Learning (with) Powerpoint

Slideshow presentations have engulfed the classroom, opening up a whole wealth of benefits. In many cases, I feel they are overused (and I know I’m not the only one who feels that way), with teachers putting more effort into their Powerpoints, or Presis, or what-have-yous, than the actual lesson. I have seen – sadly – teachers put their lesson plan on Powerpoint, copy worksheets and coursebook pages onto Powerpoint or open up someone else’s Powerpoint (without checking it through) and click through the slides. No plan, no prep, no thought. This, to my mind, is lazy and is not a good use of technology.

At the other end of the scale are teachers who would never touch a Powerpoint. It serves no purpose. It’s damaging our pedagogy. There are better alternatives. All perfectly viable points, but a good Powerpoint, used judiciously, can enhance the teaching and learning experience. As long it is not used merely for its own sake, and brings something to the classroom experience, it deserves its place amongst the learners.

Personally, I would use Powerpoint under 2 circumstancex:

i.) I want to introduce a new or difficult language point, and I need to be sure everyone is on the same page. It’s easier to monitor understanding and progress if all eyes are front and centre, and you can see and hear exactly where learner attention is focussed towards.

ii.) The Powerpoint must be interactive. If a learner is shown a slide, with me talking over it or not, how do I know they’re engaged with it? Are they reading the information? Is it going in? What are those notes? Are they copying the slide text verbatim? Is that going to have any impact on their learning? Could I have saved time by just giving them the text on paper to take home? Are they still writing? There’s 17 words on the slide! Do they understand what they’re copying? And so on. Make the slides interactive. Make them engaging. Why settle for those slides being the teacher, being the text, being the preface to the activity when they can be the activity? Make the most of them!

First off, the basics. Every teacher should know this, not every teacher does. Writing dark letters on bright-coloured paper is OK. Projecting dark text with bright backgrounds is not. Dusk blue on retina-singeing yellow is not pleasant on a computer screen, interactive whiteboard, or any other form of projection. Nor, for that matter, are light on light or dark on dark. And spare a thought for us poor lot with poor eyesight. I, myself, am never going to be able to read your size 16 font from the back of the classroom. “But it was the only way I could fit all the text onto-” too much text, take it off. If your slide is just a page of text, put it on a worksheet, with an accompanying exercise. Aside from the fact that it’s difficult for me to read, not everybody is going to read it at the same pace, and when it’s on a slide, there’s not much the fast finishers can do while waiting for everyone else.

There are two features of Powerpoint which, I think, make a world of difference. The Animations feature and the Insert feature. Let’s say I want to teach or check the standard form of the past hypothetical conditional (please refrain from calling it the 3rd conditional!) My class are fairly strong, and many of them have lived in an English-speaking environment for a good few months. Fluency is good, complexity is to standard, accuracy is sorely lacking. So, I decide to employ a TTT method, mixed up with some inductive grammar teaching.

On my first slide are some sentences, e.g. “If I h__ c_____ (catch) the bus, I w____n’t h___ m____ (miss) my interview”, or “If I _____________(catch) the bus, I _______(not miss) my interview – this opens the floodgates for exploring more conditional forms, and would be my preferred choice if the learners didn’t specifically need to work on the standard past hypothetical form.

In this part of the lesson, the learners would write their ideas (I prefer ‘ideas’ to ‘answers’. It seems to lower affective filter, as learners don’t feel there’s any element of failure to their efforts) in the gaps before the answers are revealed. It’s fairly straightforward to set up. Insert a text box or WordArt and type the answer. Do so for each gap. Select an answer, go to Animations at the top of the screen and select an Entrance animation. Make sure the animation is activated ‘On Click’. This should be on the grey toolbar at the top of the screen, right-hand side. Do so for each answer.

Suppose the students fluff the exercise. They go to the next slide, where there are more sentences, this time in pairs, e.g.

“If I had caught the bus, I wouldn’t have missed my interview”

“If I have caught the bus, I wouldn’t missed my interview”

Students click the correct sentence in each pair, then discuss what the correct sentences have in common.

This time, you need to use a trigger. Make sure each sentence is typed in a separate text box. Also create, for each correct sentence, a smiley face, a tick, a “Correct” or “Well done” WordArt, and negative equivalent for each incorrect sentence. Keep a note, if you can, of the order these are created in – it is important!

Select your first smiley face. Add animation, as above. This time, click ‘Trigger’ (usually next to ‘Add Animation’, below ‘Animation Pane’. Select, from the drop down menu, one of the items. Say I want the face to appear when learners click “If I had caught the bus…”, and this is textbox 1. I click textbox 1. Go to Presentation view, click the bus sentence, and the face should appear.

Sometimes, you can lose track of which item is which. A slow but sure getaround is to rearrange items ad hoc. Say I click the bus sentence, and nothing happens. I try the next sentence (ie. the correct one in the second pair)…nothing. I try the 3rd sentence, the face appears next to the first sentence. Exit Presentation view, swap the first and third smiley faces.

So, now, they’ve had a go and got all the smiley faces. I want to take them back to the gapped sentences. How do I get back there? There are 3 methods.


1.) Click on ‘Insert’ at the top of the screen, go across to ‘Links’, click it and select ‘Zoom’ from the drop-down menu. Select ‘Slide Zoom’ and select the previous slide.

2.) Click and hold the thumbnail of the previous slide, from the left-hand menu, and drag it onto your current slide.

3.) Add an object, such as an image or some text. Select it and click ‘Action’ (Insert > Links > Action). In the menu that opens up, click ‘Hyperlink to’ and select either ‘prevous slide’ or ‘slide’. If you plan on playing around with your slides, select ‘slide’ to be sure that your link will always lead to the same place.

Using these basic tricks, you can create an engaging and interactive Powerpoint. Learners can go from slide 4 to 1 to 3 to 7, rather than 1 to 2 to 3 to 4. They can choose which slides to jump to, which exercises to do. You can hide slides (right click the thumbnail, select ‘Hide Slide’ from the drop-down menu) so the learners will only see them if they follow a hyperlink directly to them. This adds an element of gamification by allowing you to add “Game Over” “Try again” or “Wrong answer” slides to your presentation.

Of course, there’s lots more you can do, but I hope I’ve given you some basics to get started. Experiment with your slides. Put the work in and unleash on your students a few decent Powerpoints, rather than innumerate duff ones.




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