- Why I get students to do presentations
- Syllabus fit
- Planning a presentation lesson
- Classroom Management
Why I get students to do presentations
Presentations are a great way to have students practise all language systems areas (vocabulary, grammar, discourse and phonology) and skills (speaking, reading, writing and listening). They also build confidence, and presenting is a skill that most people will need in the world of work. I find that students who are good presenters are better communicators all round, since they are able to structure and express their ideas clearly.
- Presentation skills are extremely useful both in and outside the classroom. After completing a project, a presentation is a channel for students to share with others what they have learned. It is also a chance to challenge and expand on their understanding of the topic by having others ask questions. And in the world of work, a confident presenter is able to inform and persuade colleagues effectively.
- Presentations can also form a natural part of task based learning. By focussing on a particular language point or skill, the presentation is a very practical way to revise and extend book, pair and group work. The audience can also be set a task, for example, a set of questions to answer on the presentation, which is a way of getting students to listen to each other.
Normally the presentation will come towards the end of a lesson or series of lessons that focus on a particular language or skill area. It is a type of freer practice. This is because the students need to feel relatively confident about what they are doing before they stand up and do it in front of other people. If I have been teaching the past simple plus time phrases to tell a story, for example, I give my students plenty of controlled and semi controlled practice activities, such as gapfills, drills and information swaps before I ask them to present on, say, an important event in their country's history, which involves much freer use of the target grammar point.
Planning a presentation lesson
Normally a presentation lesson will have an outline like this:
- Revision of key language areas
- Example presentation, which could be from a textbook or given by the teacher
- Students are given a transcript or outline of the presentation
- Students identify key stages of the example presentation – greeting, introduction, main points in order of importance, conclusion
- Focus on linking and signalling words ('Next…', 'Now I'd like you to look at…', etc.). Students underline these in the transcript/place them in the correct order
- Students are put into small groups and write down aims
- Students then write down key points which they order, as in the example
- Students decide who is going to say what and how
- Students prepare visuals (keep the time for this limited as too many visuals become distracting)
- Students practise at their tables
- Students deliver the presentations in front of the class, with the audience having an observation task to complete (see 'Assessment' below)
- The teacher takes notes for feedback later
It is important that the students plan and deliver the presentations in groups at first, unless they are extremely confident and/or fluent. This is because:
- Shy students cannot present alone
- Students can support each other before, during and after the presentation
- Getting ready for the presentation is a practice task in itself
- When you have a large class, it takes a very long time for everyone to present individually!
I find it's a good idea to spend time training students in setting clear aims. It is also important that as teachers we think clearly about why we are asking students to present.
Presentations normally have one or more of the following aims:
- To inform/ raise awareness of an important issue
- To persuade people to do something
- Form part of an exam, demonstrating public speaking/presentation skills in a first or second language
I set students a task where they answer these questions:
- Why are you making the presentation?
- What do you want people to learn?
- How are you going to make it interesting?
Let's say I want to tell people about volcanoes. I want people to know about why volcanoes form and why they erupt. This would be an informative/awareness-raising presentation. So by the end, everyone should know something new about volcanoes, and they should be able to tell others about them. My plan might look like this:
- Introduction - what is a volcano? (2 minutes)
- Types of volcano (5 minutes)
- Volcanoes around the world (2 minutes)
- My favourite volcano (2 minutes)
- Conclusion (2-3 minutes)
- Questions (2 minutes)
I find that presentation lessons pass very quickly, due the large amount of preparation involved. With a class of 20 students, it will probably take at least 3 hours. With feedback and follow-up tasks, it can last even longer. I try to put students into groups of 3 or 4 with classes of up to 20 students, and larger groups of 5 or 6 with classes up to 40. If you have a class larger than 40, it would be a good idea to do the presentation in a hall or even outside.
Classroom management can become difficult during a presentations lesson, especially during the final presenting stage, as the presenters are partly responsible for managing the class! There are a few points I find effective here:
- Training students to stand near people who are chatting and talk 'through' the chatter, by demonstration
- Training students to stop talking if chatter continues, again by demonstration
- Asking for the audience's attention ('Can I have your attention please?')
- Setting the audience an observation task, which is also assessed by the teacher
- Limiting the amount of time spent preparing visuals
- Arranging furniture so everyone is facing the front
Most of these points are self-explanatory, but I will cover the observation task in more detail in the next section, which deals with assessment.
The teacher needs to carefully consider the assessment criteria, so that s/he can give meaningful feedback. I usually run through a checklist that covers:
- Level - I can't expect Elementary students to use a wide range of tenses or vocabulary, for example, but I'd expect Advanced students to have clear pronunciation and to use a wide range of vocabulary and grammar
- Age - Younger learners do not (normally) have the maturity or general knowledge of adults, and the teacher's expectations need to reflect this
- Needs - What kind of students are they? Business English students need to have much more sophisticated communication skills than others. Students who are preparing for an exam need to practise the skills that will be assessed in the exam.
I write a list of language related points I'm looking for. This covers:
- Range / accuracy of vocabulary
- Range / accuracy of grammar
- Presentation / discourse management- is it well structured? What linking words are used and how?
- Use of visuals- Do they help or hinder the presentation?
- Paralinguistic features
'Paralinguistics' refers to non-verbal communication. This is important in a presentation because eye contact, directing your voice to all parts of the room, using pitch and tone to keep attention and so on are all part of engaging an audience.
I find it's a good idea to let students in on the assessment process by setting them a peer observation task. The simplest way to do this is to write a checklist that relates to the aims of the lesson. A task for presentations on major historical events might have a checklist like this:
- Does the presenter greet the audience? YES/NO
- Does the presenter use the past tense? YES/NO
- Tick the linking words the presenter uses:
- And then…
And so on. This normally helps me to keep all members of the audience awake. To be really sure, though, I include a question that involves personal response to the presentation such as 'What did you like about this presentation and why?'. If working with young learners, it's a good idea to tell them you will look at their answers to the observation task. Otherwise they might simply tick random answers!
Presentations are a great way to practise a wide range of skills and to build the general confidence of your students. Due to problems with timing, I would recommend one lesson per term, building confidence bit by bit throughout the year. In a school curriculum this leaves time to get through the core syllabus and prepare for exams.
Tom Hayton, Teacher, Business Trainer, British Council Kuala Lumpur