Every semester, I struggle with deciding how many (if any) student presentations my students should complete in my courses. As someone who doesn’t exactly thrive in public speaking situations, I know how anxiety-provoking class presentations can be. Still, I also believe there are so many benefits to student presentations that not including any in my course design would be a failing in my teaching style. In today’s post, I share a few presentation projects my students have completed over the years and why I think these student presentation activities are so powerful for student learning.Having students teach via literary analysis is an excellent way to see just how comfortable they are with this foundational practice. Click To Tweet
Group Project Presentations
Now, I’ve written at length about the literary analysis group project that my literature students complete. For this project, students in groups of three must design a literary analysis activity and lead their classmates through it for 20-30 minutes (or more). My students tend to really like this activity because it gives them the agency to decide how to design our class analysis activities and what content to focus on during them. They like having that power, and I like giving it to them.
Having students teach via literary analysis is an excellent way to see just how comfortable they are with this foundational practice. Alongside forum posts and papers, this presentation-esque project really livens up our class discussions. It also teaches me just what students are interested in discussing in relation to texts I’ll likely assign again in future courses.
I’ve written about this project in a former post, as well, but I really can’t emphasize enough how much I’ve loved this project this semester. I created this project design in response to an MLA panel I attended this past January. [If you want more information on that experience, head over to this post.] Basically, each student in my ENG 128 class is required to connect their major to one of the novels we’ve read as a class. As a gen ed course, this project has really boosted student interest in the novels we are reading, because it pushes them to see the relevance of at least one of the novels to their own lives and futures. I’ve received a lot of great feedback from students in their project reflections. Having students share their passions for their majors with their peers and getting questions about their majors after the presentations has led to some really interesting interpretations of the novels.
For example, talking about robotics and prosthetics and cochlear implants after reading Cinder. Discussing evolutionary theories using dragon lore from The Hero and the Crown. Talking marketing strategies and current environmental laws in connection to Feed. Explaining chemistry principles and missing persons cases with The Witch Boy. The Dumplin’ student presentations are coming up next week. I can’t wait to hear what the final bunch of students discuss in relation to our final class novel.
Creative Project Presentations
This semester, my ENG 128 (Gender in the Humanities) students will complete a final project rather than a final paper. They can create a fictional gender ideology for a fictional world and consider the implications of that ideology on 5 facets of the people’s lives (like fashion, government, education, sexuality, and more). They’d follow up that 5-page description with a short reflection on how they were inspired by real-world gender ideologies. Or, if they don’t want to get that creative, they can pick from our class novels and write two short “outtakes” from the novels that illustrate the perpetuation of a gender ideology. In this second option, they’d also need to pick two characters to visually represent, with a focus on their gender expressions. And, of course, they’d need to reflect on the creative choices they made in their short stories and visual composition.
During the final week of class, students will present their final projects in a simple 5-minute presentation. They can talk about any facet of the project that they’d like. I can’t wait to see what they come up with and hear how they see the creative aspect of the project connecting with the gender critique and analysis we’ve done all semester.
In my ENG 101 (Composition as Critical Inquiry) course this semester, each student has created a private WordPress blog about the topic of their choice. During the final week of class, they will complete a 5-minute presentation in which they present their blogs to their classmates and myself. Sure, a few students have seen each other’s posts via peer reviews and peer-to-peer post commenting. But for the most part, large chunks of the class have no idea what their classmates have been writing about all semester. While I gave them nine suggestions of things they can discuss during their presentations, it’s a really open-ended assignment that lets students brag about the work they’ve completed this semester.
To me, this assignment has three major benefits. One, students have a reason to consider the work they’ve done this semester as a larger whole, rather than potentially overlooking just what they’ve accomplished by not looking back on it carefully. Two, students can practice their public speaking via a really short presentation about something they are an expert on. There’s no “wrong” way to present on their own blog. Three, as a verbal assignment, grading this end-of-semester project is incredibly simple. I need that, considering all the other written work I have to grade in the next couple weeks.I truly feel that this reflective practice is essential to helping students realize just how much they’ve learned and achieved while in your course. Click To Tweet
Picture Book Presentations
I’ve assigned this presentation project in many ENG 170 (Foundations in Literature for Children) classes, as it’s a great way to have students practice their analysis skills on a short, multimodal text that they pick to present on. We have a festival at the end of the year in which students present in small batches of 4-6 while their classmates walk around, check out the posters and what their classmates have to say about the books, and ask questions of them after hearing them speak and skimming their posters. Once again, it’s an easy project to grade because it’s a poster and short presentation, not a 6-10 page paper for 30 students (per section). I have students pick picture books they consider unique, controversial, or essential-to-read, so the choices are always fascinating. [Note, students cannot present on the same picture book, so there’s no accidental overlap.]
Other than the group project and the major presentations, these presentation projects take place at the very end of the semester. Why? Because it helps lighten my grading load and it lightens the writing/test load of my students. [Here are some other tips for self-care as the semester ends.] But, these student presentations also push students to really consider the implications of all they’ve worked on throughout our 15-16 weeks together. I truly feel that this reflective practice is essential to helping students realize just how much they’ve learned and achieved while in your course. If you feel strongly about reflecting on your own teaching practices during the semester, as well, here are 23 questions you can ask yourself as the semester ends.
How do you approach student presentations in your classrooms?
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