WR 111, WR 112, WR 120, and WR 151 all require oral presentations for students and value these opportunities for students to speak to their peers. However, instructors sometimes struggle to sustain engagement on the part of the rest of the class during presentations. The following list provides some strategies to motivate audience members to be active listeners, to maintain a supportive and interactive classroom environment, and to help all students benefit from the time spent on presentations.

Guide to Oral/Signed Communication in Writing Classrooms

Setting Up Interactive Presentations

The choices instructors make when assigning presentations and establishing seating arrangements and other classroom logistics can go a long way toward helping all students pay attention to and benefit from presentations.

  • Seating and Classroom Logistics
    Consider a U-shaped seating arrangement (semi-circle) or a circle; the presenter can see all members of the audience, and audience members cannot “hide” the way they might in rows. In some cases, presenters might speak from their chair within the circle, rather than standing (though of course slides/technology also must be considered).
  • Pair or Group Presentations
    In WR 111 and WR 112, group presentations are the norm; students engage in different, often deeper, ways with the content of their presentation when they must come to a consensus with their group about how to present it. While pair or group presentations are not always appropriate in WR 120 or WR 151, a series of six group presentations, for example, takes up significantly fewer class days and slows down the class rhythm less than eighteen individual presentations would.
  • Classroom Culture and Expectations
    • Even if students typically take notes on laptops or other electronic devices, setting a standard expectation that devices must be put away during presentations helps the audience focus on the presenters. Paper raters’ sheets may be provided for the presentations, or students can be encouraged to take notes in notebooks, but setting aside their devices shows a level of respect to the presenters.
    • Before presentations begin (perhaps when discussing class participation early in the semester), consider making explicit the assumptions about being a supportive and attentive audience member.
    • Specify “Audience Responsibilities” on the assignment sheet for all oral presentations. Some instructors go one step further and keep track of audience members who ask questions or offer comments after presentations; you may then give students points for these comments, on their own presentation grade or class participation grade, or you may count these as extra labor opportunities, if applicable to your grading contract.

Facilitating Peer Review of Presentations

Including peer feedback after presentations ensures that students see their classmates (not just their instructor!) as their main audience, facilitates student participation and active listening, and helps students learn from their peers’ presentations. This kind of feedback has been standard practice in ELL contexts for years and is also applicable to mainstream classes.

  • Oral In-Class Feedback
    This type of feedback provides presenters with immediate responses on their presentations from their peers and helps normalize the process of talking about presentations (parallel to our emphasis on writing about writing). The instructor can provide clear guidelines for in-class presentation feedback and can facilitate/model effective feedback, especially for the first few presentations:

    1. Instruct the audience to take notes on the presentation.
    2. Have the presenter end their presentation by talking about some of the challenges they faced while preparing for and executing the presentation (this required reflection should be clearly conveyed in advance in the assignment sheet for the presentation). The presenter provides information about what they felt went well as well as their thoughts on where they could improve in the future.
    3. Students respond to the presenter’s comments, identify one element of the presentation that was particularly strong, helpful, or effective, and provide suggestions and specific points on which the presenter can improve in terms of content and/or delivery.

  • Written Feedback
    Some instructors use photocopied checklists of the presentation requirements; audience member is responsible for checking off elements of the presentation as they occur, and offering a comment and question or suggestion at the bottom. Instructors may collect these to review, and then give them to the presenter, or they may have students pass them to presenters at the end of the presentation.

    Other instructors ask audience members to complete a Google Form the night after the presentation; the instructor then reviews the submissions and summarizes them in feedback to the presenter (“Several of your classmates noted your excellent speaking pace and good eye contact…” etc.).

Here’s an example of a peer feedback form used after some oral presentations; feel free to use or adapt for your own classes and specific kinds of presentations. An additional model for peer evaluation of presentations comes from the Mount Holyoke Speaking, Arguing, and Writing Program, with a similar feedback form for audience members to complete.

Continuing the Conversation After Presentations

  • In-Class Writing
    Especially in WR 111 or WR 112, instructors may ask students to write in class based on a question, point, or quote that arose in a peer’s oral presentation. You may want to ask the presenter to generate a question for the class to write on, or you may want to create a question yourself on the basis of the presentation, perhaps extending one of the presenter’s points to another text that has previously been discussed, etc.
  • Discussion Board Contributions
    Whether you use the Blackboard discussion board, Jamboard, Padlet, or another tool, instructors may ask students to engage with the content of a peer’s oral presentations on the class discussion board. Students may be asked to make one comment and to raise one question that arose after listening to their peer’s presentation, and regular contributions to the discussion board may be part of the graded work in the course and/or the course contract.