Learning to speak in front of others and express ourselves clearly are not only Language Arts skills, but skills that are applicable to all content areas and future careers. Teachers everywhere are faced with the challenge of how to build presentation and public speaking into our instruction so that students have the opportunity to hone these skills. Ideally, we neither waste an entire class period (or multiple) listening to presentation after presentation, nor lose audience interest after only a few classmates’ turns. As a result, it has been a long-term goal of mine to create an engaging presentation format that takes minimal class time to complete and offers students the opportunity to practice these important skills.
To meet these challenging requirements, I chose to implement a new presentation format called “peer presentations.”
The routine is as follows:
- Students have a brief duration for a presentation on a given topic (i.e. one to three minutes).
- Students form groups of two. Once there, they decide who is “Student A” and who is “Student B.”
- Teacher displays timer (number of minutes as indicated in step 1).
- All “Student As” will present to “Student Bs” during that time simultaneously.
- Given a simple rubric of three levels of success (i.e. Exceeds Expectations, Meets Expectations, Needs Practice), “Student Bs” will then grade the presentation based on their presentation skills by simply writing “Student A’s” name under the appropriate category.
- Teacher repeats process with “Student B” presenting to “Student A.”
(For example, a class of 20 would have 10 groups of 2, with 10 presenting the first round, and the other 10 presenting in the second round).
- Teacher then asks one student from each group to rotate, and then the class repeats the process with their new partners.
- The recommended number of rotations is three.
This is a useful format for a number of reasons. First, this helps students who have a fear of public speaking to work on their presentation skills in a low-stakes environment. Second, this puts the responsibility on the student to grade the presentation skills and truly listen to their peers. Third, listening to a class full of presentations one-by-one can be dull and time-consuming for everyone, teachers included. This format allows for a large class to finish in less than 10 minutes. Presentations would take between five and ten times longer using the more traditional formats. Here's a link to a folder with a few versions of the activity.
As a world language teacher, I have used this routine at all levels to keep the affective filter and anxiety at a low for all students. Students have given this format rave reviews; they love the feeling of empowerment that comes along with grading each other. Every single student is engaged in this activity because they have a well-defined role as either presenter or evaluator. This format could be used in any subject area, but I personally have used this for everything from mini-cultural presentations, to presenting personal interests regarding a favorite clothing brand, and even role-playing as a real estate agent where the peer evaluating you is the client to whom you are trying to sell a house. And using a “fun” topic like the latter can be a great way to roll this out when you use it for the first time!
My work with BetterLesson has shown me that shifting to student-centered routines and practices such as this can change the way I look at instructional time. Some people might call this kind of thing a “teaching hack,” but it’s clear to me now that a protocol that engages every student and gets them crucial practice is actually both good for my students and good for me.