Pimp that Powerpoint

Clarity of explanation is vital

One of the most important core teacher skills is being able to explain ideas clearly. It promotes understanding and leads to well organised schema forming in the minds of our pupils.

So, how can we tweak our powerpoint slides and delivery of information to maximise learning through supporting our explanations?

Let’s consider the powerpoint slide below:

poor one

(image from https://revisionworld.com/gcse-revision/biology/human-body/heart-circulatory-system)


  • The knowledge contained within the written part is clear and logically sequenced.
  • The image allows the comparison of the different types of blood vessel.


  • The busy background and range of colours used adds nothing. In fact, it may well make the writing on the right harder to read.
  • Having both an image and complementary information separated by space will lead to increased cognitive load due to the split attention effect.
  • Teachers may have a tendency to read the written information out loud to pupils meaning it might as well not be there…

It might as well not be there!

This is where our improvement starts. Get rid of the words from the slide. The information can be delivered more effectively by just having the image, but larger, and the teacher giving the explanation.

They can point out different parts of the diagram as they explain and pupils are able to take in both the visual and auditory information simultaneously making learning more efficient as explained by the modality effect.

We can cut out the background but lets keep the title as it conveys the importance of knowing what these three objects are. This might look very sparse but according to @olicav, in his book Dual Coding for Teachers, that’s a good thing!

better 1

The great explanation which featured on the original slide could be placed into the notes section of the slide so teachers can ensure their delivery is precise and clear: this would also aid non-specialists teaching this lesson.

Retrieval Opportunity

Having explained the differences between and functions of each type of blood vessel you now have the opportunity to force some retrieval of information. A little bit of effortful thinking goes a long way to creating durable memories and you can also put that clear explanation to further good use.

Use the explanation to create a quick task for pupils to complete:

better again

This forces some retrieval practice, making pupils think back to the explanation given before. Encourage them to try to recall the image which was presented to aid their memory to help further exploit the modality effect.

Some extra benefits of this approach are that you can make the slide much easier to read by using a larger font and, more importantly, greater line spacing.

You can vary the amount of given information to provide appropriate challenge for your class. You could get pupils to show answers on whiteboards or print this out for pupils to complete.

Either way, you’ve given the clear and precise explanation greater utility and more importantly you have maximised pupils chances of successfully encoding the knowledge you intended.


Thanks very much for reading! For further details on the cognitive lead theory effects mentioned above check out:

Sweller, J., van Merriënboer, J. and Paas, F. (2019). Cognitive Architecture and Instructional Design: 20 Years Later. Educational Psychology Review. (Sweller2019_Article_CognitiveArchitectureAndInstru)

I can be found on twitter @MrTSci409 where I’d much appreciate you retweeting this blog. Many thanks again!

Title image from https://www.sodapdf.com/blog/how-to-prepare-professional-powerpoint-presentation/


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