Technology Integration

4 Tips to Improve Slide Show Lessons

Carefully designed slides can help students stay focused and allow teachers to deliver more complicated lessons.

June 7, 2022
FatCamera / iStock

Done right, a slide show can be an extremely valuable part of any teacher’s tool kit. Through careful, precise design, they allow teachers to smoothly deliver lessons, as well as easily scaffold the activities for students. Done poorly, they can be a disorganized and distracting barrier that diminishes carefully constructed lessons.

Start by asking yourself these questions about all of the content on your website: “Is it taking up too much space?” “Will my students benefit from it?” and “Can it go somewhere else?” By considering these questions and being judicious with your content, you will see an improvement in the clarity of your presentations and the focus of your students.

I’ve found that these changes minimize distractions and maximize the impact of your presentations.

Slide Show Improvement Tips

1. Use animations to layer information. Animations should be used in a targeted, meaningful way. By animating a text box to appear, you can not only scaffold your activity but also choose when to show students extra steps or clues that might provide extra help.

For example, in my classes I like to give my students discussion activities. By animating different textboxes, I can help guide students in their conversations, introduce a new view they haven’t thought about, or get them to switch their discussion completely. Similarly, if you suspect you will need extra-challenging activities for some students, you can animate the activities to appear when and if you need them; this can help you deal with those students who finish five minutes before anyone else and keep you from having to improvise.

Animations help guide students’ focus by adding new information as it is needed rather than overloading them with it all at once. However, be careful not to animate things that do not need it, like a title or any other information you want visible straightaway.

2. Use easy-to-read fonts. Also consider the font you use. As a rule, you should aim to use a font that is clear and familiar to your students. Unusual fonts may look appealing or match the theme of your lesson, but for students they can be extremely difficult to read. Fonts should also be an appropriate size for all students in your classroom, especially those at the back. I have found that using between 24- and 32-point font sizes allows me to fit all the information I need, while having no complaints from back-tablers.

Unless you have established clear color codes (like green for easy, yellow for challenging, and red for difficult questions), refrain from using a spectrum of different colors in your fonts or your slides in general. Pick no more than three colors for your slide—more can range from looking messy to being downright confusing. I often prefer to choose just one color—for example, purple. I make my backgrounds a very light tone of that color and the font a very dark one, and this keeps my presentations simple while also allowing me some creative freedom when it comes to color-coding. If I want my students to discuss, I use blue; if I want them to self-assess, I use purple, and if I want them working independently, I use green. My students are used to these patterns and work better because of them.

3. Design using a grid. Maintaining consistency in your slide layout is very important. It helps students’ eyes stay comfortable because they do not have to hunt for the next piece of information.

It can be difficult to maintain consistency from slide to slide. A handy way to get started is to use a grid to align the different parts of your slide, where each box contains a different piece of media (whether text, a graph, or an image). By aligning content like this and by distributing it evenly across the slide, we appeal to the natural urge to see patterns, which has a calming effect on students as they digest the information. PowerPoint makes it very easy to use a grid: In the search bar, just type in “grid,” and the settings will appear.

4. Give students a visual timescale. A useful tool you can add to your slide shows is a timescale of the lesson. Timescales help guide students, showing them where the lesson is going and how they are going to get there. If you’ve ever taught a class where students seem restless and unable to focus, this might help them stay focused until the end of the lesson.

There are two main ways that I employ timescales in my classroom. The first is by numbering my activities throughout the lesson: 1/5, 2/5, etc. This works best when there are only a few big tasks that students will be expected to complete in the lesson. They are simply a visual reminder for students that there is a plan to the lesson.

A second technique is to have a more visual timeline at the bottom of your slide. I have tried using an orange circle for each activity in the lesson. As we progress, these turn green as a constant reminder to students that they are achieving something by moving through the work; this could be incentivized by giving students a reward if they complete the lesson. Timescales are easy to employ, and you might just find that they help students stay focused longer in your lessons.

These are tweaks that any teacher can employ to help make presentations more powerful and purposeful as a teaching tool. By keeping your slides neatly aligned, you will help your students feel more comfortable digesting important information. By cutting unwanted distractions, you will help students focus and stay more engaged in the lesson.

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