Working as an ESL teacher and trainer for adults and corporate clients, I sometimes need to provide training for employees to develop or enhance certain language skills vital for the business. One of such skills is giving a presentation in English. I remember that one of my first training sessions of this kind brought together people of not slightly, but considerably different levels, ranging from low pre-intermediate to upper-intermediate, and there was absolutely no chance to make at least two separate groups. When I learnt about that several days before the event, I felt very anxious. It was important to make the material comprehensible for the lower-level students on the one hand, and not to bore the higher-level participants to tears, in case it is too easy for them, on the other hand.
In the end, the session was a success. During that one-day event we had an amazing atmosphere where people with absolutely different ability to speak English had equal opportunity to express themselves and to learn something new. It also led to an important insight: presentations are a great way to teach speaking on practically any topic as long as the topic is relevant and interesting for the group which may consist of people of different ability and/or background. In this article I would like to share my experience of doing this, and, taking into account that a lengthy training session is not always easy to organise, suggest some ideas on how to adapt the technique to a more common format – a lesson.
It is reasonable to allocate two lessons for the project. The first one is to focus on the structure and the language of a presentation, and the second one is for the students to give their own presentations for their group mates.
Lesson 1. The structure and the language of a presentation.
What I did during the training at this stage was organising a quiz called “What do you know about a presentation?” The purpose of the quiz was to make the students aware of the structure of a presentation only, without any language aspects. It was a multiple choice game for the whole group with PowerPoint slides shown via overhead projector on the screen, and the participants playing in small groups in which they collectively agreed on the correct answer. Each group received points for the correct answers. Some examples of my slides:
You may choose the host of the game, to make it look like some TV show, or lead the game yourself. What is important is how the groups are made. If you have people with different levels of language awareness, you ought to be certain that each group includes both more and less knowledgeable students, and encourage all of them to participate in discussions on equal basis to arrive at common decisions.
The second part of the lesson is about the language of a presentation. Do not make it boring! Do not just give them information followed by some exercises to do. Here is one possible way to liven it up.
Commonly, a presentation contains 3 parts: the introduction, the body and the conclusion. There are also words and phrases which connect these parts and ensure a smooth flow of the presentation called “transitions” and “sequencers”.
Before the lesson, prepare 4 cards for each group with target vocabulary. Card 1 – words and phrases for the introduction, card 2 – for the body, card 3 – for the conclusion, and card 4 – for the “transitions” and “sequencers”. It is important that your PowerPoint (or any other app that you choose for this purpose) slides used in the game “What do you know about a presentation?” should include the information about these structural elements so that by the time when the second activity begins all the students have been aware of them. Do not use very difficult language, only the most common and widely used lexical items.
Alternatively, to make the game more challenging, you might prepare not 4 cards with the language on them, but slips of paper with one lexical item written on each of them.
Distribute the cards or the slips of paper (mixed up) to the groups. Ask them to put the cards (or the slips) into 4 groups: the introduction, the body, the conclusion, the transitions and sequencers. Set the time limit for the game.
The groups compare their results, and the teacher encourages a common discussion making sure the vocabulary is well understood.
Ask the students to work in the same groups and to write some examples illustrating how the words and phrases may be used in a presentation.
The groups present their sentences and discuss them all together.
Choose one common topic for all, or ask everybody to go for a topic they personally like. If it is one common topic for all, it must be interesting and inspiring for the whole group. Ask the students to prepare a short presentation on the topic at home using the knowledge they gained at the lesson. You can limit the size of their presentations to a certain number of slides so that everybody could have a chance to speak at the next lesson. Ask them not to prepare any notes, but to use only their own slides as visual prompts. Help the students with the choice of the application to make their presentations. Personally, I recommend Google Slides, because it is free, or PowerPoint, because it is widespread, and a lot of people know how to use it. It is great if the group is tech-savvy, otherwise let them know that the medium is not very important: it might be even paper sheets or a flipchart.
Lesson 2. The delivery of presentations
The second lesson is meant to give students more freedom and to reduce the role of a teacher to just a person in the audience taking part in the Q&A session.
Each student is limited in time (it can be set depending on the size of the group) to deliver their presentations. After the presentation is over, the rest of the group are welcome to ask questions on the topic. Encourage students to ask interesting questions and the presenters not to be shy to ask to repeat the question or rephrase if they do not understand it. The teacher can also ask questions.
Allocate some time at the end of the lesson to give your feedback, focusing more on the topic(s) of the presentations and the presentation skills, rather than language mistakes. However, it is useful to keep a record of the language mistakes during both of the lessons in order to provide individual tasks for the students some time later in the future.
Of course, this is only a very general description, a framework for a lesson plan, but I hope the main idea now is clear – lessons on presentation skills provide an excellent opportunity to engage all the people in meaningful interaction regardless of the differences they might have.