Here we are to talk about education and the new challenges in this field

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Power point presentations - how to avoid some typical mistakes

For a very long time, I considered power-point presentations have nothing interesting. Actually, every single day, I receive lots of power point presentations on different things, mainly entertainment. At the beginning, I was quite excited about them, I used to watch them with great pleasure, but later they became boring: same backgrounds, same music, same poor quality of the pictures or sounds…
I have tried to make some power point presentations to integrate them in my lessons. But, I failed. They were boring. I made some typical mistakes. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize that, I considered myself an expert in PPTs, both Windows PowerPoint and more recently Apple Keynote . Two years ago, a teacher from Scotland taught me how to make them and mainly, how to avoid them becoming boring. What he didn’t tell me then was that simply watching the screen is not interactive. And we get the same boring final product which we expect to work wonders. What can we do to change that?

First of all, we should avoid the mistakes most power-point creators make.

I am writing now about some of them. The first one is to create a PPT presentation as lecture notes. It's boring, and students feel totally trapped when on the screen they can read the number of our slides, e.g. 10 / 98. Boring, uninteresting... What can we do? This program offers us a great chance to include pictures, or play music, or even show video-clips. We can do this in a very easy way: we just insert our video / music, etc and make sure it is saved in the same folder as our presentation. Students are given the chance to listen to a text for instance, then actually work on it. And everything can be part of our presentation. For instance, I show them a medieval castle, and I try to elicit: country, age, builder, etc. Then, they listen to a text about the castle and do something, e.g. re-order the paragraphs. And all this is possible by the help of the PPT presentation.

However, we should be careful not to make a visual assault out of our presentation. I don't say we can't use pictures, flashes, funny faces, but not too much. Less is better. Instead of using another picture, we can use a blank slide to arise our students’ interest.

Sometimes, the new pictures on the screen come together with a sound (and there are so many and so loud...). Once again, we should pay attention not to make it an aural assault. Our students will be stressed. I use listening texts in my presentations, especially for the auditory students. Actually, a PPT presentation is a good way of addressing our students' learning-styles. Once again, the listening can become interactive. They start from the text and they can create a whole interactive story or they can play (jeopardy is helpful). We can make all very easily, as we use the "hyperlink" function the program features.

One thing I don't like about presentations is the bullet points. I find them boring, common and uninteresting. Instead of them, our ideas can come animated. For instance, my text appears on the screen and then fades away. It can become interactive, as in the meantime, while the text is gone, students have to do something (e.g. remember from the text as much as they can and tell their partner ). When they finish, the initial text can reappear again and stay on the screen as much as I want / need it.

In the end, I would like to remind you about the background and the font. It's true, the program offers lots of backgrounds, more or less inspired. Personally, for an interactive and serious presentation, I prefer a monochrome or a blank background. Remember that the walls in the art galleries are white, too.  As for the font, we should use the right size, so that the students in the last rows may read. Then, once again, less is better: no more than 5 lines, no more than 8 words in a line.

Last, but not least, we should think about a plan B or C in case we face a technology failure. We should take it into account, as without technology, we (re)become simply teachers: we, the teacher, in front of our students who are waiting for us to tell them something interesting and new.

Just to illustrate what I said here, have a look at the famous Gettysburg Address - what it would have looked like if Lincoln had had powerpoint:

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

How to integrate listening in your lessons

This time I would like to write a little bit about listening. Many teachers consider that listening is not very important, as long as students have to listen to their teacher during the whole class. Things are different. It's true, they have to listen to us, but as long as we (the non-native speakers) speak mainly Englishes, not English, we should do something and expose our students to authentic listening materials. I am against the CDs and the tapes accompanying our textbooks. They are artificial: the texts are read by British actors / actresses, who sometimes speak with American / Canadian / Australian accent. They are not authentic. I had better find some authentic materials online. My idea is that listening is important.

We should integrate listening in our lessons. It's nothing more boring than telling students: "And now, you will listen to a fragment... ". That moment we lose our students' attention and interest. They consider it just another chore... But, we can avoid it! I will give you an example. One day, one of my lessons had as objectives enabling students to speak about personal details. After reading a short text, after speaking, they had to solve an exercise based on a text. I made the transition in the most natural way possible. I asked students if they thought the person presented in the text is real or not. Some of them said she was real, some others said she wasn't. I congratulated those who said she was real and I gave them the proof: they could listen to her voice.

When students listen to a text, they must do something: find a figure, answer a question, solve an exercise. Otherwise, they don't pay attention to the listening activity, and they get bored and uninterested. And, don't forget about the golden rule: listen - check with a partner - listen again.

A listening text should be played up to 4 times - at the maximum. If the students' level is poor, it's better  to stop after every single sequence having the information they need. In this way they will get used to listening and their English will improve.