Making Presentations with Multimedia

By: Judy Zorfass, Liz Weinbloom, and PowerUp WHAT WORKS


Classroom presentations encourage purposeful speaking and engaged listening. When students give a presentation, they demonstrate content knowledge and they exercise skills in writing with purpose and for an audience—skills that are useful across content areas. Presentations are very student-directed and can therefore be an ideal platform for engaging with Universal Design for Learning (UDL) principles. Giving students varied opportunities to create presentations provides them with multiple means of expression, and integrating technology tools into presentation projects helps to develop students' skills across formats and support varied learners.

The ability to make successful presentations addresses College and Career Readiness Standards, specifically many of the ELA Common Core State Standards identified in the category of speaking and listening:

  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.SL.1 Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.SL.2 Integrate and evaluate information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.SL.4 Present information, findings, and supporting evidence such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning and the organization, development, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.SL.5 Make strategic use of digital media and visual displays of data to express information and enhance understanding of presentations.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.SL.6 Adapt speech to a variety of contexts and communicative tasks, demonstrating command of formal English when indicated or appropriate.

Purposeful presenting

In order to elicit strong presentations, it is important to help students understand that different forms of presentations can be used for different purposes. Discuss and provide models for presentations designed for different purposes, highlighting how the tone, diction, and style are tied to the function of the presentation. Engage and expand students' concept of audience by highlighting how a presentation with the same purpose would vary for different audiences (e.g., formal versus informal, peer versus adult, academic versus personal). The "Teaching Students Skills for Making Presentations" video provides useful teaching ideas.

You can use a variety of strategies to teach purpose-driven presentations, including the following:

  • Compare video clips of a descriptive or informative presentation (such as a TED Talk) with video clips of a persuasive presentation (such as an attorney's closing argument to a jury).
  • Have students present the same basic talk (e.g., on a favorite book) in multiple iterations, each with a different purpose (e.g., persuading, describing, analyzing, informing, narrating).
  • Provide opportunities to practice presenting for varied purposes across content areas.

When students are presenting, there is an ongoing interaction with the audience, regardless of whether the audience consists of one person or many people. Guide your students to use a rubric or feedback form that allows the audience to give the speaker feedback after their presentation. You can build sharing and dialogue into the writing process by having students share early outlines of a presentation with the teacher, peers, and other adults in order to gather feedback and suggestions.

Using multimedia

Technology can be used to support students while they are developing their presentations, and it can be especially useful as part of the presentations themselves. For example, students can combine their oral presentations with audio, images, diagrams, photographs, animation, and/or video. They can create and organize their presentations using PowerPoint slides, online outlines, and maps.

A presentation can also live beyond the classroom. You or your students could publish their written scripts as podcasts, or you could record students' in-class presentations to build a lecture or story-telling series. One way to use technology to evaluate the presenting student is to use an audio or video annotation tool to give a live "play-by-play" of a recorded presentation. Imagine publishing and sharing presentations to extend the community beyond the classroom via blogs, vlogs, audio- or video-recorded live presentations, podcasts, and annotated audio/video, with mechanisms for commenting and providing feedback to the presenting student.

A classroom example

Ms. Lombardi's Grade 6 class has been studying earthquakes and tectonic plates as part of an earth science unit. Thinking ahead to the upcoming sixth-grade science fair, Ms. Lombardi wants her students to show artifacts and make multimedia presentations on their topic. She is helping them to hone these skills and determine how best to use technology tools in their presentations. She has designed a series of lessons aligned with the ELA Common Core State Standards for speaking and listening (outlined above).

Integrating technology is an important part of Ms. Lombard's instructional process. For this lesson, she will be introducing the following tools:

  • PowerPoint and other slideshow creators
  • Browser-based presentation tools (e.g., Prezi and Empressr)
  • Audio recording and editing tools (e.g., Garageband)
  • Simple animation tools (e.g., GoAnimate and Voki)
  • Annotation tools (e.g., Voicethread or Coach's Eye)

Ms. Lombardi divides her lesson into three parts: before presenting, during presenting, and after presenting. Before her students begin working on their presentations, she discusses the various possible purposes of a presentation, identifying how different technology tools can be used to support each of these purposes. To help her students choose the best technology tool for drafting their presentations, she displays the following questions on her interactive whiteboard to guide students' selection of tools:

  • Will this tool help me organize my information in a logical way?
  • Will it help me to illustrate key points?
  • Will it allow me to stop and interact with the audience?
  • Will the technology features be distracting?
  • Will this tool help me to better achieve my presentation purpose?

The chart below details Ms. Lombardi's complete lesson plan, outlining how her students put this rubric to use.

Lesson Plan

Before Presenting
  • Review the four purposes of presentations: persuading, narrating, informing/describing, and analyzing.
  • Demonstrate multimedia tools in connection with each potential presentation purpose (e.g., for informing/describing use a PowerPoint slideshow, for persuading use Empressr or Prezi).
  • Use a think-aloud strategy to explain why each tool was selected for each presentation purpose.
  • Have students review their presentation drafts and decide which presentation purpose fits best.
  • Distribute the "Selecting a Technology Tool for My Presentation" rubric.
During Presenting
  • Set up five stations where several laptops offer examples of presentations using various multimedia tools, including PowerPoint, audio/podcast, produced video, videos of live presentations with annotated content, and browser-based presentation tools.
  • Provide a worksheet that guides students as they evaluate how technology is used in the model presentations.
  • Circulate to provide individualized support to groups at the stations, pointing out the relevant features and functions of the different multimedia options.
  • Help the students make informed decisions about which multimedia option to choose for their own presentations.
  • Invite students to return to the station for the type of tool they've chosen to use so that they can explore that tool further.
After Presenting
  • Ask volunteers at each station to share their draft presentations with the other students at their station.
  • Lead students in taking notes on the rubric and asking useful questions to the presenting student.
  • Discuss how the presenting student can improve his or her use of the tool to further enhance their presentation. Ask the non-presenting students to share how the draft presentations gave them ideas on what to do and what to avoid in their own presentations.

Online teacher resources on presenting

This article draws from the PowerUp WHAT WORKS website, particularly the Presenting Instructional Strategy Guide. PowerUp is a free, teacher-friendly website that requires no log-in or registration. The Instructional Strategy Guide on presenting includes a brief overview that defines presenting along with an accompanying slide show; a list of the relevant ELA Common Core State Standards; evidence-based teaching strategies to differentiate instruction using technology; another case story; short videos; and links to resources that will help you use technology to support instruction in presenting. If you are responsible for professional development, the PD Support Materials provide helpful ideas and materials for using the resources on presenting. Want more information? See PowerUp WHAT WORKS.

Judy Zorfass, Liz Weinbloom, and PowerUp WHAT WORKS (2014)