Effective Using Outside Resource Persons

Classroom visits from informed professionals can be a valuable teaching tool. Resource experts serve as role models and make community institutions more familiar. Resource experts can provide additional content support to the classroom materials and should be encouraged to participate in a critiquing and debriefing activities in which students
take on various decision-making roles.

To assure effective use of resource persons, balance in presentation and preparation are key factors. It is important that resource experts do not give an unrealistically glowing or gloomy picture of their area of expertise. When dealing with controversial issues, both sides should be presented.

Key to successful preparation of outside resource persons is integrating their expertise into the lesson. Experts can serve as subject-matter specialists, they can help students prepare for roles in a simulation from the point of view of a working professional, and using their own experiences, resource volunteers can help debrief the activity by comparing the decisions reached by the students with those reached in the real world.

Avoid using resource experts to give unstructured lectures or career advice. Some experts, inexperienced in working in an educational setting, have the tendency to talk over the students’ heads or resort to “war stories.” Such anecdotes, while interesting to the students, can give an inaccurate overall picture. If desired, set aside a short period at the end of the visit for a question and answer session to deal with such matters.

Finding experts and arranging visits need not be difficult. The public information offices of government agencies and non-profit organizations are good sources for contacting people. Offices of elected officials usually provide constituent services and can identify appropriate speakers from government institutions. Finally, instructors from local colleges or universities may provide expert help.

When you contact a resource person to make arrangements, be sure to:

  1. Explain the purpose of the visit. Briefly describe your lesson objectives and how the guest will support it.
  2. Place the visit in context. Explain the class’s current field of study, your planned follow-up activities, etc.
  3. Describe the audience. Tell the resource person how many students will be present and briefly characterize their age, interests, and achievement levels.
  4. Specify the scope of the presentation, both in time and content. Be sure this reflects the grade level, maturity, and attention span of your class.
  5. Request specific dates and times. Suggest two or three alternatives from which your guest can choose. (Many resource persons require at least three weeks advance notice.)
  6. Be sure the visitor has the correct address, directions, and parking instructions.

After arranging the visit, confirm it with the principal and other appropriate personnel. It is probably wise to get final confirmation from the resource expert a few days before the presentation.

To make the visit most effective:

  1. Prepare the class. Discuss the purpose of the visit and provide basic information about the resource person. It may prove useful to have the class compile a list of questions to ask the expert at the conclusion of the lesson.
  2. Remember that resource experts are not trained teachers. During the presentation, you may
    need to direct both the guest and the class with appropriate questions and other cues or
    intervene to ensure students are on-task and respectful.
  3. Allow sufficient time at the close of the class for a summary of the presentation and a
    thank you to the guest. Thank-you letters are greatly appreciated by speakers and can easily
    serve as a language arts lesson.
  4. In addition to the debriefing questions in the following materials, ask students to comment
    on what they learned from the experience and how it influenced their views about the
    speaker’s profession or topic. Encourage their constructive suggestions for improving such

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