5 Tips For Middle School Author Visits

I'm visiting a bunch of middle schools this month, and they can be a tough crowd. Masters of the eye-roll, an 8th-grade audience prepares to be bored by any visiting adult who isn't Will Smith or Jay-Z. If an ancient angst returns in full measure when you're facing a room of early teens, try these tips:
  1. Engage as many of their senses as you can. Get them to smell, touch, hear, and see with engaging props and slides. For example, you could pass around the hard-as-a-rock Teddy Bear that you secretly slept with in seventh grade as you share a life-changing memory from that time.

  2. Use self-deprecatory humor. Make fun of your foibles, and especially of your generation's. For example, hold up a pair of your favorite bell-bottom high-school jeans as an example of fashion faux pas from back in the day.

  3. Refer to icons from their culture. If you're out of it, stalk high school relatives on Facebook to find out what's hot and what's not (middle-schoolers prefer older teen trends to their own.) Watch a couple of hours of the newest Call of Duty game or Fresh Prince of Bel Air re-runs, for example, and drop a name or detail from either one to illustrate a point in your presentation.

  4. Seek their expertise. Middle-schoolers, hyper-sensitive to the balance of power, are turned off by adults who loom over them with advice and authority. Give them a chance to teach you—ask which books they've been loving,  what movie to see this weekend, which Mexican food joint in their town to visit tonight.

  5. Heap them with praise. It's an affirmation-hungry time of life. When they answer or ask questions, be astounded by their acuity. If they're listening well, tell them how delighted you are with their courtesy. Keep an eye out for the marginalized—rely on your middle-school-shaped intuition to identify them—and especially feature their contributions.
A balance of these strategies should open ears, hearts, and minds to the educational content of your talk. Above all, be authentic. They know you're old, so be old. But if you have fun, they probably will, too.

Got other tips? I'm heading to Monmouth Junction, New Jersey and Brooklyn, NY to visit middle schools next week, so I could use them.

Photo courtesy of the pain of fleeting joy via Creative Commons.