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Using PowerPoint Slideshows to Teach

Updated on March 27, 2017

Using PowerPoint to Tell Stories

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What is PowerPoint?

PowerPoint is a computer program that allows you to create slide shows. It often comes standard with programs like Word. If you don’t have PowerPoint and don’t want to spend a hundred dollars to buy the program, there are free sources available. Open Office offers free computer programs that are similar to Word. If you have access to the internet you can also use sites like Google Documents to create and show PowerPoint presentations. This is also a great program to use if you want to publish your PowerPoint creations to the internet.

PowerPoint is a wonderful teaching aid if you have access to a computer in your classroom or if you teach primarily online. In the classroom, it helps if you also have a way to project the presentation onto a big screen so that it’s easier to see. If you only have one small screen, you may find sharing a PowerPoint presentation more difficult, but not impossible. I personally have had a classroom full of children gather around my single laptop and no one had any difficulties seeing. You can also print the slides beforehand. Do note, however, that some of the more media rich suggestions won’t work on printed paper. At least not unless you get really creative.

How Can PowerPoint Be Used to Teach?

As an English teacher, I’ve probably used PowerPoint in my lessons more than any other type of computer program. No, I do not stand at the front of the class giving them slide show after slide show. That is to say, I don’t often do slide shows in the traditional sense. Having a program that can divide information into separate but connected pages can be very useful in a number of ways. Here are a few ways I’ve used PowerPoint to teach:

  1. Storybooks
  2. Games
  3. Surveys
  4. Media Rich, interactive Slide Shows

As an English teacher for foreign students who are beginners in the English language, my slide shows favor pictures more than words. I also tend more towards stories and games than lectures. My students aren’t there to take notes; they are there to learn, experience, explore and have fun. That said, PowerPoints are easy to adapt to any class. Whatever subject you teach, you should be able to find a way to use slide shows to your benefit. If you teach mathematics, for example, you may find the ‘games’ section very helpful but not see much use in ‘stories’. If you teach history, you’ll probably find a use for all four PowerPoint types. Below you'll find more details in how to use each of the four methods listed above.

1. Using PowerPoint to tell stories

Storytelling is a great teaching method. Stories are not just for children. Stories can be funny icebreakers, vocabulary loaded tools, cultural treasure troves, distancing techniques for moral, social or political issues, anecdotal, mnemonic devices, stress relievers, or just plain fun. A good story can be several of these things at once. For more information on using stories in the classroom (particularly to teach English) you can try my article on teaching with stories.

A PowerPoint story can help a teacher who wants to use a story in a number of ways. It can provide illustrations. It can provide key words or phrases that the teacher wants to students to notice. It can be a memory aid for a teacher to make sure their story stays on track and nothing important is left out. Depending on what program you use, it can even provide sound effects, movies, or music.

Students listen to a PowerPoint Story

No giant screen?  No problem!  Gather around, students, gather around to hear a tale!
No giant screen? No problem! Gather around, students, gather around to hear a tale! | Source

How to Make a PowerPoint Story

To make your own PowerPoint story, first decide whether you want to have a book style story that you can read or your students can read themselves, or if you want something to aid you in your own telling. The first requires that the entire story be written down and divided into pages. The second requires that you know the story and decide what parts you want your students to see on the screen.

If you aren't the author of your story, you should also make sure there won’t be any copyright issues or annoyed people. Make sure you have permission or that your story comes from the public domain. On the ‘title page’ or in the ‘credits’ acknowledge where you got your story, even if it’s yourself. Most of my stories have a title page which includes the title of the story and something like ‘a European Tale transcribed by the Brothers Grimm and adapted by Mir Foote’ since most of my stories come from fairy tales.

Once you know what you want to tell, divide your story into pages. Enter the relevant text. Next, find your illustrations. If you are not artistically inclined, I advise finding clipart from the Public Domain (aka free to use). If you are using Microsoft, you’ll have a library of clipart you can search already on your computer. You can also search Google for free clip art. The downside of telling a story with clip art is that it can be hard to find exactly what you need. My first attempts with my stories had me using four or five different versions of the same character so that I could show the character being happy and sad, running or sleeping, and the like. If you are at all artistically inclined, you might consider making your art yourself. Just remember; you’re a teacher not Van Gogh. It doesn't have to be perfect. Students are generally quite accepting, even if you've had to resort to stick people.

Once you have the illustrations and writing in place on each ‘page’, you can play around to make it look however you like. I often like to make the transition between slides look like ‘page turning’. Add background colors to make pages stand out. Have fun. The more inviting the story looks, the more interested your students will be.

PowerPoint Game

Here's an example of a Hidden Object Game
Here's an example of a Hidden Object Game | Source

2. Using PowerPoints to Play Games

Games are very useful for teachers. They can be used to drill, test, or study in a way that students find fun and engaging. A game quiz is less stressful than a real quiz because the result of getting it wrong isn’t as dire. Students are allowed to make mistakes in games. Games can also bring out peoples competitiveness. A student who has no interest in reading books or memorizing lists may have much more interest in winning a game.

I’ve made several games that use PowerPoint. In fact, it’s my preferred method of game making. Why? It’s easy to make, use, and transfer online. PowerPoint is ideal for making quiz games, team games, or memory games. I’ve even used it for a hidden object game. For more information on how to make a PowerPoint game, read on.

PowerPoint Quiz Style Game

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How to Make a PowerPoint Game

First, decide what type of game you wish to make. The simplest type to create is a quiz game.

To make a simple quiz game, start with a title page. This will have the name of the game. You might follow that with a ‘review’ page. For instance, if you are teaching about types of rocks, you might start with a quick review to remind your students what the different types of rocks are. If you are teaching an English lesson about clothes, you might start by a quick review on the names of clothes.

Next, come up with questions. Each question gets its own slide. For the answers, you have three options.

  1. Put the answer on the slide that follows the question. Beware if you choose this option; if you accidentally skip a slide your students will get to peak at the answer.
  2. Hold onto the answers yourself. You will be able to tell your students who ‘wins’.
  3. Put the answers on slides after all of the questions. You can use this method for quizzes where you wait to reveal the right answer until all the questions have been asked.

For a more complicated game, you can use ‘links’. To make this game, you start out in the same way you make a regular quiz game. It will work best if the answer slide is directly after the question slide or if the teacher holds the answers. For added fun, you can create ‘wild card’ pages where students can lose points or gain extra points.

Once the quiz is in place, create the links page directly after the title page. You can create a list of numbers, or a list of points and subjects (as in the game Jeopardy) or another similar method. Highlight a number and insert a link to a slide. The slide will offer the question (or ‘wild card’). Make sure you always have a place to click to link back to the links page. This game method is also great if you want to play Memory. To do this, make two versions of ever slide. Either make them identical, or make them pairs (for instance a picture and a written word). Anyone who follows two links to a pair can win a point.

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3. Using PowerPoint to Create Surveys

Taking a survey is a great way to encourage classroom interaction and to practice simple phrases. For a language teacher, getting your students to talk to each other is one of the more difficult tasks a teacher has, and a survey makes it easy. For non-language lessons, it still offers social benefits and getting your students to engage with their lesson can make the lesson more potent.

Surveys don't have to be about classroom interaction; they can be used purely as a way to keep your student's engaged. For instance, instead of classmates, the survey can refer to characters in a story you are reading. Having a set list of questions or preferences to listen for can give your students something to focus on and force them to pay attention.

PowerPoint can be used to create a survey that is specific to your lesson. An example might be a game teaching about fruit. This PowerPoint could have several slides showing different people surrounded by fruit. One slide asks what fruit they like or don't like, and the next slide answers it. As your students listen to or read each slide, they fill out the survey which shows what fruit each person likes and what fruit each person dislikes.

To make your own PowerPoint survey, first open PowerPoint. Then, after the title page, put the information that the survey will ask onto each slide. You can make two slides per question, or with one answer per slide, or mix it up and make it harder for the students: some slides cover several items that are surveyed, some cover none! To make the survey, you can create a grid using a program like Word, or you can hand out pieces of paper and have your students make their own surveys.

From a Slideshow About Easter

Not all slides have to preach.  Some can invite the students to interact.
Not all slides have to preach. Some can invite the students to interact. | Source

4. Using PowerPoint to Create Slideshows

This is, of course, the most traditional way to use PowerPoint. Most likely, you’ve seen and used slideshows before yourself. Some teachers favor them. Some teachers avoid them. Personally, I’ve found slideshows extremely useful. Slideshows are a good way to present information that’s media rich, engaging, easily digestible, and informative. Done badly, it’s also a good way to put your students to sleep.

The best way to use a slide show is to diversify. Don’t just rewrite everything you’re saying in slide after slide. Use pictures. Add humor; it will not only help keep your students’ attention, humor can also act as a memory aid. People are more likely to remember something amusing than something they found boring. Throw in a short story or a simple game. Let your students interact a bit with the slide show.

I most often use PowerPoint slideshows when I want to share something cultural or seasonal with my students. For instance, I once created a PowerPoint presentation on spring. Because my students are beginner English students, I didn't use a lot of words. I did use a lot of pictures. I started with the bare facts: When is spring? What do you see in the spring? Then I asked students what the weather is like on one slide and showed different kinds of weather and activities in the slides to follow: It's windy! Let's fly a kite!. After that is a riddle tying into an old lesson about Thanksgiving: If April showers bring May flowers, what do Mayflowers bring? Pilgrims! Finally, I finish with a simple song. A really successful slideshow doesn’t just inform; it engages.

Conclusion

PowerPoint is a great teaching tool. The trick is to move beyond the generic slideshow of notes and onto something more engaging, entertaining, and, ultimately, more memorable. You can use PowerPoint to create stories, games, and interactive, media rich slide shows. So for your next lesson, don't preach; teach, play, share, explore, and have fun!

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