Presentation Isn’t Everything: Student High and Low Tech Toolkits for Presentational-Speaking

09/17/2014 | Written by Anita Alkhas


Mise-en-place, the culinary practice of arranging all utensils and ingredients ahead of time, is essential to preparing a consistently successful dish. Likewise, our students benefit from first gathering together all of the tools they need for an assignment, so that they can then focus more intently on the task before them. For presentational speaking, the array of options for planning, practice, and delivery can be overwhelming. It is therefore especially helpful to guide students by including a suggested toolkit in the instructions we give. After all, we want the majority of their time and effort to be spent on language practice rather than on searching for tools or becoming distracted by bells and whistles.

Just as every recipe requires a different set-up, so too will each activity or assessment call for a specific toolkit. Here I offer an example of a set of tools, both high and low tech, for each of the stages of presentational-speaking, but which will, of course, need to be tailored to your specific circumstances and objectives. Make sure to provide your students with the full set of suggested and/or required tools when first assigning the project, either on your instruction sheet, via email, or on your class website.

Sample Student Toolkit for Presentational-Speaking

Tools for Planning
Low-tech: Focus is especially important in the planning stages of a presentation. By starting with pen and paper, students can avoid the enticing distractions on high-tech devices (we all know the phenomenon of setting out to perform a simple task online but soon finding ourselves several clicks away).  I have always been fond of using Post-It notes, index cards, or simply slips of paper for brainstorming, outlining, and concept mapping.  Since Post-It notes are expensive, one can work on a flat surface or use tape, magnets, or repositionable spray adhesive with small pieces of paper to arrange and rearrange ideas (as well as potential images or any realia since it is good practice to label and use pieces of paper as placeholders for them while planning). Just because we might start out low-tech, however, doesn’t mean we have to eschew high-tech conveniences: advise students to start taking photos of their planning as soon as they’ve got the bare bones of their presentation worked out.

High-tech: There are a number of paid and free applications for outlining and brainstorming that feature virtual Post-It Notes. Sticky (available on iTunes for iPad and iPhone) and 7 Sticky Notes (for Windows) are popular free options. Padlet and Linoit offer web-based sticky bulletin boards. Popplet is an easy to use mind-mapping option.

As online accessibility continues to grow exponentially, it is increasingly imperative that we train students in the fair use of images and other resources. Include in your toolkit copyright friendly resources for education such as Pics4Learning  or Wikipedia Commons. Also instruct students to click on “Search Tools” and then “Usage Rights” when doing an image search in Google in order to restrict their searches to images that are available for noncommercial use. For any other images they wish to include, make sure they seek permission AND credit their sources.

Tools for Practicing:
Low-tech: Nothing mars an oral presentation in a second language more than vocabulary that is unintelligible due to heavy mispronunciation. Even though online dictionaries are now able to provide audio pronunciations of entries, a wonderful resource, we should still consider helping students to become familiar early on with phonetic transcriptions in paper dictionaries, a very useful skill for future linguists.

Contrary to the saying, practice does not make perfect – as educators we all know that communication is never error-free – but thorough practice is essential to the presentational communication mode. Insist that students practice multiple times to different audiences and not just to an unforgiving mirror. Partners can be assigned for the practice stage, but it can also be helpful to perform for people who don’t know the target language since they can focus not on content, but on helping presenters to polish their stance, delivery, gestures, and use of visuals as well as to pin down their pace and timing. It might be helpful to provide a feedback sheet in English on these aspects for this type of “pre-audience.”

High-tech: In addition to audio pronunciations in online dictionaries, encourage students to use free online TTS (Text-to-Speech) software, such as NaturalReader  which provides male and female voices in six languages speaking at variable speeds. They can use this software to copy into it small parts of their presentation with the goal of polishing their pronunciation. Make it crystal clear, however, that in the presentational speaking mode we are not assessing their ability to memorize and deliver “canned” text, but rather to address an audience engagingly and naturally.  Forvo is another excellent high-tech resource.  It’s a very up-to-date and growing online digital archive of native speakers of dozens of languages pronouncing words requested by non-native speakers. Forvo can be a godsend, especially for target language pronunciation of proper nouns, which can often be so tricky (e.g., how do you pronounce that amazing World Cup player’s name?).

Don’t forget to include high-tech resources in your toolkit for finding practice audiences. Encourage students to practice their presentations, or parts of them, with native speakers and/or peers, friends and family through video-conferencing (e.g., Skype, FaceTime, or Google Hangouts).

Tools for Presenting:
Low-Tech: Sometimes a traditional presentation without high-tech support can maintain focus on the essence of what we do best: providing support for rich communication in real-time among people gathered as a community. I highly recommend including it as an option for the purpose of differentiation and to offer students the opportunity to practice communication in a low-tech environment, where they need to use their voices and bodies emphatically and engage their audience directly. It can also be particularly effective when students are analyzing cultural products (realia) or demonstrating cultural practices. Nevertheless, going with a low-tech format for a presentation doesn’t preclude capturing the presentation digitally. It is well worth the time and effort to do so in order to provide thorough instructor, peer- and self-assessments, as outlined in the final section below. In addition, keeping a digital record allows learners to document their progress and set goals more effectively and it allows programs to showcase student work for parents, administrators, and the community.

High-tech: In addition to allowing students to present in a low-tech format, it is helpful to differentiate by offering options to more traditional presentation programs like PowerPoint or Keynote (but not too many, which can cause overwhelm), including ones that are less linear in format such as Glogster or Prezi.  It’s important to keep in mind that the greater the array of options a program offers, the greater the potential for misuse can be. It is highly useful to offer students models of effective presentations by former students (with their permission), but it is perhaps even more useful to offer guidance on what not to do.  See, for example,this anti-model from Prezi.

Since most presentation applications offer voice-over options, consider using a flipped approach in which students would view each other’s presentations outside of class. Classroom time could then be used for Q & A and/or feedback.  In a flipped model, however, make sure that students have a real audience in mind as they prepare and, when possible, one that extends beyond their classmates.

Tools for Assessment:
Low-tech/High-tech: It is best to share with students from the beginning any assessment tool that you use, such as a rubric, so that they can see clearly and endeavor to meet the expected learning outcomes. As a rule of thumb, I strive to give feedback quickly on oral work, even if it is less detailed, while the performance is fresh in the mind of students and they are in need of immediate reassurance and feedback. (In order to be able to complete the rubrics on the spot, I emphasize to students that I am not their intended audience. I assign a “master of ceremonies” to introduce speakers and conduct the Q & A afterward and then sit in a corner out of the way during the presentations.) For heavily weighted assignments, one might consider using both a simple rubric on paper, that can be filled out during the performance assessment and returned immediately afterward, and a more detailed one, on paper or online, based on reviewing a performance that has been captured digitally.

We shouldn’t forget how important peer- and self-assessments are for fostering learner autonomy. Audience members, just like presenters, need clear guidelines to ensure successful communication. Providing a simple note-taking sheet can be helpful, but it’s explicitly stated purpose should be to help students focus on and retain information, rather than detracting them from fully engaging with the presentation. It’s important for the presenters to sense that they have everyone’s attention and to feel that their work is valued, which can be conveyed non-verbally during the presentation or verbally through a lively Q and A session. To facilitate the latter, the time during which a presenter is setting up can be used effectively by asking the audience to jot down a question based on the presentation’s title on an index card, Post-It note, or quarter sheet of paper. Then, during or just at the end of a presentation, ask them to write at least one more question.  One can also incorporate a simple but more formal peer-assessment by asking a small number of students, perhaps 2 or 3, to provide written comments on a presentation to the presenter. I use the three-columned sheet, pictured below, to solicit positive feedback, questions on content or language, and constructive critique (note that the positive feedback column is wider than the others!).  A high-tech variation might be to allow 2-3 students to backchannel their feedback with a handheld device to a Google Doc or other application. A final step that should not be skipped, especially now that we have the ability to capture performances easily, is to close the loop by having students watch and selfassess their performance. This essential practice can be done very simply, by asking students to reflect on and note only two aspects: what they did well and what they would like to strengthen and develop.


Language learners, like chefs, do best when they have tried and true tools and techniques at the ready. By providing effective toolkits and instruction in using them, we move our students closer to becoming successful autonomous learners who can express themselves confidently and creatively.


Suggested Tools for Planning:

Suggested Tools for Practicing:

  • Low-Tech: print dictionaries (phonetic transcriptions), people (classmate, friends, family, including those who don’t speak the target language but are provided with a rubric in English)
  • High-Tech: online dictionaries with audio pronunciations, TTS (Text-to-Speech) software, e.g., NaturalReader, Forvo, video-conferencing (e.g., Skype, FaceTime, or Google Hangouts)

Suggested Tools for Presenting:

  • Low-Tech: realia (e.g., products of the target cultures and visuals such as a poster board)
  • High-Tech: Powerpoint, Keynote, Glogster, Prezi, sample presentations by previous students, examples of what not to do

Suggested Tools for Assessing:

  • Low-Tech: paper rubric, peer note-taking and/or Q & A sheet, peer-assessment sheet
  • High-Tech: online rubric generators (e.g. Rubistar) and self-assessment for presentations that have been digitally captured, backchanneling peer-assessment (e.g., using a Google Doc).


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