Don’t just read off the slide!

This week our school had its Group 4 project. This is a component of the IB Science courses in which students are required to plan, conduct and present on a topic they choose as a multidisciplinary group. This year the students chose two themes, smartphone addiction and social problems in Vietnam. As per usual the students did a fine job of planning and conducting their experiments. They produced posters and models of their work to showcase at the presentation evening we run for parents and faculty to see the great work of our seniors. This is by and large an independent project – its not run by teachers, we just set up the time, make sure they get there, and they do the rest. As usual students did a good job researching and developing their projects. What was surprising this year was that for some of them, they continued to make pretty classic presentation faux pars.Things like reading off the slides (few), presenting irrelevant information (many) and having too much or too small text (some) were just a few of these common mistakes. It made me think if even our Grade 12 students are still not doing a good job of grasping the basics, is it that us as teaching staff are not modelling what a presentation should be? After all they are subjected to 3-4 presentations a day, you would have thought they by Grade 12 they could have even learnt this by osmosis!

I feel like generally I am pretty good at creating presentations. One of the indicators of this belief is that presentations I use in my lessons are shared with students online (there is a Google Slides for every lesson I have) and students often tell me that it was not very helpful to their study. That’s because they aren’t very descriptive without me around to do the presenting. Less text is better when it comes to presentations. Students are flicking their concentration between you and the slides they are trying to read, which Dr. Atherton explains is cognitively ‘exhausting’. Reading through presentation zen this week definatele suggests I have work to do. I frequently use a common theme that other teachers within school will use. I do title slides with perhaps a bit too much frequency, and my use of images is a little lazy.

A few things I always try to do on a presentation to students is:

  • List the learning objectives. Even if I read them off the board I feel like when they are written down it makes the more accessible to students after the lesson.
  • Write down tasks I want them to do. Students do not always listen when I am speaking, this I am aware of. But I do not want to repeat myself many times, and so I put up a slide with the written instructions.
  • Not use clipart. I really dislike clipart, but I do feel like this makes my slides a bit more texty sometimes if I cannot find a picture I like that works well with what I am trying to say.

These may not be ‘right’ in the grand scheme of things but they are important to me to help facilitate and run my classroom. Were this a TED talk for example then the first two of these would no longer apply.

Thus I am going to re-imagine a Slideshow I use with two of my classes (IB year 1 and a modified version for General Physics). It is a lesson on introductory thermal physics.

In general I think this Slideshow gets the job done. it has relevant information, there isn’t much in terms of walls of text, a few images to help etc. I feel like the content is communicated, but that there is lots to be desired in terms of generally making it look like something you are a bit more excited about looking at.

The final, reimagined product is linked below.

Going through the presentation I was pretty happy with most of the content. A few slides got cut in favour of alternative activities. One example was a table which listed the three modes of kinetic energy that a molecule possesses. The three kinds of energy and how they behave is relevant, but the details are not. If I were to use that information it would be better presented in a blank table form where they might have an activity to fill in the blanks or something (card sort perhaps, research task etc). Having the table would encourage people to read the table (consciously or subconsciously) which is not what the presentation is about and so removing it either way was a good move. A question I did have is in slide 8, should I have the explanation up? I felt like the rules dictate I should take it out, but I feel like it is a good way to highlight information and keywords. But then if for this slide why not other? Does this end up as a guide for me?

Is this more what slide 8 should look like? Removing the additional text has students focussed upon me more with the remaining content an activity for their learning.

Other changes:

  • The big change between the two versions is fairly obvious. The background and general theming has been overhauled. It no longer relies on the generic background native to Google Slide, but rather has an image which links clearly to the topic.
  • I have tried to change or remove titles where possible as these are essentially superfluous during the course of a lesson – I am usually talking about (or getting to students to find out about) the thing, so the fact it is written on a slide is either not required or might give away too much to the students.
  • Activity slides and learning objectives are still there and are essentially there for the students to remember. These have bigger text in most places as i have removed titles.
  • A few more images are used to spice up slides like the “cool facts” slide.

Again I have refrained from using clip art due to my general dislike for the style 🙂 I would love feedback on this new version, as I already feel it looks a little sloppy, but am unsure of how to further improve it.

The master feature in Google Slides allows you to define your own theme which auto applies to all slides. A little tricky to master though…


The downside to this is that the whole process took me quite a long time. Being a teacher with a whole bunch of other responsibilities means that generating a presentation of this quality takes time that sometimes I do not have. However, mastering the Master feature in Google Slides would probably give me a quicker way of doing this more repetitively.

2 thoughts on “Don’t just read off the slide!

  1. In a perfect world,Alex, I agree, we’d have more time to make our presentations even better. Ya know, if I had the time, I’d definitely take on Garr Reynold’s tip of stepping away from the computer all together and starting with a pencil and blank piece of paper. To get those creative synergies rolling to make an impactful presentation, that might be the single best thing I can do. Is it possible? Probably for two minutes, at most. I might give it a try. Sorry, I can’t give you feedback on your google slides – China’s preventing me from viewing at the moment. I’ve tinkered with the master slide to no avail, also. This video gave me a little incite

  2. Hi Alex,

    I really liked the changes that you made, especially the continuity with the background. I found that some of the fade in animations a little slow and that made me wait to look at the slide a little longer – which is maybe a good thing!
    I like you hate the use of clipart – what is the point and how long do I look for the ‘right’ picture, with the ‘right’ copyright freedom? Goodness only knows!!!

    I would suggest however, the ‘Noun Project’. I love these images – clean and simple and to the point. Check them out…

    When sharing my slides with my class I always find it helpful to add speaker notes. I tend not to write down what I am saying word for word but just give a couple of bullet points that support the slide that I am displaying, this avoids confusion.

    It is great to see that we, as educators, are really standing back, reading the research and improving the visual elements of our lessons – as this is so important!

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