Sunday, November 14, 2010

Powerpoints for Teaching

As you can probably tell, I like making Powerpoints. Why? Well, it all comes down to brain science. My working memory has only about 7 slots. When you factor in taking attendance, dealing with announcements, writing passes to the nurse's office, listening to the pencil sharpener, and mediating student squabbles, my 7 slots are often at their full capacity--even before I've started the lesson!

Having essential ideas on the Powerpoint, then, helps me to regain my focus and remember what it is I wanted to teach. ("Mrs. Kissner, my pencil won't sharpen.") I can find the texts that I want to highlight and the main points that I want to share in relative peace and quiet. ("Mrs. Kissner, look! The caterpillar came out of its chrysalis!") I can also use interesting pictures to help engage students. ("Mrs. Kissner, I'm a parent pick-up today, but I forgot to hand in the note.")

Here are the principles I keep in mind when making Powerpoints.

Take pictures--lots of them! I take my digital camera with me when I go to new places. I try to take pictures of interesting or unusual things. Sometimes, I have a use in mind for these pictures. Often, I don't. When I wanted to make a slideshow about decomposers this year, I had plenty of fungus pictures at the ready--even though I had never taught about them before. (You can also use Flickr to find pictures, but I find it easier to use my own.)

White on blue I usually stick to very simple formatting, with no fancy backgrounds. I've found that white text on a blue background shows up the best, even with light coming in from the windows. I taught in an open space school for many years, and had no windows, so I am committed to keeping my blinds at least partly open all the time. I love my view! Using photos that are light in color also helps to keep everything visible.

Duplicate slide I love the "Duplicate Slide" function found under the Edit menu. This works well for highlighting bits of text and showing answers to questions. You can see how this works in this paraphrasing presentation.

Add assessment prompts  Showing a Powerpoint shouldn't be a lecture. I usually have students sit next to a partner, with a journal or a piece of paper out to write answers to questions. Once again, this helps me to think about what I want students to do ahead of time. ("Mrs. Kissner, there's a stinkbug on my desk. Again.") In this Fact and Opinion presentation, students have to answer questions and work with the content throughout.

Slides are free  I like to have simple pages. Slides are free--why not make lots? Changing the slides frequently keeps students engaged. (I once went to a conference workshop in which the presenters had 15 different ideas written in tiny font on one slide. Why, why, why?) Also, using big text helps students to see from the back of the room.

Speaking of the back of the room...Walk back and make sure that the students at the back can see. If students are having trouble, have them bring their chairs to the front. I also have students who like to sit on the floor with a clipboard.

Use the remote  Find the remote control for your computer, and use it. I couldn't stand to be chained to the front of the room with the computer! When I'm up and around, I can look at what students are writing, interact with groups, and add differentiation for students.

Simple, simple, simple  I keep the presentations very simple. I don't use many animation effects, mostly because they kind of give me a headache to look at.  I want the content to take center stage, not the way that I'm delivering the content.

Having some good instruction ready helps me to face the week more calmly! What other tips do you have for Powerpoints?


  1. Good post! I have used many of your powerpoints over the last 2 years and I enjoy the simplicity of the them and the great content.

    I always like to add in a little sound at the end of my powerpoints, even if it is just applause. It has become the "reward" at the end of the lesson for my students and they really enjoy it.

  2. I love the applause idea! Thanks for sharing!

  3. Thank you for the powerpoints you share. They are great!