Using PowerPoint in the Classroom

There are both good and bad reasons to use Microsoft PowerPoint  in the classroom. Here are some, in descending order of value:

  • A good reason: you want to convey information that is best grasped with visual input, such as maps, graphs, or photos.
  • A fairly good reason: you want to avoid excess paper use by presenting equations, quotes, etc. with a projector instead of in a handout.
  • A bad reason: you don’t want to bother remembering or making notes for your lecture, so you put it all on PowerPoint slides.

Let’s assume that you’re using PowerPoint for good reasons. How can you make your presentations useful rather than inspiring cries of “Death by PowerPoint!”?

The example below shows the way people often make PowerPoint slides. It’s cluttered and disorganized, frankly. It would be fine on a sheet of paper, laid out more logically, but as a slide it just doesn’t work. People need to be able to grasp the point of your slide quickly — PowerPoint isn’t designed for extensive reading.

The various colors of text don’t seem to mean anything, either, and the whole thing is hard to read. The slide below, on the other hand, presents a single concept in a clear and very visual manner. The branching of the numbers is animated so students can see it unfold, but either way, it’s a good example.

The slide below was made with a template. It uses a photo and limited text to make a single point.

Haden PowerPoint

Here are our suggestions:

  • Make design decisions. Use a template or just a simple background, but have a plan. Human eyes and brains get jittery when looking at things that have clashing colors, busy backgrounds, and a lack of margins or spacing.
  • Plan out your content. If possible, have things for students to do in response, whether with a student response system, discussion, a worksheet, or hands-on activities.
  • Limit the amount of information on each slide. Three bullet points, each with a sentence or two, will be plenty for one slide.
You don’t have to make all your own PowerPoints. There are huge numbers of them at websites all over the internet (including this one). If you plan to say something fairly ordinary, then, you can use one that’s already been prepared, and put your time into creating a great lesson to go with it.

Online sources of educational PowerPoints:

  • ChompChomp has fun presentations and handouts on English grammar.
  • PPPST has simple presentations on a lot of elementary and middle school science topics.
  • AdjectiveNounMath has a lot of basic math presentations. Mr. Perez  has more advanced concepts, and they are free to view, though there are also some to purchase.
  • The British site School History  has a variety of PowerPoints for World History and U.S. History (they would switch the labels) submitted by classroom teachers, along with related handouts.
  • A grant-funded collection of PowerPoint presentations on a range of thought provoking topics with suggestions for background music.
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