Rethinking Student Presentations

Student presentation can be a powerful tool in the classroom, but if not used correctly it can be a powerful boredom creator. We have all been there, ten presentations in and seeing the exact same slide deck over and over. You’re bored, your students are bored, and to be honest class time is being wasted. The answer is not to get rid of student presentations, but to increase their impact by using intentional strategies and scaffolds.

The question is, how do we use presentation time effectivley? We know it is a powerful tool that enables students to speak publically and share their work, but one thing that I know is, if I am bored grading, my students are bored listening. How do we facilitate student presentations that engage their audience? I have taken some time to reflect on this idea and here are eight suggestions that may help to make student presentations more meaningful.

This is NOT the end all be all list, but hopefully, some of these ideas will spark an idea or help in some way.

  1. Give your students something to do during the presentations. Providing an output for the audience is a great way to get students engaged in the content being presented.Let me be clear though, just giving students a worksheet to fill out during the presentation will not spark a change. The audience output activity needs to have meaning and get students engaged from start to finish. Have students write out questions to ask at the end, have them make connections to their own study, or provide a piece of meaningful feedback to the group. Those are just a few ways to get them engaged.

  2. Practice speaking loudly. Nothing is worse than having a presentation where you cannot hear anything. We need to teach students how to speak during presentations. I think a big idea around this is getting them prepared or ready to speak loudly. One way to set the tone is by doing a brain break where students have to practice speaking loudly before they present. Use this activity as a way to break the ice on sound! It will get them loose and ready to present. The brain break could be any activity getting students up out of their seats and talking. It is also a good strategy to have a student, or you as the teacher, hold up a little sign that says ‘louder’ as a silent cue for students to speak up while they are presenting.

  3. Spice up the platforms. Listening to 35 PowerPoints gets old. It gets old for you and old for your students. Look into other presentation platforms to create a dynamic experience for student presentations. Some places to start are Adobe Spark Video, Emaze, Canva, or Haiku Deck. The idea is to add spice and variation. Although there may be some similarities between presentation platforms, using different ones brings out unique elements. I find that students surprise me when I allow them to choose a platform. I also find the grading to be much more enjoyable.

  4. Think about your location. As the Teacher, you should position yourself in the classroom so you not only see the students presenting but the rest of your class as well. We know as teachers we are constantly modeling EVERYTHING all day! Therefore, you need to be in a position to model what it looks like to be listening. Also, just be real with it, put yourself in a spot where you can see the whole class. They need to know that you are watching the presentation and you are also watching how they are listening. This communicates to the students that presenting is just as important as listening.

  5. Practice like the real world. Think for a second about your last staff meeting. How many times did you check your phone? Email? How many times did you see your colleagues do this? It is important to teach students how to use technology appropriately in different situations. Use this situation as a teachable moment with technology. Our students need to learn when it is appropriate or not to check their phone. During a presentation would be a time when it is not appropriate. You not only need to tell them that but explain WHY. Our students crave knowing WHY they are being asked to do something.

  6. Don’t have students present the same content over and over. 35 presentations on the same five bullet points is just plain dull. Can the context be broken into expert groups, so students can learn from one another? Think about ways you can break up the content, so each group is presenting a different aspect. Doing this will also help give meaning to your audience output.

  7. Are students just reading their notes? Then they are not ready to present. Expect more from your students during presentations. Make sure that students have practice rounds where they are practicing reading their notes out loud. Pair up groups and have them do mini practice presentations. Model how to glance at notes, but focus on having eye contact with your audience.

  8. An audience is everything. Who are your students presenting to and why does it matter? Give your students an audience that does not consists of just their peers but of adults and/or community members who are vested in their project. By doing so, you will heighten student performance.

Public speaking and presenting is a powerful skill that our students need to develop. Being intentional about the presentation strategies you use in the classroom can have an impact on student learning. Take a moment to reflect on the last presentation you had in your classroom. If you feel like it wasn’t the best use of time, then reflect on ways you can make the presentation time meaningful and useful. Mindset is everything, look for areas of growth and choose to have a growth perspective as you reflect on how students present in your classroom. If you have a great strategy for a student presentation, please share it!

Kat McGowan

by Kat McGowan

Kat brings over 15 years of experience to her role as the Doceō Center Assistant. She’s passionate about streamlining processes and loves finding ways to make life easier and more efficient. She coordinates and manages events connected with the Center’s activities and maintains office services by organizing office operations and procedures. She is currently working on her Bachelors in Business Administration and will graduate in the summer of 2018.