Creating and Using PowerPoints

Meg Gorzycki, Ed.D.

Projections and Purpose

 PowerPoints can be used to:

  1. Deliver new and review prior knowledge
  2. Administer formative assessments of student understanding
  3. Administer summative assessments of student understanding

PowerPoints are highly effective when they (Bartsch & Cobern, 2003):

  1. Are clearly linked to course objectives and student outcomes
  2. Are designed to be read or viewed with ease

This tutorial provides readers with:


A Table of  Helpful and Problematic Characteristics of PowerPoint Slides

Post directions or lesson outcomes
Items bulleted and brief; provides summary of steps in a process or goals for a lesson
Large number of items; lengthy descriptions; tangential information
Post questions or prompt for class activity
Items briefly stated and limited; posted for duration of exercise for reference; this may include a quotation to which students must respond or a graph they must interpret
Items described with dense and/ or confusing text; posted in a way only briefly visible; purpose of exercise may not be clear or relevant to lesson
Projects an image, graph, table, or chart as a center-piece of discussion; capable of illuminating comparisons and contrasts
Image or text is too small or unclear to read; the graphic illustration of data is outdated or inaccurate
Summarize and Review
Captures key points in brief text; material in outline format allows reader to quickly see relationships between items
Contains too many points and “drills too deep” in the outline; difficult to read; text is too dense for bullet point


Suggestions for building PowerPoint presentations:

  1. Identify the purpose of the presentation and how it articulates specific course outcomes
  2. Narrow the key points of the presentation down to only a few; if there are multiple aspects of a topic that must be addressed, consider creating two or more separate presentations; the goal is to allow time for students to reflect upon and discuss a few salient points at a time
  3. Use each slide as a frame for presentation and discussion rather than the verbatim text of a lecture
  4. Create a cover slide that announces the title, class, date, and instructor
  5. Aim for a maximum of 8-12 slides for a presentation; even when the topic might call for dozens of slides, as in the case of exploring art history; the information is more manageable and more likely to be recalled if it is "chunked" or organized into discrete segements
  6. Use titles and subtitles to reinforce the organization or taxonomy of information
  7. Use text sparingly and use bullet points to represent multiple items embodied in statements, and address one bullet at a time to sustain students’ attention on a single point while it is discussed
  8. Give quotations from sources their own slide as to sustain students’ focus while the idea is discussed and avoid distraction
  9. Pause during the presentation to see whether students have questions or want to explore matters more deeply
  10. Use graphs, tables, and other illustrations only if they can be read at a distance and are germane to the skill or knowledge central to the lesson
  11. Avoid loud colors and background patterns so text and images are easy on the eyes
  12. Provide scholarly references for data and information as to model professional ethics


Slide Samples and Decisions Regarding Content and Style

Examine the slide and then consider the questions that follow.

Slide 1: Prices of Selected Items In the U.S., 1940-2010

Line graph showing prices of historical selected items in the U.S.


Decisions to make about content:

  1. Does it matter that some data goes back to 1940 and others do not?
  2. Does it matter that the data mixes the price of gas and prepared food (hamburgers) with the price of non-prepared food such as milk and eggs?
  3. If the purpose of the PowerPoint is to help students understand the rising cost of feeding a family over the course of time, the fact that some data goes back only to 1980 might matter. If the purpose of the presentation is to address how the cost of energy may have impacted the cost of food over time, another design might be in order.

Decisions to make about style:

  1. Is the slide design appealing?
  2. Are the forms distinct?
  3. Can the text be easily read? 
  4. Are the colors easy on the eyes?


Slide 2: Romanticsm vs. Impressionism

John Constable. The Cornfield, 1826         Claude Monet, Lanscape at Vetheuil, 1880

John Constable's paintng The Cornfield, 1826    

Claude Monet's painint Landscape ot Vetheuil, 1880


Decisions to make about content:

  1. Does the slide serve the purpose of the presentation?
  2. If the slide is intended to facilitate an introduction to the similarities and differences between two artistic movements, the slide may be appropirate.
  3. Is the slide intended to facilitate a formative or summative assessment of student understanding  by prompting students to respond to what they see and if so should the slide contain directions?

Decisions to make regarding style:

  1. Is the slide appealing?
  2. Are the images clear enough to illustrate the points that are essential to the lesson?

Slide Three: Understanding Tables (with Fictious Data)

100% Table: Bookstore Sales

Items Organization
Type Non-profit For-profit Total
Music 3% 7% 10%
Books 23% 37% 60%
Journals & Magazine 2% 8% 10%
Miscellaneous 12% 8% 20%
Total 40% 60% 100%

Control Table: High School Athletic Injuries

Sex & Type 1970 1990 2010
Male Total 67.8 72.4 81.5
Head 35.4 49.7 43.8
Back 12.1 11.14 25.5
Appendage 20.3 11.3 12.2
Female Total 18.7 25.6 31.4
Head 5.3 7.1 8.7
Back 2.6 5.4 7.8
Appendage 10.8 13.1 14.9

Decisions to make regarding content:

  1. Does the slide serve the purpose of the presentation?
  2. If the slide is intended to illustrate two of the many types of tables or to help students understand the differences between a control table and a 100% table, the slide may be appropriate.
  3. The slide may also be helpful in teaching students something about the concept of "100%" in statistical lexicon and how to represent parts of a whole population.
  4. As a stand alone, a table my be useful visual aid in a discusison about a specific behavior, such as high school athletic injuries, wherein students might be directed to explain the trends that appear and speculate as to what accounts for the variations in data.

Decisions to make regarding style:

  1. Is the slide appealing?
  2. Is the table legible?
  3. Are the images best laid side-by-side or stacked atop each other?


Slide 4: Supporting a Narrative

                                                      1960 Presdiential Election

Picture of Richard Nixon debating John F. Kennedy
  • Kennedy overcame party favorites Johnson and Humphrey
  • Nixon party favorite as Eisenhower's Vice-President
  • Cold War posturing vital to both parties
  • Kennedy's Catholcism an issue
  • First televised debate
  • Nixon campaign spent 10.1 million; Kennedy campaing spent 9.7 million


Decisions to make regarding content:

  1. Does the slide suit the purpose of the presentaiton. The context of the presention is vital to assessing the quality of this slide.
  2. If the central topic of the presentation is the presidential election of 1960, the slide may be a helpful for an introduction.
  3. If the central topic is the U.S. presidency during the 1960s or Cold War, it is probably not right for an introduction, but may be used to provide an overview of the 1960 election.
  4. If the slide is part of a lesson exploring the power of media, the bullets may not sufficiently address discrete aspects of the media's role in the 1960 election.

Decisions to make regarding style:

  1. Does the slide have appeal?
  2. Is the text legible?
  3. Is the information too dense?
  4. Does the picture correspond with the points?

Self-Guided Crtique of Sample PowerPoint Presentation

To improve your sensativity to composition and organization of PowerPoints, view the show, The Cold War and Civil Liberties and then answer the questions that appear below and compare your thoughts with commentary in Critiquing the Show.

The Cold War and Civil Liberties Questionnaire

  1. Is the objective of the presentation evident and does every slide directly articulate  that objecitve?
  2. Is the presentation organized effectively? Is the length appropriate? Are slides sequenced logically?
  3. Which slides are examplary in composition? Which slides need revision? What kinds of revision?
  4. Imagine seeing this presentation as a student who knows very little about history; what problems might the presentation present and how might they be overcome?
  5. Imagine you are the instructor; can you identify 2 or 3 ways in which you might follow up on a presentation such as this to see that students learned what you wanted them to learn?


Bartsch, R. A., & Cobern, K. M. (2003). Effectiveness of PowerPoint presentations in lectures. Computers & Education, 41(1), 77-86.

Purdue Owl. Designing an Effective PowerPoint Presentation: Quick Guide.

Thomas, Jon.  20 Best PowerPoint presentation Design Posts for 2013.  Presentation Advisors. (Lots of helpful links)

Tufte, Edward R. (2001). The visual display of quantitative information. Cheshire, CT: Graphics Press.

Wempen, Faithe. (2013). PowerPoint 2013 Bible. san Francisco, CA. Wiley.