right speaker, speaking on the right topic, with properly prepared students, can create a classroom moment which is remembered long after other activities are forgotten.
Guest Speakers Open Up New Ideas and Opportunities
Lots of students know little outside of their own experiences. They may have never met an engineer, a train driver, an author or a historian. Meeting these kinds of guest speakers can introduce them to know career opportunities and things to work towards as well as new ideas to learn more about. Alternately, a guest speaker can reinforce and extend learning on topics students do know a lot about - giving them new avenues to explore on a topic they're already interested in.
Guest Speakers Can Bring Different Perspectives to Topics You're Investigating
If you're looking at Antarctica in the classroom you may be examining the animals, scientific research or history or the continent. A guest speaker who has visited Antarctica can provide a different human experience point of view, talking about what you need to wear to go outside, what kind of people they meet in Antarctica or what it feels like to stand near a penguin. Guest speakers are able to provide the perspective we can't always provide our students from books or research. This can engage our students and allow them to create connections with the experiences of their guest speaker.
Guest Speakers Allow the Teacher to have Gaps in their Knowledge
It can be tempting to believe that teachers know everything! Of course, that's not really the case and it's good to let our students know that we are also learning from books and other people. Guest speakers can fill those gaps in our knowledge as well as the gaps our students have and show our students that we are lifelong learners - as we'd like them to be.
Preparing Our Students for Guest Speakers
Before guest speakers arrive, it's important to prepare our students for them and for the topic they will be exploring. Students may like to read a short biography of the speaker or you could ask the speaker to answer a couple of short 'Frequently Asked Questions' to share with your students. Students could brainstorm the topic or investigate the kind of vocabulary they might hear. They may even like to make a short list of questions for the guest speaker - giving the guest speaker some ideas of what to cover when they're speaking.
Students need to be clear on behaviour expectations for guest speakers - understanding that many speakers are giving up their own time to share information with the students. They should be prepared to ask good questions of the speaker - and you may wish to cover or revise what makes a good question. You may nominate a student to take notes or video record the speaker (if the speaker gives permission). And don't forget to prepare one or two students to publicly thank the speaker when they have concluded their speaking.
Preparing A Guest Speaker for Our Students
Before a guest speaker arrives, they'll need to know about practicalities as well specific speaking information. Let them know where they can park and where they'll need to go when they get to your school (you may send students to meet them at the school office). They'll need to know how many students they'll be talking with, how old the students are and whether they'll have access to equipment like a microphone, projector or way of playing videos.
You can help a guest speaker out by providing some topics you'd like them to cover or telling them what you've been exploring or covering in your classroom. You may have some questions from the students to give them an idea of what to cover in their speaking. Don't forget to give them an approximate length for speaking - and it's often better to keep it shorter with time for questions!
Who Can You Ask to Speak?
This is, of course, totally dependent on where you live and what you're studying in your classroom. Not everyone will have access to an astronaut when they're studying space (though you may be able to invite an amateur astronomer) or an author when they're studying a certain book. You may need to be creative to find an appropriate speaker or you may have to let a certain topic go and come back at another time. Alternately, you may like to work with other classes at your school or even with teachers at other neighbouring schools to invite someone who can talk with a large number of students over a day.
Here's a few ideas to match speakers to topics:
Reading the Ranger's Apprentice - invite someone who is involved with archery, someone who trains horses or someone who studies medieval history
Studying law making and enforcing - invite a politician, a public servant, a police officer or a lawyer to talk about how they're involved with the law
Studying poetry - invite a poet to talk about writing poetry or speakers from within or outside the school to share their favourite poems (this can also be done with video talks)
Learning mathematics - invite someone who uses mathematics in their job like an architect or engineer