Creating Google Presentations with Elementary Students

Today, I want to talk about one of the most powerful and versatile technologies to use with students: Google presentations. For anyone who just groaned and thought, “That’s all? Google’s version of PowerPoint?” don’t count me out yet! It’s true, Google presentations are a lot like PowerPoint or Keynote presentations.  Except, they allow for seamless collaboration and sharing between students, teachers, parents, and the rest of the world.

That power turns a simple technology — a digital slideshow — into a way for students to teach an engaged, authentic audience as they synthesize ideas, pursue independent studies, compare conclusions from experiments, jigsaw small group learning, and even publish e-books.

Using Google presentations also…

  • Creates a digital portfolio of student work in their Google Drive
  • Teaches basic computer skills and concepts (like the cloud!)
  • Teaches reading and writing skills
  • Gives kids a chance to create — not just consume — media
  • Motivates kids!

And all of this adds up to the most important benefit of using any technology: increased student learning. Your students will remember what they teach others through their presentations. They will become increasingly confident and independent learners, and they will see themselves as teachers who have valuable ideas to share with others.

So let’s get started with some project ideas.

Research/Synthesis Projects

This idea is not new; kids have long done research projects and shared their findings via PowerPoint and Keynote. The big difference with Google presentations is now, kids can collaborate together. The example below was created by two third graders who, during the school day, worked side-by-side on two different laptops, where they could both be engaged in creating the finished product at the same time. No waiting around for your partner to move so you can add something to your poster.

Even better, these students were so excited about their work, they continued to work on the project at home. By logging into their Google accounts from their home computers, they could work together — even chatting in the sidebar — as easily as they did at school.

When you click through Anna and Emily’s presentation on the first printing press, check out their excellent use of nonfiction text features like headings, pictures, captions, and bold words.

Not only did Anna and Emily present to our class, but they also embedded their presentation onto their blogs (just like I did here) to share with their families.  Google makes that simple to do: just go to File > Publish to the web. Copy and paste the embed code on your blog. Easy peasy pumpkin pie!

Independent Studies

In previous posts about homework, I’ve written about how I love to challenge students to create independent studies. Independent studies can be incorporated into your regular curriculum — perhaps as a synthesis project in Reader’s Workshop or as an extra challenge in science or social studies — or they can be a homework project for high fliers who don’t need to practice the typical skills. I’ve even had students do them over the summer as a way to keep their skills sharp for the next year.

To do an independent study in my classroom, students must first submit a proposal. They have to tell me what their research question will be and they have to list the book they’ll use to start their reading. And yes, it must be a real book, not just a website. (Students can use websites as additional sources of information.)

Students then conduct their research and create their presentations. When they’re ready to present, I score them using our Criteria for Success sheet, and 4-5 classmates each complete a student feedback sheet.

What I love most about independent studies is that they give students a chance to pursue what they really want to learn. They encourage questioning and curiosity and critical thinking skills. Take, for example, Fiona’s presentation on Gandhi (a 3rd grade homework project). Notice how she doesn’t just copy information from books, but synthesizes it and puts it into her own language. Also notice how she embedded a YouTube video on one slide to help her teach her audience.

Whole-Class Investigations and Experiments

When my whole class is doing a science experiment, I create and share a single Google presentation for all of us to edit. I give one laptop to each small group of students and have them add their observations as they do their testing. Then, at the end of the experiment, we use that Google doc to record our conclusions and present our findings to others.

My third graders did a bird study experiment last year and created the following Google presentation. Then we shared our presentation with the whole school and embedded it on our website. It was a powerful way for student scientists to collect, compare, and draw conclusions about their data.

Jigsaw Small Group Learning

When you want students to review content you’ve already taught or teach each other new content, consider using Google presentations to jigsaw small group learning. Jigsaw learning is when you give a different task to each small group, then have the small groups teach the whole group. For example, you can jigsaw a nonfiction book by having each small group read a different chapter, then present the main ideas from their chapters to the whole class.

Here’s an example from a study we did on writing conventions. This project was actually a double-jigsaw: the students in this group belonged to four different third grade classrooms and came together because they all needed to work on conventions (their classmates were in different rooms working on spelling, reading fluency, etc.). Our goal was for the group to teach their homerooms what they’d learned.

I assigned each group a different convention. They made slides to teach what they’d learned, illustrated their points with examples, created a worksheet to give to their peers, and practiced presenting to one another.  Finally, each small group went back to their homerooms and taught the next writing class.

You could use this strategy for any subject: to review comprehension strategies in reading, vocabulary in math, layers of the rainforest in science, or leaders of the American Revolution in social studies. It’s also a great way to have kids summarize what they learned on a field trip.  Just assign one field trip photo to each group and have them describe what they learned about that component of your trip.

Writing Books

Finally, students can use Google presentations to make e-books. Storybird is a favorite site for doing the same thing, except with Google presentations, kids can use their own photos and drawings and collaborate together on their books.

If you’re working with young children who haven’t yet created PowerPoint or Keynote presentations, I recommend having them create an “All About Me” book as a first Google presentation. On each slide of their book, students share a different fact about themselves as they add text and pictures from Photo Booth and the web.  Here’s a slide from my “All About Me” book:

Slide from "All About Me" book

By creating an “All About Me” book, students learn how to use Google presentations without the added challenge of communicating academic ideas. It’s an easy way to teach them how to choose a theme, add slides and text, drag and drop or insert images, and share their presentation with you, with their parents, and with their friends.  Most important, it gives students a low-risk opportunity to practice presenting to their peers with confidence.

That gets to the heart what using Google presentations in the classroom is all about: empowering students to teach. To change their learning from a solitary activity to a collaborative, shared, sometimes even transformative experience. To take learning that is easily forgotten and do something so powerful with it that students remember it forever.

As a teacher, I want my students to engage in our lessons as deeply as I do, to feel what I feel: the joy of sharing what you know and inspiring curiosity and passion in others. I want them to teach, just like me, because I know that there’s no better way to learn.

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