Effective Use of PowerPoint


Slide presentation software such as PowerPoint has become an ingrained part of many instructional settings, particularly in large classes and in courses more geared toward information exchange than skill development. PowerPoint can be a highly effective tool to aid learning, but if not used carefully, may instead disengage students and actually hinder learning.


Teaching by PowerPoint

Potential benefits of using presentation graphics include:

  • Engaging multiple learning styles
  • Increasing visual impact
  • Improving audience focus
  • Providing annotations and highlights
  • Analyzing and synthesizing complexities
  • Enriching curriculum with interdisciplinarity
  • Increasing spontaneity and interactivity
  • Increasing wonder


Although there are many potential benefits to PowerPoint, there are several issues that could create problems or disengagement:

  • Teacher-centered. Students often respond better when instructors have designed sessions for greater classroom interaction, such as the use of student response clickers, designing PowerPoint to facilitate case studies, or use the slides as a replacement for paper worksheets.
  • Lack of feedback. PowerPoint-based lectures tell you nothing about student learning. Design them to include opportunities for feedback (not simply asking if there are questions, but more actively quizzing your students). This often takes the form of listing questions, not information, on the slides themselves.
  • Student inactivity. Slide shows do little to model how students should interact with the material on their own. Include student activities or demonstrations to overcome this, either before or after the slideshow presentation.
  • Potentially reductive. PowerPoint was designed to promote simple persuasive arguments. Design for critical engagement, not just for exposure to a “point.”
  • Presentation graphics should be about learning, not about presentation.
  • PowerPoint presentations should help students organize their notes, not just “be” the notes. This is a particular danger with students who grew up accustomed to receiving PowerPoint notes to study from. Some may require convincing that notes should be taken beyond what is already on the slides.

Three Possible Approaches

This single presentation about the anatomy of the human eye has been rewritten in three different ways:

  • Text-heavy: this version offers complete phrases and a comprehensive recording in words of the material. The text-heavy version can be used as the lecturer's speaking notes, and doubles as student notes that can be made available for download either before or after the lecture has taken place. If the information can be accessed elsewhere, such as a textbook, it may be preferable to avoid a text-heavy approach, which many students find disengaging during the delivery.
  • Some images: this version sacrifices some of the completeness of the material to create space for accompanying images. The mixed approach appeals to more visual learners while keeping some lecture notes visible, though perhaps in a more abbreviated format. This is a common mode of delivery in large classes. However, there are still some challenges. There is enough material already present in text format that some students may feel obliged to write it all down in their own notes, thus paying less attention to the verbal lecture. Conversely, if the slides are available for download, some students may be able to eschew note-taking in class, yet be tempted to consider these fragmentary notes sufficient for studying for exams.
  • Image-heavy: this version relies almost exclusively on images, with little text. The image-heavy approach signals to students that they will have to take their own notes, as these are plainly insufficient on their own for studying. However, lecturers often need more than visual clues to remind themselves how to propel the lecture forward, and separate notes may be required. One elegant solution is to use "Presenter View" on the speaker's screen (which displays the notes only to you) and project the slides without notes onto the larger screen visible to the audience.

PowerPoint for Case Studies

Elizabeth Rash (Nursing) provided this sample iterative case study (where parameters evolve over time) given to a midsize class. Students are required to come to class prepared having read online resources, the text, and a narrated slideshow presentation that accompanies each module. The classroom is problem-based (case-based) and interactive, where students are introduced to a young woman who ages as the semester progresses and confronts multiple health issues. Since the nurse practitioner students are being prepared to interact with patients, some slides require students to interview another classmate in a micro role-play.

Problem-based lectures frequently alternate between providing information and posing problems to the students, which alters the entire character of the presentation. Rather than explain and convey information, many slides ask questions that are intended to prompt critical thinking or discussion.

PowerPoint Interactions: Student Response "Clickers"

Classroom response systems can improve students' learning by engaging them actively in the learning process. Instructors can employ the systems to gather individual responses from students or to gather anonymous feedback. It is possible to use the technology to give quizzes and tests, to take attendance, and to quantify class participation. Some of the systems provide game formats that encourage debate and team competition. Reports are typically exported to Excel for upload to the instructor's grade book. Learn more about how to use this system in your own classes.

PowerPoint as Worksheet

Instructors who do not have sufficient photocopying opportunities in their departments may be less likely to use paper worksheets with their students, especially in large classes. PowerPoint offers the ability to approximate worksheets to illustrate processes or to provide "worked examples" that shows problem-solving step-by-step. One valuable technique is to first demonstrate a process or problem on one slide, then ask students to work on a similar problem revealed on the next slide, using their own paper rather than worksheets handed out.

Narrated PowerPoint Downloads

The PowerPoint software itself includes built-in functionality to record your audio commentary. In this fashion, instructors can literally deliver their entire lecture electronically, which can be especially useful in an online course. The resulting file is still a standard PowerPoint file, but when the slideshow is "played," the recorded instructor's voice narrates the action, and the slides advance on their own, turning whenever they had been advanced by the lecturer during the recording. Click here to see a sample.

It is also possible to use AuthorPoint Lite, a free software download, to take the narrated PowerPoint presentation and transform it all into a Flash video movie, which plays in any Web browser. Here is a sample. To create such a video, you must first record a narrated presentation, and then use AuthorPoint Lite to convert the file. Our tutorial explains the process.

Presenter View

Using this mode of PowerPoint, your slides are projected as usual on the big screen and fill the entire space, but the computer used by the lecturer displays the slides in preview mode, with the space for notes visible at the bottom of the screen. In this fashion, lecturers can have a set of notes separate from what is displayed to the students, which has the overall effect of increasing the engagement of the presentation.

Best Practices: Delivery

  • Avoid reading: if your slides contain lengthy text, lecture "around" the material rather than reading it directly.
  • Dark screen: an effective trick to focus attention on you and your words is to temporarily darken the screen, which can be accomplished by clicking the "B" button on the keyboard. Hitting "B" again will toggle the screen back to your presentation.
  • Navigate slides smoothly: the left-mouse click advances to the next slide, but it's more cumbersome to right-click to move back one slide. The keyboard's arrow keys work more smoothly to go forward and backward in the presentation. Also, if you know the number of a particular slide, you can simply type that number, followed by the ENTER key, to jump directly to that slide.

Best Practices: Slideshow Construction

Lecture with slides
  • Text size: text must be clearly readable from the back of the room. Too much text or too small a font will be difficult to read.
  • Avoid too much text: one common suggestion is to adhere to the 6x6 rule (no more than six words per line, and no more than six lines per slide). The "Takahasi Method" goes so far as to recommend enormous text and nothing else on the slide, not even pictures, perhaps as little as just one word on each slide.
  • Contrast: light text on dark backgrounds will strain the eyes. Minimize this contrast, and opt instead for dark text on light backgrounds. Combinations to avoid, in case of partial color blindness in the audience, include red-green, or blue-yellow.
  • Transitions and animations should be used sparingly and consistently to avoid distractions.
  • Template: do not change the template often. The basic format should be consistent and minimal.
  • Use graphics and pictures to illustrate and enhance the message, not just for prettiness.

Other ideas for use on a PowerPoint presentation include:

  • Change font
  • Shapes
  • Clip art
  • Images
  • Charts
  • Tables
  • Transitions
  • Animations
  • Animating text or chart

Additional Assistance

Staff members at the Faculty Center are pleased to work with instructors individually when constructing PowerPoint presentations. Additionally, the Office of Instructional Resources maintains the Faculty Multimedia Center (FMC), which offers customized assistance in popular software tools, including PowerPoint. The FMC is located in Classroom Bldg I, room 202.

Further Reading


This site is a tutorial for use with PowerPoint 2000 that can be run concurrently with PowerPoint to step the user through basic presentation design such as creating and deleting slides, inserting text and pictures and formatting the slide.

Microsoft’s Help and How-to section specifically designed for educators.  This site also offers links to free templates and trial products.

Step-by-step on how to create a PowerPoint from scratch.

Best Practices

A short list of Best Practices in Using PowerPoint for educators and presenters.

Comprehensive site of tips and tricks for using PowerPoint.

Short, printable, Bulletin from CIDR at the University of Washington on using PowerPoint to maximize learning.

  • Expert Opinion

Column written by two experienced educators, Richard M. Felder and Rebecca Brent, on how to avoid some of the dangers often associated with PowerPoint.

Alice Christie’s website collecting links to resources for using PowerPoint in the classroom that she finds valuable based on her experience as a professor at ASU and an expert educator. 


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