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Wednesday, June 18, 2008

PowerPoint to Teach Composition

Rachel just posted a question via a comment on the post Background Reading - Use of PowerPoint:
I need help with a Powerpoint possible use. I teach freshman composition at a university to non-native speakers of English. They often come to me for extra help in their other classes. However, they ALWAYS need help creating PowerPoint presentations for their other classes of subjects such as economics, nutrition, statistics, travel & Tourism...etc. I spend time teaching and explaining "transitions", custom animations"...etc. I thought, as I am helping them so much, is there any information as to using Powerpoint as an actual tool to teach composition writing? It would be great to impart knowledge just in the structure of a composition....any thoughts or resources out there? Thanks
I always say, I love questions. However, I'm a bit at a loss on how to answer this question.

It seems wrong to be teaching about transitions and custom animations to this audience, right?

I don't know much about using PowerPoint as a tool to teach composition.

Any help for Rachel?


Dennis W. Faix, M.B.A. said...

I teach the MS Office Suite at a community college; I think the pitfall for students is in thinking that communicating in PowerPoint is somehow different. It isn’t. Good composition is good composition! I would suggest that you teach your ESL folks to “compose” their presentation in the outline view of MS Word, using the outlining hierarchy and “filling in” the talking points as body text, etc. You can then “import” the outline from MS Word into MS PowerPoint. Once the student has a good “composition” in Word, knowing how each point leads to the next, which are more important, which are less important, etc. THEN is the time to introduce PowerPoint’s transitions, animations, and clip art. A good verbal presentation with verbal transitions precedes the “whiz-bang” of a PowerPoint animation.

Forever Learning said...

Although I'm back in Primary Education now, I used to teach Presentation Graphics to adults at a huge company. Many were ESOL students.

I teach my Year 5 pupils the same basic '5,4,3,2,1'rules that I've been teaching for years:

5. The rule of 5.

Basically, use no more than 5 facts/points on a page, with maximum 5 words to a fact. Using short, punchy sentences is much harder, especially for ESOL students, and gives them good practise in sentence construction.

4. 4 C's of Design

I also teach them the 4 C's of design: Clutter-free, Consistent, Contrast and Clarity. (My students like to add 'Cool' and 'Classy' - but then they're only 9 and get a bit carried away with all the C's!)

3. The 3 parts of a composition

A presentation still needs the basics of any good composition: A beginning, a couple of detail paragraphs as content and a summary.

2. 2 Colours

Keep to a monochomatic colourscheme with a contrasting background.

1. One transition

Tempting as it may be to use all the possible transitions, choose 1 and use it throughout. You want the audience to focus on the content, not the whizz-bang!


Hope this helps!

Anonymous said...

Some ideas, though #1 might be a long shot..

1. Language pack in their lingua franca. Teach them F1.

2. About composition..'s essay map comes to mind... If anybody can do a powerpoint equivalent or in any portable platform/programming language, I know a lot of students, teachers and schools will gretaly benefit from it.

V Yonkers said...

I teach both writing and communication (presentation and composition) at the university level. As my background is in ESL, I would take a communicative approach (identifying audience, message, rhetoric, and organization) to writing. For non-native speakers, audience may be difficult as will rhetoric. Rachael's approach in having them start with the outline in a MS work document is useful, as it will help them to understand the rhetoric and organization behind the powerpoint. I would then use this to complete their writing (rather than taking their writing to create the powerpoint).

However, the next step I would take is to include something on visual rhetoric. There are some good resources on slideshare and you might also want to get a book such as The Speaker's Handbook which integrates the use of presentation aids to the crafting (writing) or speeches. This gives a good overview also of writing for communication.

thcrawford said...

We just had a great webinar on Tuesday with Nancy Duarte (creator of Al Gore's Inconvenient Truth presentation). Here are some of the tips:

- Giving a presentation is really about telling a story.
- Focus on telling the story, then use the PowerPoint to support that story
- Start on paper, not in PowerPoint
- Skip the bullets, use images instead
- Skip animations and transitions unless they help you tell the story and then use them sparingly

There is a great example in there of Little Red Riding Hood told as a typical presentation. It's a great example of what happens when people drop into PowerPoint mode.

There's much more in this rich podcast and the new book she has coming out in September. I would also look at Garr Reynold's stuff in his book and on his website at Presentation Zen.

The webinar can be viewed in its entirety at:

Anonymous said...

My first thought on reading the question was, "PowerPoint is a tool for verbal and visual presentation, and isn't really suited for (what most would call) writing."

I think Tom's comment about how presentation software (Apple's Keynote, in this case) was used for an effective presentation, An Inconvenient Truth. The slides support the story, they don't tell the story.

It is there, in the story, that I think the writing comes in. I don't know if PowerPoint (or Keynote) can be used to actually "teach" composition, but it would be a very good approach helping the students learn how to tell a story.

From there, it is just one more step to helping them refine that story into a composition.

Michael Hanley said...

In line with what a lot of others are saying here, my view would be that while PPT is a fine presentation tool (potentially), I would suggest that you assist your students by using some mind-mapping techniques to structure their narrative. Freemind is a great open-source example of this type of software; because you're building the content in a visual (and non-linear) fashion, the barriers associated with creating content in a second language can be somewhat mitigated. I would suggest that using this approach would enable your students to develop their story-telling skills independent of a particular application.

Paul said...

This is a bit of a tough one. I would say she could start teaching composition in PPT by showing what not to do, in comparison to what to do. Composition is my big thing when using PPT too, and it seems like her teaching of other functions like transitions are missing the point. Transitions and animations can aid expression, but your basic abilities to express must already be solid before moving on to the whizz-bang stuff.

I would say the strongest aspect of PPT for teaching composition is the size limit each slide has. Granted, a Word Document has size limits too, but PPTs are paradoxically defined and not defined at the same time.

I think a PPT presentation can be structured nearly exactly like a Word document, in that you have a sequence of slides, instead of pages. That metaphor remains largely intact, as margins can be used, as well as templatization. PPT happen to be better for visual expression of course. I agree with the others here about Presentation Zen, and/or the 5-4-3-2-1 rules.

Unknown said...

In addition to the Mind mapping and using Word, you may try a different presentation tool like Flypaper , that is focused on telling Stories and can be used to create sample Stories and templates that allow your students to "follow the model". The sample already have the transitions and animations, so they can focus on the content.