Making Student Presentations Better

‘Tis the season for student presentations.  Tired of the bullet points?  Irritated with students reading straight from their slides?  Try a different approach.  One simple rule:

No Text.

We have all seen them.  Slides filled with bullet points, paragraphs, small pictures, beckoning students to read straight from the screen rather than face their audience.  It is no surprise that they do.

Perhaps the best intervention might be the easiest — pull the problem off the screen.

A few teachers have been challenging students with this rule, and have been pleased with the results.   Erin Fluchel, West High teacher, coached her kids through the process:  “I encouraged kids to “think metaphorically” and use images to represent content (with perhaps a keyword or two for emphasis). I found that it pushed kids to think critically about their visual and textual choices and it kept them from simply writing out their entire presentation in bullet points (and then reading from those points in class–ick!).”

The Process:

Ask students to create their slides as usual, but then move all the text from their slides into the speaker notes in PowerPoint.  Then challenge them to find an image that represents their content.  It could be a single number, small phrase,  relevant graph, or metaphoric image.  Whatever the selection, students won’t be able to depend on their slides for the content — they must either memorize their points or work from easily accessible notes.

Why attempt this?

  • People read faster then a presenter can talk.  When a student reads her slides, she becomes redundant.  (see slide 59 on this presentation)
  • Connecting spoken information with an image actually helps people remember more.  (also, see an earlier post by Bill and Northeast Middle teacher Ben Dueker)
  • Challenging students to summarize their information into an image, small phrase, or number forces them to understand the content at a deeper level
  • Working through this process means better learning for the presenters, and better learning for the audience

What might it look like?

I was invited to coach  students through this process a while ago.  Preparing for that experience, I developed this example on the life of Savonarola.  If you click the “Actions” button on the bottom and select “Speaker notes”, you’ll be able to read what I spoke during the presentation.

A few more tips, from the professionals:

  • Presentation Zen author, Garr Reynolds, has published a “Top Ten Slide Tips” list that summarizes much of what’s covered on his blog
  • Calculus teacher, and regular ed tech speaker, Darren Kuropatwa, practices these techniques in his own presentations and recommends them to his students.  You can check out his own take on this via a presentation he’s published on the subject of design.
This entry was posted in Comm Arts, Nonlinguistic Representation, Power Point. Bookmark the permalink.

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