Random Thoughts

Learning through Presentations

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“How many of you have done the 18 minute, right before class, copy and paste, plagiarized, bullet point, turn and read off the screen PowerPoint Presentation? Be honest.”

Every hand in the room goes up.

We know it as educators, kids know it as students. The presentation really is about finding information, putting it on some slides, add some transitions and then telling the rest of the class what it is you found.

Then there is the audience who is suppose to take notes on the information. A.K.A. copy the bulletpoints in bulletpoint format onto a piece of paper. Because there is so much learning in copying words from the slide to paper….NOT……and of course as you are busy copying the words you’re not listening to what the presenter is saying…not that it matters they’re just reading the words off the slides anyway. 


Pecha KuchaWhat if there was a different way? What if the presentation was a story, a journey, an in-depth look into some aspect of a book, a time period as told through images and the research of the storyteller. What if the preperation of making the presentation was about learning? What if it was about crafting a story and understanding a topic to the point where you could stand and without notes, without bulletpoints tell your story. 

That’s exactly what I’ve been working with in partnership with one of our high school English teachers. Let me give you the outline.

Students in 9th grade English are reading To Kill a Mockingbird. A classic read for many students in high school. To help students understand the novel and the time period in which it takes place. Each student researches some aspect of the 1930’s. Students are given a list of topics or are free to come up with their own. Some topics include, Adolf Hitler, Fascism, The Great Depression, FDR, Women in 1930 America. 

Students have free range to choose a topic (Autonomy) as long as they can tie it some how to the book, or how this might have affected the characters in the book in that time period. 

Once they have chosen their topic and had a conversation about the angle they are going to take with it and how it ties to the book, they are set free to research (Mastery). 

The Purpose is to craft a story on how or why they feel their topic ties to Kill a Mockingbird

Students use a modified Pecha-Kucha format. Because of timing instead of 20 slides 20 seconds a slide. We went with 15 slides x 20 seconds for an even 5 minute presentation.

Time Period: 2 Weeks (including 2 weekends)

Why a Pecha Kucha:

  1. Equality: Every student gets exactly 5 minutes. No 3-5 or 5-7 minute presentation. Everyone gets 5 minutes to tell their story.
  2. Style: The style of a Pecha-Kucha which is very much telling a story through pictures allows students to think both literally and symbolically about the pictures they use to tell their story. The focus is on the story not the slides. The slides act as a visual representation of the story and are not the story themselves.
  3. Content Knowledge: When using the Pecha-Kucha format there is no faking content knowledge. Students need to know their content to a depth that they can stand and deliever a story using pictures as a visual trigger to the story telling process.
  4. Examplars: Using the Pecha-Kucha.org website students have a vast array of examplar presentations to learn from and get ideas from. 


Because telling a story is all about whether or not you made your point, the audience (students) rated each presentation right after it was given. We created a form in Google Docs. Kids would listen to the presentation and takes notes. Once the presentation was over and as the next presenter was setting up the students would fill out the rubric on the presentation, hit submit and get ready for the next presentation.

Questions on the rubric. Answered on a 1 – 5 scale of 1 = Stongly Disagree to 5 = Strongly Agree

  • The presenter has answered the ‘so what’ factor effectively
  • The presenter has a clear thesis statement
  • Vocal features (tone, pace, volume) are present
  • The presenter has used visual images symbolically and has linked them clearly to the thesis statement
  • The presenter has utilized eye contact and not referred to notes
  • The presenter has provided a handout with sources and a Works Cited page
  • The presenter has shown creativity in their use of Pecha Kucha (15×20 – 5 mins)
  • The presenter – answered questions from the audience with confidence
  • Comments to the Presenter

Use of Class Time: The research and the creating of the actual presentation where done outside of class. Class time was used to teach about creative commons pictures, creating compelling presentation, research skills, a clear thesis statement and answering the “so what” factor as the presentation related to the book. In other words class time was used to teach skills and context of the presentation. (Reverse Instruction)

Student Reaction:

  • Hate it: A lot of work for 5 minute presentation. (Love it!)
  • Hate it: Had to come up with my own topic, just tell me what to research. (Love it!)
  • Hate it: Finding pictures and thinking about how they fit with my story was tough. (Love it!)
  • Like it: I really learned what it was I was researching and in some cases ended up going in a different direction then where I started.
  • Love it: Being in the audience you really had to listen and figure out how the picture tied to the story. 

Teacher Reaction:

  • By far the best presentations I’ve seen from kids hands down.
  • The bump up in learning was amazing.
  • Watching some kids who struggle in class shine blew me away.
  • Will never go back to an “old” presentation style for this project again.

Lastly invite every administartor you know to come in and watch. You can’t help but listen to a couple of these presentations and go WOW. The level of learning, the content knowlede, the creativity and use of pictures is far beyond what even I expected. On top of that some of the angles students took on their research and how they believed it tied to the book was far beyond my own comprehension. Kids are at all different parts of the book as they read To Kill a Mockingbird. More than once students were caught whispering to one another “I haven’t gotten to that point in the book yet…..I need to get reading.” The teacher, loving the format and the learning he was seeing also did this same process with 11th grade IB students. What they produced was college level thinking and the depth that some of them with their thinking can’t be put into words. Simply an amazing project that I believe has changed both classroom practice and student knowledge for years to come. 

I started blogging in 2005 and found it such a powerful way to reflect and share my thinking about technology, this generation, and how we prepare students for their future not our past.


  1. Jeff,

    Thanks for sharing this design. My question to you is were there any students that could not handle the limits of the assignment? I’d love to see some of these on Youtube to see how the students used the visuals.

    Also, how did the students score each other? I don’t mean the logistics of it, but were they more difficult on each other than the teacher would have been on them? I always find that interesting.

    • Good questions Patrick

      – Yes some students had more difficulties with the assignment then others. But students also rised to the challenge. I think what impressed the classroom teacher the most was some of the students who we’re doing so well in class actually gave some of the better presentations.

      – A great story was a student who is ADD giving the presentation. They prepared really hard and did a great job. The comments from the kids were good giving positive feedback and focusing more on the content then the fact that they didn’t make a lot of eye contact and was fidgety. So a great success for that student as well.

      – The grading….as usual…was honest from the students. The teacher filled out the form as well along with the kids. I was looking at the results of the rubric yesterday and the majority of kids grades matched that with the teachers.

      I think it helps when everyone is confined to the same preemptors and everyone knows how much work goes into making a good presentation this way. Because they all had to do it they weren’t forgiving to those who didn’t put in the effort.

  2. Great article!!! I just sent it to all of the teachers in my school, hopefully at least some take heed of this very powerful message. Thank you for being so explicit in how you went about facilitating this lesson, I think that really helps other teachers to implement it effectively in their own classrooms. Hopefully we can make ‘death by Powerpoint’ extinct one day!

  3. Jeff,

    Thanks for the post. I’ve been inspired and I think I will use this format for my students’ (7th and 8th graders) upcoming Inventor Fair presentations.

    What application did you have them use to create the slideshows? I’ve never created timed slide presentations, all my stuff has been click’n’go style powerpoints. Is there a particular application that you’d recommend? Anything web-based would be a plus.

    Did you have to teach the application too, or were your kids already familiar with it? Was that part of your two week accounting?

    • Hi Paul,

      Kids used PowerPoint or Keynote based on what operating system they had at home. Yes…one girl told me it took her 30 minutes to figure out how to time the slides…ended up watching a YouTube video to figure out how.

      I don’t know anything web-based off hand that allows you to time slides…someone else might have a recommendation here.

      No we did not teach the application…..kids pretty much already knew how to download pictures and put them in PowerPoint. We just talked about presentation skills, the kind of pictures to look for, etc.

      • Thanks Jeff,

        We finished the Inventor Fair last week and the Pecha Kuchas were a smashing success with both kids and parents. Their presentations were far more engaging than then whiteboard presentations we did in years past. The kids were relaxed and were able to creatively work within (and outside of) the guidelines. They are in the process of getting a voice and slide recording up on their blogs. Here are a few examples illustrating the spectrum of output: first, second, and third.

        Thanks for the blog post. Reading that, adapting the project, and seeing the results has been my most satisfying “just-in-time” learning experience from my PLN.

        • Paul…this is just fantastic! I don’t know what else to say then great work by you and the kids! Just found my next blog post in the power of sharing! More traffic and links coming your way. 🙂

          • Thanks Jeff,

            I was surprised at how little I had to teach them about the software and apps they ended up using. That’s always a concern of mine heading into a project and this time I stopped worrying about micromanaging and told them to use what they know. Turns out that’s the baggage I bring to these projects, and its totally unfounded. Not a single kid came to me with concerns about choosing an application. Some of them had issues with timing the slides but invariably another student had already figured it out and was happy to share.

            They used keynote, powerpoint, iMovie and prezi turned out to be the popular web-based option. In fact, when you click on 20 seconds for the slide timing in prezi a notice pops up saying “Pecha Kucha Go!”

            Overall, it was a great experience, with the kids showing me what they were capable of when I got out of the way. Thanks for spreading the word.

  4. Bill Oldread Reply

    Great project Jeff. Looks like the future of teaching and learning.

  5. Hi Jeff,

    I wondered something similar to Patrick above. What kinds of adaptations for differentiation were made in this scenario? What kinds of adaptations *could* be made?

    I also have a concern about grading with a statement about creativity. What I wonder is what that creativity is meant to look like in an assignment like this. Seems to me that statement could be very subjective for a presentation involving spoken word and images. How was creativity defined for this particular assignment?

    Thanks for posting. I’m curious but at the same time skeptical about this presentation style. One of the reasons I’m skeptical is because I’m uncomfortable with having all students doing the same assignment with the same parameters, and let’s face it — a PechaKucha is pretty restrictive.

    • Adrienne,

      To be honest there weren’t a lot of adaptations made for this assignment. However I do think adaptations could be made in length, time, speed, and even audience for those students that needed it.

      Creativity is subjective and each student that was filling in the rubric had make their own choice. Creativity in this case was applied mostly to the images that were used to help tell the story…and I’ll say that kids got very creative.

      The Pecha-Kucha is very limiting and that’s exactly what we wanted. To often presentation assignment are to open ended. Between 3-5 minutes or no more that 20 slides with no time limit. What the teacher and students both ended up liking was that the rules were the same for everyone. Everyone had 15 slides 20 seconds a slide period. No more, no less….tell your story in that time frame. Of course the kids wanted more time and next time we can open it up to 20 x 20 a true Pecha-Kucha but in the end we wanted to force kids to be concise and focused…and that’s exactly what this type of presentation does.

  6. Jeff,
    I did something similar for a 2 minute speech in my Multimedia course. Students chose the expository topic, created 6 images with Photoshop to represent their main concepts (no text), rehearsed their speech w/timings and presented to the class. Last semester we didn’t have the images automatically advance after 20 seconds but I planning on doing that this term. This helps the students stay on topic, avoid rambling and they must be better prepared.

  7. Hi Jeff,

    I did pecha kuchas with my grade 12s as one of the options for their culminating tasks for Hamlet. I was really impressed by how good they were. I also loved hearing the little chuckles and “ahhs” from the other students as they made the connections between the images and ideas. It was SO much nicer than the icky power points I used to get.

    I think Adrienne’s comment about differentiation is a valid one. This was an option for my class. They had several other projects from which to choose including a website, scrapbook, and scene presentation. I was able to use the same rubric for each one.

    Thanks for the great post!

    • How did the rubric turn out, Danika? I envision something like what you’ve described would actually lend itself well to the “multiple options, one rubric” model. I’ve used similar approaches in the past. I’ve always found it difficult to create the rubric, but when doing it *with* students it sometimes creates itself. And when it works, it’s brilliant. I can see how Pecha Kucha presentations would easily fit into some kind of project like this. The students who chose to do this kind of project — what were their thoughts? And how many did choose it? Very curious! thanks for sharing!

  8. Esther Vieira Reply

    Excelent post. Thanks for the idea. I teach Spanish to Spanish-speaking students in high school with none or little schooling in Spanish. Their second year we read a novel by Garcia Marquez> I always tried to put some topics discussion because the novel brings up tons of them. Your idea sounds interesting and challenging.
    I am not sure if I understand the “so what” factor you mention. Could you explain a little more?
    Thank you very much

  9. 20X20 is an nteresting time constraint idea for student presentations. I like it. I wish I didn’t have time constraints myself so I could spend this amount of time on any given topic.

    • Like you do any other subject where students come to class unprepared. Students have given opportunities to make up the assignment. We apply the same “late work” to this as we would to other assignments.

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  11. Hi Jeff,

    I have just recently gotten into presentation zen and it has changed the way I present and teach presenting..

    I think your approach is great. My kids have done WWII in vuvox and it is designed to be a multimedia interactive presentation… but next we will do something similar but using prezi instead.


    These are just two of the vuvox projects my kids are wrapping up.

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