Technology Tip of the Month

Microsoft Word and PowerPoint in the Classroom

by Deborah Healey

This tip has suggestions both for those with a one-computer classroom and for those whose students have access to a lab. It focuses on features of Microsoft Word and PowerPoint, but other productivity tools have similar capabilities. This tip was inspired by a presentation given by Jim Mischler in 2001. It has been updated from the March 2002 Tech Tip.

Tips for using Microsoft Word

Word offers busy teachers a break with its templates. To get to them, select New from the File menu. In Office 97/98, click on the appropriate tab - letters and faxes, other documents, publications, or reports.In Office 2008, click on Project Gallery. Of particular interest are the memo and brochure templates and the letter wizard. You can download more helpful templates at Microsoft's Template Gallery, I am especially fond of the newsletter template. It is not only a formatting tool, but gives helpful advice on doing a newsletter in general. If you have intermediate or beginning students, you'll need to modify the language in the template to be more appropriate. In general, only the Editor in Chief will need to use the template on the computer - the rest of the reporters/authors will give their submissions to the Editor, who will add them to the template to create the newsletter. The process of adding and moving articles around can be done well in a one-computer class with a projector, giving everyone the chance to see and comment on layout.

Adding artwork

Word and PowerPoint have built-in clip art. You can download more online at Microsoft's Design Gallery Live. Note to non-Internet Explorer users - you'll need to use Internet Explorer to save the clip art to Word and PowerPoint correctly. Often more helpful, though, are clip art CD-ROMs. I would strongly suggest getting a clip art collection that comes with a book. It's much easier to page through print looking for something that catches your eye. Of course, there are vast quantities of clip art on the web, as well, but that's a topic for another time.

Other very nifty features

Insert comments
If you have students give you their work in electronic form, you have several additional options. The Insert menu includes Insert Comment. To use this, highlight the word or phrase that you want to comment on, then select Insert -> Comment. You'll have a box at the bottom in which to write your comment, then click Done when you are finished. The text will show a colored highlight (mine is yellow) where there are comments. The student can move a cursor over the text to read the comment, or right-click (hold the mouse button or Control+click on a Macintosh) to edit or delete the comment. Advantages for the teacher: your comments can be as long as you like, and you do not destroy the integrity of the student's text with the comments. You can also edit your comments at will. It is possible to add a recorded comment, but that feature hasn't worked well for me in the past - maybe the latest version of Word fixes the problems.

Track changes
Here is another option that can be very helpful for teachers and peer editors. Track changes lets you have a visual record of changes made to a document. Start by going to the Tools menu and choosing Track Changes -> Highlight changes. Click to put a check mark in the Highlight changes box, which will turn highlighting on. From here until you turn Track changes off, you will see additions in color and underlined, deletions marked in color with strike-throughs, and a mark in the margin showing where changes have occurred. In a one-computer class, this can be used to demonstrate the writer's editing process, using a text supplied by the teacher. When the same document is edited on different computers, the changes show up in different colors. This makes it easy to see who did what in a document. The next step is to select Accept or reject changes from the Tools -> Track changes menu. The user can decide with each change whether to accept or reject it. With each decision, the highlighting disappears.

Track changes can be combined with Insert comments in process writing so that students can show the teacher how they responded to comments. The student could turn Track changes on, make the changes, and print out the marked copy. The student can then go through and clean up the text, print the cleaned up version, and hand in both copies.

If you're using both Track changes and Insert comments, watch out - you need to turn Track changes off before you'll be able to delete a comment.

AutoSummarize menu optionsThis is a tool teachers should know about, since their students probably do. Open a document, then select AutoSummarize from the Tools menu. You'll see options to show the summary within the document ("highlight key points"), put the summary at the head of the document, create a separate document with the summary, or hide the document except for the summary. To show students about summarizing in a one-computer class, it's helpful to choose "highlight key points" and go through them, having students decide whether they would have made the same choice as the computer did. If you create a separate document, it's easier to compare the two print documents in a small group or individual setting. As mentioned above, it's good for us as teachers to know about this option, since our students are probably using it to write their summaries.

Tips for using Microsoft PowerPoint

Like Microsoft Word, PowerPoint has some built-in templates. The templates are what provide utility for busy teachers. The Auto Content Wizard gives template choices, or users can select the templates from the File -> New menu. (The Wizard is easier.) For teacher presentations, I find the Training template most useful. For student speeches, I'd suggest using the generic, recommending, reporting, or selling templates, depending on the type of speech.

Why are these helpful? I've noticed that I can tell students repeatedly about the elements of a good presentation, including organizational schemes. They may or may not listen. The template provides them with an outline that gives the same recommendations, and they follow them. In addition to being better organized, PowerPoint shows are a lot more readable. It's hard to force PowerPoint to use type that is too small to read.

I am no Microsoft fan, but I do like finding something that makes my job easier. These built-in aids to products most of us have on our desktops can make teaching writing and speaking a little bit better. This is why we use computers, right?

Please feel free to email me with questions and comments -- and suggestions for other tech tips -- at dhealey at uoregon dot edu.

Happy emailing!
Last updated 6 May 2009 by D. Healey, dhealey at uoregon dot edu