Students Thrive in Group Presentations

Students Thrive in Group Presentations

We have all heard it said that public speaking — standing up in front of a crowd and saying something coherent — is one of the most stressful situations a person can face. Just imagine the many possibilities for embarrassment. Yet in my community college classes, I am always amazed at what a good job almost all of my students do when I assign group presentations.

I usually break up the class into groups of four students each. Sometimes they present certain chapters of an assigned book. Since everyone in the room is supposed to have read the material, the presenters concentrate on explication and elucidation rather than summary. I encourage them to analyze their favorite passages and explore character development and symbolism if the work is fiction, stress the arguments most surprising and relevant to them if nonfiction, and make connections to other books or films within their purview. But I let them decide what to talk about instead of assigning specific topics or focal points.

On other occasions, I tell every group to choose a book from a list of “outside reading,” usually nonfiction, that I provide. This time, summary is in order since the rest of the class will not have read the work, but it is nowhere near enough. Here too I let them decide how to dole out the duty: One might cover the main issues raised, while another provides information about the author. The third might discuss the book’s critical reception, and the fourth the book’s overall value. Finally, I want them all to give their personal reactions to what the author has to say.

Each student must present something verbally. There are no silent partners in this enterprise. And I grade the students individually. This encourages all of them to pull their own weight. No one can get away with riding the coattails of the others or hiding in the background. Sure, some of them are pretty nervous standing up in front of the class. There is always a bit of stammering, and a few even shake a little, but they get through it and come out the other side with a sense of accomplishment.