Preparation is the key when inviting a guest to class, says Lindsay Clandfield.

Bringing a special or mystery guest to class can be motivating for teachers and students. It provides a welcome break from routine, there is a genuine information gap that can be exploited and it gives students a different voice and a fresh dynamic.

Preparation is the key to making these visits work. I’ve been a guest in classes where this didn’t happen. The teacher ends up entreating the students to ask questions and they usually dry up after “Where are you from?” and “Are you married?”

Here are some tips on making it a success all round.

First, find a guest willing to visit your class. This could be a friend, family member or colleague. They don’t have to be there for the whole lesson, it may be better if they arrive only for the last 20 minutes or so. The guest doesn’t have to be a native speaker either. As long as he or she can speak English well, is potentially interesting and agrees to visit your class then it doesn’t matter if they are a native speaker or not. In fact, they may provide a more motivating and accessible model to aspire to if they aren’t.

It’s helpful if you gather some interesting information about your guest in advance. Has your guest visited an interesting place, done an exciting sport or activity or met a famous person? Tell students the bare outline of one of these facts and then ask them to prepare questions.

You could ask your guest to prepare some questions for the students, or tell an anecdote as part of their visit. One activity that I like to set up with a guest is to ask them to bring several personal objects they don’t mind sharing with the class: their passport, some photos, or a favourite (small) object for example.

Start the class by introducing your guest, then letting the students see the objects. In groups, the students must formulate sentences about the guest from just looking at the objects. Next the groups read their sentences and see if they were right.

As a follow-up activity make sure the class makes a thank-you card. If your guest is a colleague or fellow teacher, why not return the favour?