Let’s say you have a new publication and want to celebrate it with a reading. Hurrah! There is nothing better than seeing students stand up and read their work in front of an audience. This is a major part of the work we do — providing the students an authentic outside audience. But here are some key dos and don’ts we’ve learned over the years:

A little goes a long way

Early on, we would allow a student to read a 4-page story aloud to the audience. This could take up to 15 minutes. And chances are, no one wants that. The student is nervous and doesn’t want to be in front of the microphone that long. And the audience really doesn’t need to hear the entire story. What both parties want is a taste of the student’s work. To hear their voice, to see them up there courageously sharing their writing. A minute is a loooong time in that environment.

Choose a shorter piece or poem

One-page poems are wonderful in this situation. A student gets up, reads the poem, finishes, and everyone applauds. Reading longer than that, trouble is imminent. If the student is reading prose, even one paragraph is often enough to get the idea across. Help the student choose a representative paragraph that highlights their work in an effective way. Maybe even compress different parts of the same essay to create a shorter “best of” version of their longer story.

No pressure

If a student doesn’t want to read aloud, they shouldn’t be made to. You are providing voluntary enrichment for the students, so there’s no need to nudge them into a place where they’re not comfortable.

All willing are welcome

Any students that want to read, though, should be encouraged to. This is where making each reading short is helpful. You can fit more students, and more voices, into your program. Everyone who wants to get up at the microphone should get a chance.

It’s not just about the reading

Ideally you have a charming emcee — an adult or a student — who can move the event along. And who can ask questions of the student-reader before they read their piece. That’s just as interesting, in some cases, as the written work itself. Conversations are fun for the audience and keep the event from becoming an unvaried succession of readings.

Thirty minutes is the sweet spot

If your program goes over 30 minutes, it’s probably getting too long. There are small kids there, babies, grandparents, volunteers. Everyone is busy and it’s after dinner and people need to get home. So try to start and end the program in 30 minutes. Then there’s food and beverages and everyone can congratulate the students and start heading home. Leave ’em wanting more — you don’t want to create a too-long event that leaves people exhausted.

The student signing is absolutely crucial

One of the greatest things we can do is have student-authors sign the books they’re in. It is so wonderful it will knock you down. So after the reading, set up a table or two where audience members can visit with the young authors and get their books signed. The kids love it, the parents love it, everyone loves it. And it honors the students in a profound and unparalleled way.