Worst Slideshow Ever

I once had the opportunity  to participate in the Ditch Summit run by Matt Miller. As part of that summit, Matt talked to Jon Corripio, the author of Eduprotocols. In his book, Corripio discussed setting up standard routines in classrooms that can be applied to any subject. 

I was intrigued by an idea Corripo presented called, “Worst PowerPoint Presentation Ever”.  The premise of the worst PowerPoint Presentation Ever is pretty simple: you teach your students how not to do a presentation in order to teach them how to do a PowerPoint presentation.  I decided to try it out in my own classroom once the holidays were over. 

The steps I followed were are as follows:

Step 1:  Set the Scene

I first showed my students the comedy routine “Life After Death by PowerPoint” from comedian Don McMillan.  I would urge you to preview it first, as some items in some of the routines may not be appropriate for your students.

Step 2:  Make the List

After I showed them the video, as a class, we brainstormed what makes up Slide Show presentation bad.  We came up with a list of 8

  1. Too Much Text
  2. Bad Font choices
  3. Too many colours/Bad colour choices
  4. Too much animation
  5. Too much data
  6. Too many bullet points
  7. Too many slides
  8. Bad transitions

Step 3: Reveal the Project

I then revealed that I wanted them to make their own worst slide show presentation which they would share with the class. The topic didn’t matter, but they had to try and address as many of the characteristics of a bad slideshow as possible. 

I was met with incredulity. “We get to make them bad?” I was asked.

“Yes,” I answered.

I was met with smiles and disbelief.

I told my students they had three periods, starting immediately. I made sure I had enough devices, in my case, Chromebooks, to give the students a chance to create their masterpieces. Or perhaps we should call them “disasterpieces”.

Step 4: Show Them How to Use the Software 

I gave them the bare minimum of instructions on how to use Google Slides. And I mean the bare minimum.  I simply showed my students to insert a new slide, how to add text to a slide and how to insert a picture. That’s it. I left the rest of it to them to figure out.

Step 5:  Get Out of their Way

I then got out of their way to let them create their slideshows. This was where the first bit of magic happened. One student would figure out how to do something on their slide, such as insert a gif. Their neighbour would ask “How did you do that?”

Step 6: Introduce the Twist

The day the presentations were due, I explained that they were not going to be presenting their own presentations. Instead, they were going to present someone else’s. There were actual gasps and some laughter. 

Once the hysteria had died down, I started drawing names randomly. Now I have traditionally used names on popsicle sticks to make groups, choose students for activities, so my students are very used to this system. I used this method to determine who’s presentation was going first and then who they were presenting. The slide deck of the person presenting became our next slide deck and the name of the first slide deck maker went back into the mix. Each time someone was randomly selected to present, their slide deck was the next up.

This twist created the ninth criteria, being prepared. Too often with presentations, the presenter does not know the subject. They are simply reading from the slides as they appear. By presenting somebody else’s presentation, that they may never have seen before, you will drive home the point that you need to be prepared. You need to know your material. But more on that later.

Step 7: Enjoy

I sat back and enjoyed the presentation with my students. There was a lot of laughter.

As a bonus, the day of the presentations, I had the students create bingo cards with the 8 criteria we knew. I had some of them insert those bingo cards into plastic sheet covers. Then the day of, I passed them out randomly. Students could then choose to keep track of the criteria on the bingo sheets, they simply weren’t allowed to call bingo during the presentations. At the end of each presentation, I circulated with little chocolate bars from Costco. A bingo meant chocolate. 

Never, ever, have I ever had more attentive students during a presentation. 

Step 8: Debrief

When they were all done, I led a discussion with my students about what they learned. In one class’s case, they added new criterion, “being prepared”, to the list. The second class didn’t, so I made sure to introduce it. 

Students tend to think that how a presentation looks should determine their mark but in reality, it is the content that is the big determiner. It is important that we spend time drawing students’ attention to this. This is where we help them develop some meta-cognition about their work.

Step 9: Assess

When I did this assignment, I did not mark the presentations. They were supposed to be horrible.  Instead, I had the students write a reflection on what they learned. This is what I assessed. And my students did recognize that they learned things through this assignment. A couple even recognized that I had them create something “bad” so that they could learn how to make a good slideshow.

But, the next time I do this assignment, my plan is to have the students create a rubric for presentations and then write an explanation/justification for the rubric. The rubric I use for presentations for that year will come out of their rubrics. In this way, it is co-created and clear to the students where the marks come from.  I will also use the explanation/justification as an assessment of how they write a paragraph.

Did it work?

Yes. I got better slideshows from my students for the rest of the year. I also had an engaged group of students for the time the project was being run. The worst part was getting enough devices to make this work.

My intent is to use this project as one of the first ones I do at the beginning of the school year, both to set my students up for success with presentations for the rest of the year and to co-create a solid rubric with which I can assess.

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