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Getting the most out of Power Point (by David Dodgson)

It’s easy these days to get carried away with all the talk about advances in educational technology and what the latest, coolest web-based resource is. The truth for many teachers and students around the world is that they are lucky to have one computer and a projector in class and even luckier to have internet access, which even then is highly likely to be filtered. This is the case in my school: each class has a “teacher’s” computer with projector and, at best, unreliable internet. Therefore, the most commonly used tool in class is PowerPoint. Even then, many teachers dislike it as they feel ‘chained to the computer’ so how can we make sure it’s used effectively?

Enhanced presentations

There are three main presentation uses I have for PowerPoint:

1. Supplementing the coursebook.

We’ve all been there – you are trying to get the students’ attention on the picture in the book to elicit some vocabulary or information before starting an activity… but some kids haven’t got their books out, others are on the wrong page and they can’t make out what you are pointing at from the back of the class anyway. Simple solution – scan the page, put the picture into your PowerPoint slideshow and circle/underline/highlight the things you want the class to focus on. No need to wait for everyone to find the same page – you already have them focused on a clear, large image.

2. Vocabulary Presentations

PowerPoint is great for presenting specific vocab – food, sports, animals, household objects… All you need is some clip art and text boxes. Sometimes real images can be more striking, as you can see is this example for animals:

Animals vocab 

3. Presenting Target Language

Slideshows can also be made for new language topics. The best thing about these presentations is that they can be used again and again – no more trying to remember how you laid the board out last time you presented something!  The following presentation is one I made for the target structure ‘He/she is wearing…’ and main advantage of using it is that I no longer have to search for magazine pictures to use or struggle to draw figures with clothes on the board:

It’s also very easy to convert these slideshows into corresponding worksheets. Below you can see the same slideshow but with gapped sentences for the students to complete either while the slides are on the projector or afterwards as revision. I just print out enough copies and they can have the slides in their notebooks:

There are some important things to remember as you make your presentations though, especially when working with young learners:

  • How does it look? pink and green may be your favourite colours but green text on a pink background will be difficult to read and may give you a headache! Choose your colours carefully and always check how the slides look on the projector screen before using them in class.
  • Is the text readable? Again, check your slides on the screen from the back of the class before you use them. Also, don’t overcrowd your slides. If there is too much to look at, it will be difficult to follow.
  • What age group are you teaching? Kids will like cute cartoony clip art but teenagers may not.
  • Are the images clear? Most nouns are easy to present but clear images for adjectives or actions can be more difficult to find. The ‘tall’ figure on screen may come across as ‘man’, ‘teacher’ or ‘dad’ to your students.
  • How long will it take? There’s nothing worse than a slideshow that seems like it will never end. Keep vocab presentations short and plan activities for students into your longer presentations.
  • Will it really be better on PowerPoint? Before creating a slideshow, it’s always wise to ask yourself this question. A long time ago with my colleagues, I spent many hours trying to come up with a presentation for ‘There is/are’ but in the end, the ‘old way’ of using a big house poster proved to be much easier to prepare and to follow!

More than just a presentation tool

The above examples are all about presentations but there’s so much more that can be done with PowerPoint. Here are a couple of my ideas:

A whole lesson with PowerPoint!

As I said above, planning activities for students to do at specific points in your slideshow is important to avoid the lesson being entirely teacher-centred. Here is an example of one set of slides I have around which I base a whole lesson:

The animated penguins come in first and I ask the students to come up with descriptive sentences in pairs using what they see as prompts. I then reveal the sentences on the slide and we compare them to what they have written. After that, they see the squirrel and the sentences appear. Again in pairs or small groups, they decide which are true and which are false. They work together again to answer the questions about the lion before we come to the final slide which has some prompts for them to write about an animal of their choice. Just 4 slides but the activities last at least one entire lesson.

Guessing Games

I also make use of PowerPoint for some games to review language. Guessing games are my favourite. I put an image on the slide and then cover part of it with a shape and ask the students to guess what it might be. Another variation of this is a ‘Guess Who?’ style game in which I reveal sentences describing the person, animal or object one at a time and ask the students to guess who or what it might be. In this example, you can see some sentences about celebrities along with covered up photos. This one was a class favourite!:

Guessing game 

Students’ Slideshows

But my very favourite example is this last one. Last year, a student of mine approached me during break and told me how much she liked the guessing games. She then produced a flash drive and said she had made her own slideshow and asked if she could present it to the class. Of course, I said yes and her classmates loved it:

We then started to have student-made slideshows on a daily basis and at the end of the year many of the class handed in their end of year projects (a factfile about themselves) on PowerPoint.

And that’s something worth remembering: however useful the tool for the teacher, it’s always more powerful in the hands of the learner.

David is an English teacher currently working in Ankara, Turkey and teaching young (primary school) learners. He is also a student doing the distance MA in Ed Tech & TESOL with the University of Manchester. You can follow David on his blog, and on Twitter.

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10 Comments

  1. Barbara says:

    I LOVE this, David. Most teachers have access to Power Point, or a program like it. Just reading through your post made me start thinking of ways that I can use slide shows like this in my own classrooms.

    Thank you for sharing your own examples, and for helping us to see Power Point as a teaching tool rather than just a presentation tool!

  2. David says:

    David,

    Great points and you reminded me to dig up an old old article/document I wrote about “Making a power point powerful”. I’ll come back with a link to it.

    I agree that if done well, it really can help with vocabulary. I always stress to teachers the power of power point print preview. You can print the vocab slides and cut up as flashcards. Print – Print Preview – (select 6 slides/page) – Print.

    Also, great when students make power point games with templates, to review lesson content. Just give them a template (we have hundreds on EFL Classroom 2.0) and it is amazing what they will come up with. But great point – that’s where it is at, student created content. That’s high end teaching….

    David

  3. Tony says:

    I’d like to second Barbara’s comments – that’s a very thought-provoking post. It has made me think of different ways to introduce material, which is always good for both students and teachers. Plus, you’ve prompted me to reassess my prejudices about Powerpoint. Cheers!

  4. Patrick says:

    I like the way you move quickly from presentation to activities that actually require the students to understand and think, then on to personalisation.

  5. DavidD says:

    Thank you Barbara for offering me a guest slot on your wonderful blog (Teaching Village is now a fave blog with several of my colleagues by the way – we’ve even managed to get it exempted from the school’s “Blogging and social media” web filter!).

    Thanks for the comments so far. I’m glad I’ve prompted some thoughts about and/or re-assessment of using Powerpoint in class. I believe mis-use of Powerpoint for drawn out teacher-centred presentations has given it a bit of a bad name. However, when used effectively, it can be a great asset for learning.

  6. Matthew Spira says:

    I agree with the people saying, “Well done.”

    You engaged the students in ways where they are actively using English to achieve the communicative goals. Nicely done.

    -Matt

  7. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Aniya, Keisa Williams, Barbara Sakamoto, Janet Bianchini, Christina Markoulaki and others. Christina Markoulaki said: "Getting the most out of Power Point by @DaveDodgson on @barbsaka's Teaching Village" http://bit.ly/bYV6NN #edtech #efl #tefl [...]

  8. 比登美 says:

    My motto is “Make difficult thing easy, make easy thing deep, make deep thing interesting.” this is it.

    比登美

  9. Paddy says:

    Great article David. I use powerpoint a lot on training courses for adult learners and I agree with you that:

    1. There is nothing worse than a lesson with umpteen powerpoint slides. ‘Death by powerpoint’, is how some of my learners describe it

    2. Less is more on any slide

    3. There are a suprising number of otherwise intelligent and capable colleagues who are plain scared of trying out powerpoint

    4. Give the learners a go and get some fresh ideas going.

    Cheers
    PD

  10. [...] to Barbara and she kindly offered me the chance to do a guest post here on Teaching Village about how I used PowerPoint in class. 18 months on, we again get the chance to collaborate as part of the EVO 2012 Digital Storytelling [...]

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