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“PowerPoint presentations can be used in many ways in the ESL classroom as well as in other classrooms. Presentations can be used for initial teaching, for practice and drilling, for games, for reviews, and for tests.”– Don L. Fisher
The aim of this article is not to teach the basics of PowerPoint but to offer practical suggestions on how PowerPoint (or other presentation software) can be used in the classroom. While there are several articles about using PowerPoint in English language teaching, the majority of practical ideas for PowerPoint presentations are spread across a million different webpages, including my own.
The most relevant articles I could find that contained several practical suggestions was ‘Using PowerPoint for ESL teaching’, which was written by Don L. Fisher and Dave Dodgson’s article ‘Getting the most out of PowerPoint.’
I will try to build upon this discussion of ‘Classroom Uses of PowerPoint’ by using my experience of preparing and designing presentations for the EFL classroom.
“Even though they may sometimes only last as little as five or ten seconds, the times when you give instructions are critical moments in any lesson. Get them wrong, and they will cause problems that ripple through the following activity and on into the rest of the lesson.” – Jim Scrivener
Use icons as visual instructions.
I call these icons Hieroglyphs for Teachers. Any icons a teacher uses should be easy to design and simple to understand. Like written instructions, I recommend creating an instruction space on your slide and refer to your icons as you give instructions.
Once students become familiar with the icons, you will be able to elicit activity instructions and check student comprehension easily.
Use diagrams to explain activities.
Visual representations, such as activity diagrams or video diagrams, can provide students with the general idea of the activity and can help during modelling stages by providing a step-by-step guide illustrating the roles, movements, and actions in the activity.
The students will begin to associate the visual images or video with the instructions given and the teacher should soon be able to elicit the activity instructions from the students.
PRESENTING THE TARGET LANGUAGE
“PowerPoint can be used to teach new ideas and concepts to students. In theory this sounds very good; however, in practice this can be tricky. The teacher must anticipate areas of misunderstanding and difficulty.” – Don L. Fisher
Limit the number of objects.
David JP Phillips suggested in his TEDx presentation on PowerPoint design that six be the maximum number of objects on a slide. The fewer objects there are on a slide, the less there is to remember and the easier it is to focus on the information.
If you need to use more slides, use more slides. It is better than putting too much information on one slide and confusing your students.
Use larger text for the target language
David JP Phillips also suggests that “the most important part of your PowerPoint should also be the biggest.” If you are presenting target language to students, the target language should be larger than any other text.
This will mean that the text is easy to read and visible from all areas of the classroom. It will also help students identify what is important when they are writing notes.
Use animations to present information gradually.
Textbooks and worksheets present a lot of information at once. When a student opens a book, or is provided with a worksheet, they look at everything. Often, the teacher has to clearly identify which part they are referring to.
One of the benefits of presentations is using entrance animations to gradually reveal different parts of the slide. If you have six objects on your slide, reveal them one-by-one. Students will follow you and understand which part of the slide you are focusing on.
PRACTISING THE TARGET LANGUAGE
“Games are a good way to review and practice English. Teachers can use PowerPoint to create their own games to use in the classroom. Once a game has been created, it can be reused by the author or shared with other teachers.” – Don L. Fisher
Use PowerPoint to give feedback.
Gap-fill activities are often used to practise target language, and PowerPoint is very useful for giving feedback to large groups. Feedback is important as it allows students to check answers and spelling.
Use appearing text, moving text or disappearing boxes to reveal missing words. You can also use live text and the pen tool to complete the gap-fill activities during the lesson.
Use examples of the target language
Presentations are easy to modify, and you can write your own example sentences and conversations that appeal to the students’ interests.
Once students have practised the examples, use exit animations to remove words, phrases, sentences from the examples. Encourage students to practise the examples again and remember any missing parts.
The aim of this type of activity is to encourage student recall of the target language so they can manipulate it without any prompting.
Use PowerPoint to create your own worksheets.
David Dodgson comments in his article ‘Getting the most out of PowerPoint’ how easy it is to convert a PowerPoint presentation into a worksheet or handout. PowerPoint has several export options, two of which are ‘create a PDF document’ and ‘create handouts.’
Both options can be used to create customized handouts for students. Once a master handout has been created, only minor changes are needed to customize it for future classes.
REVIEWING THE TARGET LANGUAGE
“PowerPoint presentations are great for reviewing ideas which have already been taught. After the students have learned and practiced something, it is good to see a presentation. I do not show presentations every day. I like to save them for a special treat sometime during the week.” – Don L. Fisher
Use PowerPoint games to review the target language.
The best PowerPoint games for review are ones that include several categories and use open ended questions. The aim is check how much students can recall and how much English they can use.
Quizzes and game show adaptations make good review games. Alternatively, task-based review activities where students have to use English to complete a challenge are useful.
Use a review slide to link lessons.
It is useful to create your own templates and slide masters in PowerPoint. For example, creating a ‘review slide’ that can be shown at the beginning of lessons to remind students what they studied in the previously. Review slides can include screen captures, images, page numbers, and key words allowing you to link your lessons together.
TESTING FOR COMPREHENSION
“Under pressure to perform well in a test, students focus not on learning for the sake of their development and stretching their existing abilities but rather on learning to be able to pass a test.
Now, what can we do to get them to change their focus?” – Svetlana Kandybovich
Turn a test into a game.
Svetlana Kandybovich wrote an article where she described turning a test into a game. One of the advantages being it lowered student anxiety. She suggests several activities to assess students’ knowledge.
Any PowerPoint game used for assessment must be easy to adapt to a student-led activity, so teachers can monitor students and assess them fairly.
Use Office Mix to insert quizzes and polls.
Office Mix is an add-in for PowerPoint and it was designed with educators in mind. Office Mix is an attempt to make PowerPoint more interactive for the classroom and it includes the option to insert multiple choice quizzes, true or false quizzes, free response quizzes, or multiple response polls. These quizzes can be inserted into presentations and shared in a variety of ways.
“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.” – David Dodgson
Presentations can be designed to give instructions, introduce new language, practise language, give prompts for free practice, review language, and to turn tests into games. Using your imagination and thinking about what you want to achieve from your presentations will help you to design them. To paraphrase David JP Phillips, the teacher is the lesson and the PowerPoint is just the visual aid. PowerPoint is meant to enhance the lesson, it is not intended to be a substitution for the lesson or the teacher.
Fisher, Don L. (2003). Using PowerPoint for ESL Teaching.
Retrieved from http://iteslj.org/Techniques/Fisher-PowerPoint.html
Dodgson, David (2010). Getting the most out of PowerPoint.
Retrieved from http://www.teachingvillage.org/2010/09/22/getting-the-most-out-of-power-point/
Scrivner, Jim (2014). Classroom Management Techniques p.128. Cambridge University Press (4th print).
Phillips, David JP. How to avoid death by PowerPoint. TEDxStockholSalon #2/201
Kandybovich, Svetlana. (2015) The Read Trick: Turning a test into a game.
Retrieved from http://wp.me/p577Go-af
Bio: Tekhnologic has been teaching English since 2011 and has been working in Japan since 2012. He wanted to find ways to make the most out of PowerPoint to enhance his lessons. Then in 2014, he started his blog as a way to share those ideas with other teachers. Since then over 170,000 templates and materials have been downloaded from his blog.
Tekhnologic would like to thank Owen Kozlowski for his feedback on some of the ideas in this article.
All images used with permission.