School Presentation Tips for Engineers and Scientists

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Virginia Department of Environmental Quality
Environmental Education

If you haven't had a lot of experience speaking to school age children, here are some helpful hints. Science education has changed a lot since the days of the "Sage on the Stage" style lectures. Today's best-learned lessons are interactive and hands-on in nature. The following suggestions are based on tried and true techniques for presenting a valuable, enriching experience to school age children.

1. Select an activity based on the students' needs and abilities.

  • Check with the teacher about the current unit to see if you can gear your presentation to it.
  • Get familiar with the academic standards, which can be found on the Commonwealth of Knowledge website at
  • Choose a great activity. Copies of hands-on lesson plans can be found on the Commonwealth of Knowledge site or in DEQ's Pollution Solutions guide, at Other lessons are available from the education staff. Local nature centers and museums may also be able to provide teaching materials, activity kits, or live animals. Or, check
  • Plan an attention grabber. Do a demonstration of some kind or show a tool of your profession. When possible, plan to let students handle models, equipment, samples, maps, or other manipulatives during your activity.
  • 2. Organize your materials and notes ahead of time to minimize lag time. (Kids can be so impatient!) Do a test run of experiments, demonstrations or other activities you are planning and make sure you have enough copies of handout materials.

    3. Use interactive, hands-on techniques to engage the students. Stimulate thinking by asking questions: ask them to make predictions, state their opinions, or draw a conclusion. Physically involve the students through active participation, thinking and doing -- the process of science. You can help students build their science processing skills -- observing, identifying, classifying, measuring, and predicting. These skills are listed as ".1" in each grade level of Virginia's Science Standards of Learning.

    4. Use age appropriate words and avoid jargon. Try to define words children may not know by relating them to concrete everyday examples they can understand. You might ask the teacher if the students are familiar with key words or concepts, or consider giving the teacher a few vocabulary words ahead of time.

    5. Challenge the students to use and share what they have learned to help the environment. Leave more than a memory when you go. Give the students a way to share their new or improved understanding and provide suggestion for further investigations. This may be as simple as something they have made during the activity that they can be encouraged to show and tell others about. Other examples include a worksheet, or an assignment to complete as a follow-up with indication of where they can find more information. For older students, consider the DEQ brochure 25 Ways to Help Virginia's Environment as well as letting them know how they might contact you. Suggest they log on to where they can learn about volunteer stewardship opportunities.

    Teaching Tips

  • Make eye contact with the students because kids love the personal attention.
  • Smile and feel comfortable telling amusing anecdotes because kids love a good laugh.
  • Use student volunteers to help you set up and distribute materials, samples, pictures, and handouts because kids love to feel important.
  • Require that students raise their hands to participate to avoid having them all talking at once.
  • Call on many different members of the class because no one wants to be left out.
  • Give specific directions when distributing specimens because kids sometimes disagree about who has been holding an object the longest.
  • Use a prearranged signal to get students' attention during activities (clapping, flipping light switch, etc.) because it is too hard to give good directions unless students are quiet.
  • Stop and wait for students to let you continue speaking if they get noisy because they have probably heard the "cold silence" before and know that it means they need to be less noisy.
  • Wait to give handouts to students until it is time to read or use them because if the students have the handouts while you are speaking they will be distracted.
  • Wait several seconds before calling on students to answer a question because the whole class needs time to think about the question before someone answers it.
  • Praise attentive or helpful behavior because this is the behavior you want to encourage.
  • Model good safety practices because kids learn by following role models.
  • Enjoy the students, their enthusiasm, and their sense of wonder because they have a fascinating perspective on the world!
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    Virginia Department of Environmental Quality
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    Virginia Department of Environmental Quality
    629 East Main Street
    P.O. Box 1105
    Richmond, VA 23218