Using PowerPoint in the Classroom

Andrew Diamond

Andrew has worked as an instructional designer and adjunct instructor. He has a doctorate in higher education and a master's degree in educational psychology.

Expert Contributor
Amanda Robb

Amanda has taught high school science for over 10 years. They have a Master's Degree in Cellular and Molecular Physiology from Tufts Medical School and a Master's of Teaching from Simmons College. They also are certified in secondary special education, biology, and physics in Massachusetts.

In this lesson, we'll cover some basic tips for how to successfully use Microsoft PowerPoint in your classroom. Instructions on how to design quality slides, presentation keys, and a few neat tricks are included herein. A short quiz follows. Updated: 05/10/2020

PowerPoint in the Classroom

Go into the average college classroom today and you will find a group of students, sitting at their desks, eyes glazed over as their teacher stands in front of a projected screen. The teacher, frequently with a laser pointer, will be directing students to look at images, text, or videos projected on that screen. They will drone on, often with their back to the class, reading long blocks of text. Some students will fall asleep, while others will simply zone out. At the end of the class the bell will ring, students will spring into action, eager to leave, having learned nothing.

This horror story - one I have witnessed personally from both sides of the projector - is the result of teachers incorrectly using Microsoft PowerPoint, a computer program which functions as a digital slideshow. Launched in 1990, PowerPoint has become the de facto presentation software for virtually the entire world. The business world and the military have particularly taken a real shining to the software, with jokes frequently made at the expense of their overreliance on PowerPoint presentations.

In the graphic below you'll see the default PowerPoint interface. Users have many options for how to organize slides, from including bullet point lists to adding images, videos, and audio. There are also dozens of themes for the slides, transitions between slides, and animations which can be added. Given all these options, how can we use this incredible tool effectively in the classroom?

Default PowerPoint interface
Basic PowerPoint Interface

PowerPoint Tips

Here are some basic tips you can use to effectively incorporate PowerPoint into your classroom presentations:

  • Just the facts, ma'am: PowerPoint should be viewed as a way of giving students the highlights of a lesson. Avoid blocks of text at all costs! There is a concept known as the 6x6 rule, which says that you shouldn't have more than six words per line and no more than six lines per slide. An example of this is seen below, detailing the first part of this lesson:

A slide highlighting only basic facts
A simple PowerPoint slide

If you look at the slide, it just hits the main points we've covered so far. The goal of a presentation for the classroom isn't to read the textbook to students. Your job, as the teacher, is to make sure students understand the core principles of the topic at hand. If you've properly planned your curriculum, you should know exactly what objectives or goals you want students to take away from the lesson - that is what you should include on the slides.

  • Eyes front: With any public speaking it is a good idea to make eye contact with your audience. Constantly scanning your classroom can allow you to see if your students are looking bored, confused, or excited by the material, and allow you to adjust accordingly. A massive mistake many people commit when giving a presentation using PowerPoint is that they stand with their backs to the audience and read off the slides. This will partly be solved by not having large amounts of text on the slides, but it is important to remember that the slides are to communicate with the audience, not for use as your notes.
  • Good to know: I once had a teacher who would always let the class know what would be on a test by saying that something would be 'good to know,' and PowerPoint is a fantastic medium for this. You can easily use a slide to give your students the most relevant facts they need to know about a specific person, place, or concept in your lesson. Here is an example from a lesson on George Washington:

Information you want your students to know on Washington
Relevant information on George Washington

This slide conveys a fair amount of basic and relevant information on Washington for students to copy down. Now, I'm aware there is quite a bit more information about Old Georgie Boy, but this slide gives students a base of information that you can build on in additional slides. Another side benefit is that you won't have to repeat the information a dozen times to make sure everyone got it - it's up on the screen!

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Additional Activities

Create a Quality PowerPoint

In this application activity, you're going to be actually using the tools presented in the lesson to create a PowerPoint for your classroom. You can create your PowerPoint for an upcoming lesson, an introduction to your class, or a review game. Consider when you might actually like to use a PowerPoint in your classroom, and then decide on the content that you would need to share with students. Prior to starting, take a few minutes to create a short lesson plan and decide what you want to convey to students and what they will do with the information you give them. This will help to focus your presentation. To make sure your PowerPoint meets all of the criteria covered in the lesson, check out the criteria for success below.

Criteria for Success

  • PowerPoint uses minimal text and emphasizes the facts instead of using full sentences
  • PowerPoint highlights the "good to know" essentials for students using different colors, font styles or movement
  • PowerPoint includes images to visually convey information
  • Powerpoint is easy to read with large text and colors that emphasize the message rather than detract from it
  • Powerpoint uses clickers to engage students further
  • Powerpoint makes use of the narration feature to provide information for students that were not present during class
  • Speaker presents clearly, elaborates on slides and maintains eye contact with the audience

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