21 Tips and Strategies Supporting Learners’ Oral Presentations

Design & Assign


There are many options to consider when assigning an oral presentation. As you answer the following questions, reflect on your own commitment to continue using traditional oral presentations for evaluation.

Determine Oral Presentation Type

If you answered “No” to at least half of the questions, you may want to consider the following alternative formats that mitigate some of the specific anxieties your ELLs experience with oral presentations. While the default may be the traditional individual or group presentation of concepts in front of the whole class, there are a number of alternatives that may serve the same purpose.

Build Knowledge

Consider the different types of presentations and the steps that you can do to help your learners succeed.

Types of Oral Presentations

Short oral talks in a group

Usually a short oral talk in a group is informal with little time to prepare for this type of speech. Learners  share their thoughts or opinions about a specific topic. This type of talk follows a structure with a brief introductory statement, 2-3 ideas and a concluding statement.  These brief oral talks can help students develop confidence because they are presenting to a small group rather than the whole class. They do not have to create and coordinate visuals with their talk and the talk is short. There still needs to be substance to the talk, so participants should be given advance warning that they will be asked to speak on a particular topic.  One advantage is that several students in the class can be presenting simultaneously; however, as a result, in-process marking is not possible.

Formal oral presentations in front of class

Formal oral presentations in front of the class usually require individual students to make a longer presentation, supported with effective visual aids. Adequate time has been given for the presenter to prepare the topic. This type of presentation can be used to present research, information in general, or to persuade. The presenter is often put in charge of the class during the presentation time, so in addition to presenting, the presenter has to keep the class engaged and in line. Formal oral presentations often involve a Q & A. Most of the grading can be done in-process because you are only observing one student at a time. It is very time consuming to get through a whole class of presentations and have the class engaged and learning and you are giving up control of many course hours and content coverage.

Group Presentations

college students talking around a tableGroup presentations have many of the same elements as the individual oral presentation; however, the topic is shared between 3-4 learners. This can take the pressure off the individual because more than one person is responsible for covering the topic. Depending on the mix of the team, this can be a positive or a negative. As explained in the section on group work in this module, team work needs to be carefully designed and supervised. Additionally it can be very time consuming to work collaboratively and each member has to work with the others’ schedules and communication styles. The synergy of the group can be advantageous. Marking can be mostly done in-process.

Sharing Presentations Online

Students can be made the presenter in online platforms to complete presentations.  Zoom, Blackboard, WebEx and other similar software allow the moderator (Professor) to make specific participants hosts which enables them to share their screens and control the participation options of other students in the class.  As each platform has variations on how to share documents and control the presentation, it is important that students are given specific instructions on how to “present” using the various platforms.  If possible, set up separate “rooms” for students to practice in before their presentation.

Use Oral Recordings of Presentations Synchronously or Asynchronously

Consider allowing students to record their presentations and present the recording to the class.  While this would not be appropriate for a language class where the performance of the presentation is likely more important than the content, in other classes providing the opportunity for learners to record multiple times until they are satisfied with the output is an ideal way to optimize the quality of the presentation as well as reduce the performance related stress. The presentation can then be shared synchronously in class or online with the presenter hosting and fielding questions, or asynchronously posted on a discussion board or other app such as Flipgrid with the presenter responding to comments posted over a set period of time. A side benefit to the use of some of these tools such as Skye and Google Meet is that they are commonly used in the workforce so it good practice for post-graduation application of skills.

Possible Tools for Recording and Sharing

Presenting in Another Language

If the goal of the presentation is to demonstrate in depth understanding of the course content and ability to communicate that information effectively, does the presentation have to be done in English?  Can the student’s mastery of the subject matter be demonstrated in another language with a translator? It would still be possible to evaluate the content of the presentation, the confidence, the performance, the visual aids etc.  On the global stage, translated speeches and presentations are the norm by political leaders and content experts – why not let students show the depth of their understanding in a language they are comfortable with?

If a more formal type of oral presentation is required, is it possible to give students some choice to help reduce their anxiety?  For example, could they choose to present to you alone, to a small group, or to the whole class?

Teach Making a Presentation Step by Step

Don’t assume that all the students in your class have been taught how to make a presentation for a college or university level class. Furthermore, there are many purposes for presentations (inform, educate, persuade, motivate, activate, entertain) which require different organizational structure, tone, content and visual aids.

  • Ask the class to raise their hands if they feel ♦ very comfortable presenting in front of the class, ♦ somewhat comfortable presenting in front of the class or ♦ not comfortable presenting in front of the class.  This will help you gauge your learners’ prior experience / comfort and also let learners in the class see that others, both native speakers and ELLs are nervous about presenting orally in class.

Provide Clear Instructions

  • Write clear, detailed instructions (following the suggestions in Module 3).
  • Ask students to download a copy to bring to class and encourage them to record annotations as you discuss expectations.
  • Present the assignment in class visually (sharing screen / projecting). Explain each section and pose Instruction Check Questions (ICQs)after each part. ICQs may seem very obvious but for students in the class that have issues decoding instructions or attending to instructions, ICQs can be very helpful – the more complex the instructions, the more ICQs should be used.
    • Example: How many slides should you use as your visual aid? Do you need to use outside sources? What tools can you use to create this presentation?
  • Include the rubric that you will use to grade the presentations and explain each section, noting sections that have higher weighting.

Provide a Guide to Planning

  • Have students write a description of the target audience for their presentation and explicitly state the purpose of the presentation.
student sleeping behind pile of books
      • Encourage students to read widely on their topic. The more content knowledge the learner has about the topic, the more confident the learner will be when presenting.
      • Teach students how to do an effective presentation that meets your course expectations (if class time does not permit, offer an optional  ‘office hours’ workshop). Remember – many of your students many never have presented a post-secondary presentation which may cause significant anxiety. Your ELL’s experiences with oral presentations may be limited or significantly different in terms of expectations based on their prior educational contexts.
  • Have students view examples of good presentations and some bad ones – there are many examples available on YouTube such as  Good Presentation vs Bad Presentation.
  • Provide specific guidelines for each section of the presentation. How should learners introduce their presentation? How much detail is required? Is audience interaction required? Is a call to action expected at the end?
  • If audience interaction is required, teach your students specific elicitation techniques (See Module 3)
  • Provide specific guidelines for required visuals to support the presentation. Refer students to resources that provide instructional  information so students receive the guidelines in several formats to accommodate the different learning styles of your students.
  • Demonstrate the importance of body language. Encourage students to practice in front of a mirror while noticing body language to develop confidence in their abilities.
    • Paralinguistic features like eye contact are potentially culture – bound. If the subject that you are teaching values eye contact, then include this expectation in the presentation. On the other hand, if your field of study doesn’t require presentations typically, consider valuing the cultural diversity of your learners and not grading learners negatively for not making eye contact.
  • Review the rubric. Let learners know what you are specifically grading  during the presentation. The rubric should be detailed enough that learners know what elements of the presentation are weighted the heaviest.

Model an Effective Presentation

A good speech is like a pencil; it has to have a point.

  • Provide an exemplar of a presentation that you have presented yourself and recorded, or a presentation done by a previous student for which you have written permission to share.

Require Students to Practice

  • Practicing the presentation many times is key to building performance confidence.
    • Practice saying the presentation out loud
    • Practice with a room mate/ classmate / family member / friend
    • Go on a walk and talk – encourage students to get outside, and go for a walk – as they walk, they can say their presentation orally out loud. The fresh air and sunshine helps one to relax and reduce anxiety, so it is easier to focus on the talk.
    • Record a practice presentation. Encourage students to find a quiet place to record and to use headphones with a mic to improve quality of the recording.
    • If time allows, build formative practice presentations into the schedule. Have students practice their presentation in small groups and have other group mates give targeted feedback based on content, organization and presentation skills. Provide a checklist of expectations for the others in the group to use to provide specific, targeted feedback to the presenter. Students can watch their performance at home along with their peer’s feedback to identify areas for improvement.


  • If you have assigned oral presentations in your class, review the course outcomes and the content covered in the assignment and determine if a formal oral presentation is necessary. 
  • Think of one alternative you could offer to students who struggle with individual assignments.
  • Annotate your assignment with notes indicating possible modifications you could make to improve the inclusivity and equity of the assignment.



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