Student presentations – whether short reports or full on demonstrations — are an important part of active learning. Particularly in online classes, where instructors have a tendency to rely (overly rely!) on one-way teacher-to-student communication, it is important to give students “a voice.”
While student presentations are important, it is essential to manage the topics students present, how they prepare, how they deliver their presentations, and how to give feedback (both from you and from classmates). Without proper management, student presentations can devolve into chaos, and in those situations, it’s understandable that teachers often want to give up, and students also feel demotivated to present.
There are a few guidelines to follow if you want to include student presentations successfully in your online classes:
• Limit the resources that students will use when they prepare their presentations.
Because of the virtually unlimited availability of online resources on any topic, students can easily get lost and access inappropriate, obtuse, or biased resources when they are researching their presentation topics. The result can be incomprehensible presentations that no one benefits from.
• Include an approval step before students give their presentation. I always insist on a “working outline” that is submitted to me in advance of the presentation. I will give feedback on the outline and guidance on what to emphasize and what to edit out. For higher level students I will ask them to cite the sources they use and I will make sure they are using multiple sources.
• Ask students (after their outline is approved) to do their presentation on video. You can use readily available software such as FlipGrid to allow them to record their presentation as many times as they wish before they submit it.
• Enforce strict standards for presentations, particularly concerning time limits, use of visuals, use of other props (such as note cards). Have clear procedures for other students to give feedback as well.
Here are some specific ideas for guiding presentations, based on a unit from Contemporary Topics (Level 1, Unit 9, Design Thinking)
• Because the activity in the book involves a lot of teacher supervision, the online course needs a simplified preparation format for student presentations. This version provides required research sources. Students need to consult a minimum of two sources so that they are synthesizing ideas, rather than just reporting or summarizing one source.
• This research task could be assigned to a pair or small group. Students would work outside of class time to prepare a group presentation.
Here’s an idea for structuring the presentation itself. Remember: structure is definitely a kind of support!
• For an interactive class, it is optimal for students to give their presentations live, but for class management some teachers will prefer students to prepare in advance on FlipGrid or similar platform.
• Additional presentation tips could be given here as well. Links to sample presentations also possible.
These ideas for supporting student presentations can be adapted to content and level. While it may at times seem like “more trouble than it’s worth,” I am convinced that the effort to integrate student presentations into every course is well worth the effort. Student motivation improves, student acquisition of spoken language (including confidence) improves, class morale and mutual support improve as well.
Michael Rost, principal author of Pearson English Interactive, has been active in the areas of language teaching, learning technology and language acquisition research for over 25 years. His interest in bilingualism and language education began in the Peace Corps in West Africa and was fuelled during his 10 years as an educator in Japan and extensive touring as a lecturer in East Asia and Latin America. Formerly on the faculty of the TESOL programs at Temple University and the University of California, Berkeley, Michael now works as an independent researcher, author, and speaker based in San Francisco.