There’s an often heard expression: death by PowerPoint. It’s use in the classroom can bore students, become distracting, or, hopefully, enhance the teaching. “Enhance” is the goal of any training aid. Regardless if it is a case study, a white board exercise, a handout, or a physical item, any training aid should be brought in for the purpose of improving the lesson. If the aid is a distraction, it shouldn’t be there. PowerPoint is the same way, so who is it there for?
Ideally, PowerPoint should be designed with small amounts of text, presented in sufficient size to be clearly seen by everyone in the class. The text colour should stand out from the background. Where appropriate, an image can be added to enhance the message.
Who that content is for depends on your perspective. That content may be displayed for the instructor, the student, or both.
For the instructor, the use of PowerPoint can be a prompt on what words to say or point to make to the class. The PowerPoint is being used almost as speaking notes, and allows the instructor to engage directly with the students without having to look down or shuffle papers about. In that case, instructors should take care not to read the slides to the students verbatim, or to fill the slides with too much text.
When used for the students, PowerPoint is often used as an aid in taking notes. It may be displayed as headings or points to help students with structure for their note taking. Or it may be handed out for that purpose, in which case, care should be taken not to give the students copies of every point or every slide. If the idea is for the student to make notes, which is a good method of helping students who learn through note taking or being tactile, be sure to leave off some content. If students are given full copies of all slides, why come to class?
Don’t feel obligated to share slides with the class. Be up front though if you won’t be sharing slides, and be sure to adjust your teaching to allow students to make notes. This is especially true when using publisher’s slides. They are often full of information that is contained in the textbook, and are overwhelming in many cases, with too much text and too much content.
When teaching a new concept or a new word, having the PowerPoint is a good addition to the instructor’s speaking. Students who may be building their English language skills get to both hear the word and see it in writing.
In building PowerPoint, don’t rely on gimmicks or tricks to move the slides, text, or images around. These are easily overdone and become distracting. Learn too how to blend the use of other training aids into your classroom so that there is variety. Turning off the PowerPoint is often a good way to emphasize the content and have discussion; pressing the B key during the presentation projects a black screen and hides the slide until you hit B again.
When using PowerPoint, be clear on your mind why it is in the classroom. Build your lesson first, and use the PowerPoint as an aid once you are sure of your content and objectives for the day.