Using Slides in the Classroom


Picture a university classroom. Does the image of a professor speaking with the aid of a PowerPoint slide deck come to mind? Slides frequently serve as the foundation for lectures and lesson plans. They can either complement or confuse an instructor’s verbal message, so taking some time to think about the design and structure of your slide presentations can really pay off.

Designing Slides

Your teaching style or classroom may dictate the ways and frequency with which you use slides. But, in most cases, it is best to focus on simple slide design. Less is usually more. Garr Reynolds provides numerous examples of “good” and “bad” slide design through a framework called Presentation Zen. The following principles may also be useful:


Slide Use

  • Convey visual ideas, graphs, and tables
  • Summarize facts or readings
  • Present questions for discussion
Slide Design

  • 6 x 6 Rule: No more than 6 bullets with 6 words per bullet
  • Use large sans serif fonts (32-pt or larger)
  • Use images that support and illustrate ideas (not simply decorative)

  • Focus on students 
  • Use a microphone
  • Provide handouts to support, not replace lecture
  • Ask questions about the slides and gauge feedback

  • Title Slide
  • Attention Getter Slide
  • Topic Preview
  • Content 
  • Transition 
  • Content 
  • Conclusion
  • Questions 
Adapted from Cornell’s Center for Teaching Excellence “How to Make the Most of PowerPoint in Lectures”


Berk (2012) describes ten evidence-based practices for slide use in the classroom. These points can provide a visual cohesion necessary to support a strong presentation.


  • Select simple templates, themes, or solid colors

  • Incorporate active learning strategies throughout (i.e.,  include multiple choice questions)

  • Choose clear and simple fonts

  • Use high-quality, dynamic images
  • Use words sparingly to provide context

  • Select high-contrast colors, with “cool-colored” backgrounds such as greens and blues

  • Use animations if they help highlight a process or a concept across slides
  • Avoid “fly-in” bullets, which may be distracting

  • Use short, full-sentence headings written as assertions
Sound & Music

  • Embed sound clips and music if they support discipline-specific learning outcomes

  • Keep text short
  • Highlight important points with bold, italics, and underline

  • Embed edited clips into your slideshow
  • Avoid leaving the slideshow to scroll to the selected video
Adapted from Berk, 2012: “Top 10 Evidence-Based, Best Practices for PowerPoint in the Classroom


Effectiveness of PowerPoint

Various researchers have studied the efficacy of slide use in classrooms. Overall, PowerPoint and Google Slideshows can be beneficial to student learning, but material that is not pertinent to the presentation can be harmful to student learning (Bartsch & Cobern, 2003).

According to Smith, Gardner, and Ryan (2019), PowerPoint slides can improve learning, particularly for the lowest performing STEM students. The authors found that visual representations of physical and natural phenomena are beneficial for student learning in STEM disciplines. However, slides that include visuals with text are actually correlated with lower student performance on exams. This suggests that slideshows requiring students to engage visually with complex material may be better than slides that combine visual components and text.

As such, an intentional focus on quality images and diagrams may improve learning more than a simple diagram with text-heavy explanations. Edward Tufte’s The Visual Display of Quantitative Information illustrates 250 examples of statistical graphs, maps, and images that display data effectively. Overall, intentional slide design combined with quality lecturing can improve student learning in traditional classrooms.


Boston University provides faculty with Microsoft PowerPoint and Google Slides. Instructors may choose to use Apple’s Keynote software or other online tools such as Prezi to design slideshows. Additionally, faculty may find that Adobe Creative Cloud software can be utilized to improve visual design elements used in slides. Tools such as Adobe PhotoShop and Adobe InDesign can greatly enhance pictures and diagrams. Adobe Creative Cloud is available to many campus community members. Support for the Adobe suite can be found on the BU Digital Multimedia Common website.

Additional Resources

As you plan your slide presentation, consider incorporating the strategies recommended in CTL guides on interactive lecturing and active learning. The following resources offer even more ideas:



    Scholarly Resources

    • Bartsch, R. A., & Cobern, K. M. (2003). Effectiveness of PowerPoint Presentations in Lectures. Computers & Education, 41(1), 77-86.
    • Berk, R. A. (2012). Top 10 Evidence-based Best Practices for PowerPoint in the Classroom. Transformative Dialogues: Teaching & Learning Journal, 5(3), 1-7.
    • Harrington, C., & Zakrajsek, T. D. (2017). Dynamic Lecturing: Research-based Strategies to Enhance Lecture Effectiveness. Stylus Publishing, LLC.
    • Smith-Peavler, E., Gardner, G. E., & Otter, R. (2019). PowerPoint Use in the Undergraduate Biology Classroom: Perceptions and Impacts on Student Learning. Journal of College Science Teaching, 48(3), 74-83.
    • Tufte, E. R. (2001). The Visual Display of Quantitative Information (Vol. 2). Cheshire, CT: Graphics press.