Fix-It: Seven Ways to Fix Student Presentations

The first time I had student presentations, it was as awkward*. The students were nice, but off-task as they sat through four straight days of classmates holding rattling papers and reciting everything they had learned.

I soon realized that I had asked students to spend weeks on projects and research and then hoped that they would magically create great presentations. Over time, I shifted my approach. Here are a few things I've tried that have helped:
  1. I keep the time limit short. They do two-to-five minute Ignite-style presentations. The short time limit makes a huge difference in curbing student boredom. 
  2. Students spend time practicing the presentation. This happens on two levels. First, students practice "presenting" in debates and mock trials before we get to single presentations. Next, students practice their presentations before they give them. 
  3. I require visuals. Students create visuals on either Google Presentation of Keynote. They have to find Creative Commons pictures, create their own graphs or sketch their own pictures. The idea here is to help them see how slides can enhance their presentation.  
  4. I teach the basics of public speaking. I can't spend too much time on it, but I teach students about voice, diction, staging, eye contact and other fundamentals. 
  5. Students have to articulate a point instead of giving a summary. Instead of saying, "This is my project" or "here's what I learned," students might have to demonstrate how something works, make a divergent point, persuade the audience or provide an alternative theory. 
  6. The students who are listening to the presentation must write down one critical thinking question. I don't ask for note-taking or for peer rubrics. I don't have students typing in a backchannel. However, they must be prepared with one critical thinking question that they can ask during the question and answer segment after the presentation.  
  7. I encourage creativity. Some students dress up and take on a role. In group presentations, I've had group members move from location to location, breaking up the concept of the "front" of room. I've had students mix visuals, video and text in such a way that it is more like theater than anything else. These weren't ideas that I pushed for, either. They were the result of students seizing creative freedom. 
I'm still figuring out how to make this work. I think next year, I'm going to stagger student presentations so that we do a few per week, with the question and answer piece embedded within it. Or maybe I'll make them more like an "event," such as an in-class conference.