Three Strategies Guaranteed for More Successful Group Presentations

I like to have students occasionally work on tasks in small groups. In-class group work generally consists of my having students analyze primary or secondary sources or responding to one of my famously broad questions and then having each group present their collective thoughts to the class.

While students are sometimes resistant to work in groups (they say they would rather just hear me talk more! or they say they are shy), this ungraded exercise (tip #1) has tremendous andragogical value. For instance, it gives them an opportunity to discuss the readings. Students who didn’t read or didn’t fully read or maybe didn’t understand everything can fill in these gaps in a safe, low-stress environment. 

When students present to the class, I require everyone in the group to stand (tip #2). This has the effect of getting more than one of them to talk, even without prompting, because they are already standing. That is, they are all in the “ready” position to chime in and specifically add some of their own thoughts. Making them stand also makes them feel (and look) more official. 

I quickly discovered that students, if allowed, would stand up (or stay seated!) and just face me. If I was standing in the front, the students presenting in the front would just face me, no matter how much I asked them to face the class. The students in the back would see just me and a bunch of backs, too!

So, for some time now, I have deliberately moved around and stood as far away from the group presenting as possible (tip #3). If they are in the front, I’m standing in the back. For example, the picture below shows the room I taught in today. One of the groups was approximately where the red star is; I was standing about where the red circle is when they talked. When the group where the yellow octagon is presented, I was standing about where the yellow square is. While not perfect for groups in the middle of the room (and I try to position groups such that this doesn’t happen), this “forces” groups to actually face the entire class and talk loud, so I can hear them! By being as far from them as possible, if I can hear them, pretty much every one can. This also works in getting other students to watch the students presenting, not me. 

Every time I teach my goal is to have every student talk at least once – this is accomplished by having students read aloud brief quotations, answer interactive questions, and working in groups, for example.