As English teachers, much of our focus tends to be on teaching students to be effective readers and writers, but we can't forget about the importance of teaching students to be confident and compelling speakers. As they go into the world, they need the skills to collaborate with others, seek information, and present ideas with clarity. That being said, I often hear students groan at the introduction of a presentation project and I hear teachers in in the faculty lounge bemoan the lack of presentation skills found in many of their students. In the spirit of helping us all feel a little more comfortable with presentations, today I want to share 6 tips for teaching presentation skills:
1. Work up to a major presentation. Instead of having one or two major presentations during the year, consider giving short, practice presentations early on in the school year, which can lead up to more substantial projects. They don't have to take up much time in your curriculum either; students could present for one minute about some aspect of the summer reading assignment or 30 seconds about correct usage of a vocabulary word. Giving students low-stakes practice can help them to feel more comfortable in front of the class and can give you an idea about presentation strengths and weaknesses to address before the big show.
2. Directly teach students to use visual aids effectively. It seems obvious to most teachers, but students don't always think about how a visual will play in a presentation. They need to be explicitly instructed on how to reference images without turning their back on the audience, how to structure the font and word count of a powerpoint slide, and how to handle any needed audio-visual equipment. These things don't come naturally to many students.
3. Harness the power of technology. There are so many applications, websites, and devices that can help students practice and manage their presentation. For example:
- Prezi.com can create dynamic visuals with easily embedded videos and pictures. It also has a voice-over option for students who are unable to present for some acceptable reason. Click here or here for my prezi tutorial posts.
- Timer apps can give students cues to manage time.
- Google hangouts can be used for students to practice their presentation with peers in a way that can be done from the connivence of their own homes and can be monitored/graded by a teacher.
4. Create an encouraging and supportive environment. One of the main reasons that students are so anxious to present is that they are afraid of facing the class in this very formal way. Teach students how to be a good audience and enforce those standards!
5. Give students a rubric for success. We have to spell out exactly how students can find success so that the hesitant ones don't give up before they have even started. You can google class presentation rubrics, use rubistar, or create your own rubric. Here are some things to consider adding to the criteria:
- Eye contact, body language, and poise
- Enthusiasm and elocution
- Subject knowledge, organization, and mechanics
- Use of visual aids
- Supportive listening (I give a grade for being a good audience during other presentations after I discuss what that looks like.)
6. Model a student assignment. We present in front of our students all the time, but in ways that differ from the requirements for a formal presentation. I think it is very helpful for students for the teacher to break the ice doing a similar presentation to the one students are working with. The teacher presentation should probably be a little longer so there is time to stop and point out what the teacher is doing and why. For example, pointing out the clear size and font of a powerpoint slide or the difference between reading to the audience and glancing down at notes.
Do your students like to present? What tips do you have for our teacher community? Share in the comment section below!