Engaging the Audience During Student Presentations

When students have an audience for their work, there are three way in which they are motivated to work harder than if the sole audience member is the teacher:

  • They want to represent themselves well;
  • They are often excited about sharing their ideas and creativity with others;
  • At a minimum, they don’t want to embarrass themselves.

A cornerstone of Project-Based Learning is providing students with opportunities to share their work with an audience through presentations, videos, and various forms of online content.  Furthermore, when students, for example, create webpages and present them to the rest of the class provides, there is a double whammy in terms of audience: there is the immediate audience of their classmates, and the much wider audience of the population of the internet.

However, during these in-class presentations, what about the students who are the audience members? What is to keep them involved and engaged other than their varying levels of intrinsic interest?

One solution for this is content-retrieval activities.  Just as a teacher might provide a scavenger hunt during a museum field trip, the students giving the presentation can create worksheets or quizzes (paperless of course) for other students to complete during the presentation.  As an added incentive to the presenting students, they can even try to “stump the chump” by including the teacher in their quizzes.

Not only do student-created quizzes make the presenters think about the content of their presentations, but is also an opporuntity to learn about asking good questions (for example, why it is better to ask ‘open’ vs. ‘closed’ questions.)

Yesterday, during class, two students presented webpages they had created where they explicated poems (click here for the link to one presentation.)  One student created a Google Form to deliver his ten-question quiz on the content of his presentation.  This was a very neat way for students to access the questions and for him to collect their answers.  (The students will grade the quizzes they give, report the scores to me, and I will average the quiz grades in my grade book – the incentive of a grade can help with motivation as long as it is not over-emphasized.)

The other student, however, shared his quiz as a Google Doc on to which all the students and myself typed directly (we identified our answers with our initials.)  As I typed, it was exhilarating again to see the document populating with twelve of us all adding content at the same time.  However, as I typed my answers, it occurred to me as I took this quiz (though the grade stakes were very low), that all the students could see my answers as well as each others.  Wan’t this an opportunity for cheating?  However, it occurred to me that the point of this activity was not for the students to memorize content from the presentation, but for them to listen carefully, digest the explanations, and make sense of the poem for themselves.  There was the opportunity for the ‘cross pollination’ of ideas here as the students typed, and by being able to see each others’ answers, their understanding is heightened (as long as there is no blatant copying).

The screenshot below shows part of this quiz with the students’ answers.  Note that there is a simple ‘open-ended’ question here followed by a ‘closed’ question.  Although the closed question required the students to ay attention to this content, the answer in itself does not require an explanation and so it provides an opportunity for a discussion about writing questions.