George Lucas Educational Foundation
Collaborative Learning

Using Collaborative Slide Decks to Promote Engagement

With a little bit of prep, teachers can set up a digital version of the popular gallery walk to foster collaboration in the classroom.

April 5, 2024
Cultura Creative RF / Alamy

It can feel challenging to know how to transition into collaborative work in a meaningful way during instruction—a way that allows each student to share their ideas with peers, which we know is a critical skill.

There are many ways to approach this instructional goal, but perhaps the most successful strategy I’ve stumbled upon this year is that of collaborative slide deck competitions. Though they do require some prep work, the in-class experience and student learning that they yield has made them one of my favorite routines in the classroom. 

Collaborative Slide Decks

It’s common for teachers, after students do an individual exploration (example: reading a short text and marking it up for keywords or questions), to ask them to form groups and compile their thinking on poster paper, which they share with classmates through a gallery walk.

While I know this activity works great for many, this year I’ve found a different path: I ask students to create a collaborative Google Slides deck, each group taking ownership over their slide. Unlike posters that eventually pile up and get recycled, collaborative slide decks become living documents to use in the classroom.

Teacher Prep Work

To prepare for this activity, I look at the different outputs I’m hoping students will produce and pre-populate a slide deck with relevant prompts for each. 

I always include a sample slide that is fully completed (using a different text or situation); I also ensure that there are enough blank slides for each group and that the “share” settings allow everyone to both access and edit the document. 

Pre-Activity Work for Students

Giving students time to invest in their individual findings and interpretations before group work is key. 

When teaching a poem, for example, I have all students read it individually and make initial annotations. They then have tangible ideas to share with each other. It’s helpful to share the outputs you want students to be working toward, whether a specific type of annotation (example: Marisa Thompson’s TQE Method) or guiding questions you’ve shared with the class. It’s important to ensure that students are independently heading in a shared direction.

Finally, I recommend walking students through a sample slide deck before they begin their independent work. This allows them to see what they will work on as a group and will help to make their independent work feel purposeful.

Transitioning Into the Activity

When everyone has done their independent work and you’re ready to transition into the group stage, make sure that each group knows which slide they own. I have one member from each team add their group name to the slide. 

At this point, I’ve found it important to have students close their computers and share individual findings with each other before beginning the digital activity. If you skip this stage, groups can fall into the trap of having a handful of members type up what they found individually—and you miss the important opportunity to give each student a chance to voice aloud their findings and questions. 

I have students take roles in their group: Only one or two take the role of the recorders. Others can support them in completing the slide (editors); make sure that all voices are represented on the slide (advocates); and get support from me while keeping an eye on the time (logistics). I give students 10–15 minutes to complete the slide, sharing a running clock on the screen.

For you as the teacher, this is a great time to circle the room and observe group dynamics. You can also monitor the digital slides to see each group’s progress unfold. 

Classroom Applications

This year, I’ve used collaborative slide decks in my English classes for three activities.

TQE close-reading with a new text: When reading a short story or article, I ask students to annotate with their own thoughts and questions. As a group, they then determine the most meaningful and arrive at collective epiphanies or deeper understandings, which they share on their slide.

Mini-background research: When starting a new novel, I create slides for different pieces of historical context that will help students understand the text. Students try to learn as much as they can individually, within a given time window, then work collaboratively to share and cross-check what they’ve found, presenting findings via a collaborative slide deck.

Targeted skill analysis: My students applied and discussed poetry analysis skills (e.g., connotation, shifts, analogies, etc.) by independently identifying them in a text, then collaborating to share their findings via slides while discussing different interpretations or findings and deliberating about how to come to consensus.

Post-Activity Engagement

Once the activity timer is up, I lock access to the slide deck so that students can only view it. I then have students dive into other groups’ slides. One way to do so is through a stationary gallery walk: They explore the others’ slides and make notes on what they feel is most interesting or important, then share with the class what they learned from peers’ works. 

You can also have students vote anonymously via a Google Form about which slide is most impressive to them and why, which creates space for you to collect peer affirmations focused on learning. I like to then go through each slide as a class and celebrate a specific finding or choice that students made.

Collaborative slide decks become excellent resources to support further learning—a tool to come back to later in the unit to track growth. They also help absent students to access the day’s learning. 

The ‘Why’

Sometimes it feels like collaborative learning is an either-or experience: You can lean into the collaboration or instead prioritize the learning. 

This is a false choice, I believe, and I’ve found this activity to be one of the most reliable ways to do both. It breaks up the classroom routine, gets students working with a collective purpose, and lends a helpful document to use in your classroom going forward.

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Filed Under

  • Collaborative Learning
  • Teaching Strategies
  • Technology Integration
  • 6-8 Middle School
  • 9-12 High School

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