Using games in assemblies - some hints and tips
My unashamed aim is to make assemblies fun as well as reflective. It is very easy for assemblies to become an ordeal for pupils and staff alike. I aim to make assemblies a highlight of the week, rather than 10 minutes of boredom. To achieve this, most of my assemblies begin with a game of some sort. Assemblies tend to be either based around a concept (e.g. 'tolerance') or around a story (e.g. the story of Jesus in the Wilderness). Games tend to fit to concepts more easily, but they can also illuminate or parallel a story, for example 'Unconditional Love - prizes for bubbles'.
Games can have the children on the edges of their seats, and hanging on your every word, making a point that they will remember into adulthood; or they can be distracting and make the children cross. The following hints and tips will hopefully make sure your assemblies are memorable and fun.
Tips when using games to illustrate assemblies
Be aware of health and safety issues but don't let this stop you doing exciting things (particularly relevant if you have microphones for amplification in the assembly hall and your talk on baptism uses a water pistol!).
Don't be afraid to experiment. If you have an idea, give it a try. It may just be the best assembly ever (in which case submit it to this site). But if it doesn't work - it is not the end of the world if a game falls flat, or the message is lost because the game was just too exciting. You will learn from your mistakes and get better. In case a game or any other element misfires, it is always a good idea to have a back-up plan, such as a calming story, a song or a quiet reflection to help you get back on track.
Make sure the game is light-hearted. Over-competitiveness can ruin the assembly - especially for the 'losers'.
Make sure the game is fair (unless the unfairness is the point, e.g. 'Rules Rule'). Otherwise the children may spend the rest of the assembly feeling cheated.
Give a round of applause to all your volunteers before moving on to the 'talkie bit'. This is vital for several reasons: it celebrates their involvement and makes the volunteers feel good; it gives them time to sit down again; and most importantly it marks the transition between time to have fun playing the game and time to listen.
Make sure the children are totally settled before you continue after the game. If you are a visitor don't be afraid to ask a teacher to help (they have experience at settling children).
Make sure the talk that follows the game is also fun / interesting. Ask questions, and ideally get the pupils to make the connection between the game and the theme.
Make sure the point of the game is fully explained. It is easy to have a five-minute game followed by a short talk that is only loosely connected. The children will remember the game in two weeks' time, but not why they played it! Make constant references back to the game during the subsequent 'talkie bit'.
If you choose volunteers, make sure they know what they are letting themselves in for. If telling them exactly what is coming will ruin the surprise of the assembly, give them some idea, e.g. 'I need a volunteer, but be warned, you may end up looking a bit silly...'.
Don't make people feel stupid. If the assembly involves making someone look a bit silly or tricking someone into making a wrong answer, make sure you are laughing at the predicament, not the person (see 'New Challenges'). Even outwardly tough and confident children can be easily embarrassed in front of their friends.
Don't put your volunteers on the spot. This is related to the above. If you have asked for a volunteer to play tug-of-war, don't then ask them a question about the books of the Bible. Also, consider that asking an easy question can be actually worse than a difficult one – a child will be much more embarrassed if he or she gets it wrong in front of the whole school.
Don't choose all your volunteers from the front row. This is a mistake I made in my first few assemblies. It is quicker and easier to use volunteers who don't have to walk the length of an over-crowded hall, but if you make a habit of it you will get grumbles from the back.
Get a spread of age / gender / race in your volunteers. The girls will notice if you choose only boys, and visa versa. Also don't exclude pupils with special educational needs (but be thoughtful in how you include them - see Considering Special Educational needs).
BUT if you have a competition make sure the sides are evenly matched if, for example, you are running a tug-of-war contest (as in 'Cooperation').
If you are a visitor don't be afraid to ask the head teacher to pick your volunteers for you.
If the whole school is assembled give suitable jobs to different ages. For example, get a reception child to hold up a picture, while you get a Year 6 to play a memory game.
Remember that games are not always appropriate. If handled sensitively a memory game may help shed some light on Remembrance Day (see 'Remembering Together'), but don't try a game with children pretending to be aeroplanes to commemorate an event in which people lost their lives, such as the Battle of Britain. There is a balance to be struck between illustrating something in a fun way and trivializing an important or even sacred issue.