Tag Archives: random power point

The Return of Random Power Point Presentations

You might remember the classroom activity that I call ‘Random Power Point Presentations’ – if not, you can read about the original idea here and see some sample presentations here.

In the original challenge, the students had advance warning of the topic but no idea what was going to be on the slides. In this new version of the activity, it’s the other way around: the students receive the five slides of their presentation the day before class, but are only told what the topic of the talk is a few minutes before they have to give it!

Hang on. How can this possibly work? If they can see the slides, can’t they work out what the topic is? In this case, no. See for yourself. Here is the image that I posted for the students to see the day before the lesson:

most people think

I deliberately looked for the kind of generic images that could be applied to any topic. As for the five-slide structure, it represents a simple rhetorical progression, attempting to guide the audience from a state of honest misapprehension to one of enlightenment, signing out with a fairly crude action-point. (You can tell I’ve sat through a fair few late-night infomercials in my time…) I posted these instructions alongside the image:

most people think instructions

In class the next day I put the students into groups of three. Each group would have 25 minutes to prepare a short 2-3 minute presentation, with each person having to speak at some point during the task. The presentation titles were already written on slips of paper. Each group drew a title out of the hat and read it out loud. There was quite a bit of laughter because – naturally – I had chosen some very weird titles. Here they are:

‘The end of the rainbow – closer than you think’
‘Polar bears in space – the final frontier’
‘Too much cheese’
‘A dollar a day – hey! hey! hey!’
(There was also another one about zombies, I think, but I can’t remember the title of that one)

The presentations were every bit as creative and imaginative as I had hoped they would be. For example, the group who had the bizarre topic of ‘Too much cheese’ had the clever idea that CHEESE was an acronym (C = cocaine, H = heroin, E = ecstasy etc.) and turned it into a drugs awareness talk. Brilliant.

I like this activity a lot. The coherence of the 5-slide structure not only helps the speakers navigate their way through their talk, it also adds a dash of style. The three slides in the middle (most people think – most people forget – what you need to remember) were my attempt to incorporate a rhetorical technique which is sometimes described as ‘set-em-up-and-knock-em-down’ – in which the speaker intensifies the eventual impact of the message (‘what you need to remember’) by first making the audience wait while s/he briefly considers a commonly-held argument before revealing its flaws (‘most people think’ – ‘most people forget’).

It occurred to me that this 3-step progression could also be a good planning tool for writing assignments, especially the kind of pro/contra essays which often feature on exams. In my experience, the problem many students encounter when faced with an opinion-based assignment is that they run out of things to say. And why? Often it’s because they get to the point too quickly – in other words, they start with ‘what you need to remember’ and ignore ‘most peole think’ and ‘most people forget’.

A simple worksheet using the 3-step structure can help students plan more effectively and develop their ideas and arguments. Here are some examples, from an intermediate-level group. I wonder if the students would have reached the same conclusions if they had considered the topic in a less structured way? What do you think?

12f learning english

12f getting good grades

12f hungarian football

Random Power Point Presentations

A number of people have asked for more information about the Random Power Point Challenge activity, which has proven to be quite popular. In the first entry I described how I use this activity with gifted students. For this entry I’ve added some thoughts about using the Random Power Point Challenge in a rather less daunting way. I’m also uploading some of the presentations themselves.

The original challenge – difficult!

The presentation consists of ten slides and is titled ‘Noticing trees more effectively – a beginner’s guide’. That is all the students are told. They have ten minutes to prepare. The slides contain a combination of images and bullet points, most of which have precious little to do with the topic. Here is an example.

To make it even more challenging, I threw in a few unexpected instructions which required the presenters to perform various tasks mid-presentation. On one slide they are told to adopt a strong Hungarian accent. On another slide they are even told that they have to talk about trees for a few moments in another foreign language (i.e. a language other than English and Hungarian). There is also a story about trees that they have to improvise based on visual prompts. In short, it’s tough!

You can download the complete presentation here: noticing trees more effectively

Have fun with it. Adapt it according to your needs and preferences and try it out in class. Do let me know what you think about it, too!

Describing your weekend

It occurred to me that we could use a tamed and “de-clawed” version of the Random Power Point Challenge to make the tired old classroom activity of describing what you did at the weekend more enjoyable. The recurring problem I have with asking my teenage students to describe what they did at the weekend is  1) they don’t want to  because 2) it’s none of my business.

Here’s one solution. Create a power point presentation called ‘What I did at the weekend’ and fill it with images recognisably connected to common free-time activities. Students have to improvise a plausible narrative based on the images that come up (coffee – radio – dog – walking – telephone call – football match etc.) Although some improvisation and creative story-telling skill is required, the task is straightforward and manageable – and certainly nowhere near as daunting as  ‘Noticing trees’. Another advantage is that students are able to demonstrate an ability to describe events in the past without having to compromise the privacy of their own lives.

You can download the complete presentation here: What I did at the weekend

Your comments and feecback are welcome.

Starting gently – food and drink

Finally, I thought that the Random Power Point Challenge could also be used at elementary level as a high-adrenaline activity to revise a topic area or practise speaking skills.

Tell the students they should revise a topic area that you have covered in class – for example food and drink. Tell them that in the next lesson one of them will have to do a 10-slide presentation on the topic. The slides will contain both pictures and prompts. No nasty surprises. At this stage the students do not know who is going to have to give the presentation, so hopefully they will all go home and revise 🙂

In the lesson choose a student at random or encourage someone to volunteer. In this case, the slides provide the students with relevant ideas and useful language.

You can download the complete presentation here: Food and drink

What do you think?

Random Power Point Challenge

Every Thursday morning I have an extra before-school class that all interested students are welcome to attend. The class focuses on public speaking and the Thursday morning lesson begins at seven o’clock, which is why we have started referring to it as ‘public sleeping’.

Last week I thought about getting students to give 10-slide Power Point presentations, but wanted to make it both challenging and enjoyable.

The resulting idea is the Random Power Point Challenge: that awkward moment when you are giving a presentation but have no idea what is on any of the slides.


1. Put together several Power Point presentations.

Although each presentation should have a title and a theme, the content of each slide should be gloriously random and totally unpredictable.

The four presentations that I made were called

Noticing trees more effectively – a beginner’s guide

Surviving high school – probably

Am I racist?

No way, DJ! – thaaaaaat’s right, dawg

2. Get the students into pairs or groups. Then tell them the title of the talk they are going to give. They cannot see the slides, of course. Let them have a few minutes to discuss what the key message of their presentation is going to be.

Point out that good speakers can sometimes ‘bend’ input to make it reflect their own agenda, the same way that we have all seen politicians twist questions around before answering quite a different question altogether.

3. Load the Power Point presentation. Introduce the speakers as experts in their field, and explain that they are going to give a fascinating, thought-provoking and motivating talk.

The students can come out to the front of the class to begin their talk. It is ‘their’ presentation, of course, even though they have never seen it before, so the students get to decide what to say about each slide, how much to say and when to click on to the next slide.

4. At the end of the presentation, invite questions from the audience.

One of the slides from the ‘Am I racist?’ presentation

A deliberately bizarre slide from the ‘Am I racist?’ presentation


Let’s be honest: this is a desperately difficult task, perhaps even the kind of thing that would be difficult to do well in the native language.

So how did it go? Actually, it was a huge success. The students really enjoyed it, and – though I say it myself – did an excellent job.

Why does this activity work well with gifted students?

I think the fact that the content of each presentation is essentially nonsense takes the pressure off students. Of course they are going to be tongue-tied. Who wouldn’t be?

With practice, however, they find their feet, and sometimes come up with brilliant things to say. It would appear that the juxtaposition of incongruous elements on a slide can trigger a gestalt phenomenon – in other words, when suddenly asked to make a link between Yoda and dancing your brain works feverishly to complete the task, often with remarkable success.

A slide from the ‘Noticing trees more effectively’ presentation

Quick-witted speaker improvises a tree-themed tomato-soup ninja story…

After the lesson the students said that we should definitely have more Random Power Point lessons in the future. And I agree. Only next time, guess who’s going to be writing the Power Points before the lesson?

That’s right – the students.