by Chris Elvin

Presentations are a part of many peoples' lives, in college and at work, but making them is a task that few would say they enjoy doing. In language classes, learners under stress do not acquire language as well as those who are relaxed (see Krashen 1981), so with this thought in mind I decided to see if I could reduce the debilitating stress that affects so many and allow my students to make presentations in small groups, rather than have them speak in front of class. The first part of this article looks at how to conduct group presentations. The second part investigates students' attitudes toward making presentations, and compares students who made group presentations to students who made individual presentations.

Part 1 - How to do group presentations


Ten minutes before the end of a lesson, I proposed the idea of making group poster presentations about countries for their end-of-term speaking assessment, and this was warmly received. As a class, we brainstormed topics that one could talk about related to countries on the chalkboard, and then students got into their groups and chose their countries.
One small problem with group work, is that it may not be necessary for students to participate equally. Kluge (1990) states, that in order for group work to be successful, assignments must be open-ended, and the task must be such that a group, rather than only an individual is required to accomplish it.
I found that the best way to make sure that everyone participated equally was to ask each person in the group to talk about one or two topics from the list that the class had brainstormed.
It took two fifty-minute periods for students to research, translate, write, edit and prepare their presentations, including time for artwork and practice, and one lesson for the groups to give their presentations. Many had borrowed books and magazines from the library and home, and others had used the Internet to search for interesting material. My role during these two lessons was to make sure that things were going smoothly, and to help with grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation when appropriate.


Students had ample time to practice, not only during the two warm-up lessons, but also during the presentation lesson itself: Each student would speak between three and five times in her group, depending on the class.
The desks were pushed against the walls to allow students to move around the class more easily. In order to maximise speaking time, I had three presentations conducted simultaneously.
There were six groups of students, A, B, C, D, E and F. In three corners of the classroom, three groups gave their six-minute presentation while the other three groups listened; A spoke to D, B to E and C to F( stage 1). When these groups were finished, the listeners became the speakers, and the speakers became the listeners (stage 2). After this, groups D, E and F were asked to move to a new group (stage 3). When this was finished, the roles were reversed again. This was repeated once more, so that each group could speak and listen to three other groups.

Stage 1 - outer groups speaking, inner groups listening

Stage 2 - reverse roles

Stage 3 - change groups

Stage 4 - reverse roles etc.

Extension activity

If there is time, make two large groups; one of groups A, B and C, and the other of D, E and F. Within these larger groups, students can give two more presentations to groups who have not yet listened to their speeches. Hopefully they will be able to improve their presentations even further, as well as listen to more intersting speeches.

Grading and Feedback

According to Shohamy (1995), the performance assessment has three requirements; students are required to perform some kind of task, the tasks must be as authentic as possible, and qualified raters typically score the performances.
Feedback is very important in achievement testing, such as end-of-term tests. Students want to know how well they did, and whenever possible, feedback should be couched in terms more meaningful than a single score, by, for example, reporting sub-scores, so that feedback can become an integral part of the learning process (see Brown, 1996).
I graded my students on how well their poster conveyed information, how the message was put across, and how varied and interesting the language was. The subcategories for these three criteria included design and layout of the poster, speech clarity, audibility and speed for message delivery, and grammar and vocabulary choice for language use. I made my marking system transparent to my students beforehand, deciding that all students in the same group would get the same score. This, in part, was because it was difficult to ascertain individual contributions with some of the work being done at home, and also in part to engender cooperation and team spirit; Students in groups naturally play to their strengths in order to maximise their group score. In other words, they try to achieve a high group IQ (see Goleman, 1995).
Students in my classes were given their group scores and sub-scores immediately after their presentations had finished. I was a little concerned that perhaps my marking system could be viewed as unfair, so I decided to find out by including it in the questionnaire.

Part 2 - A comparison between students who make group presentations to students who make class presentations

Research Question

There is no difference in attitude between students who make group presentations in front of groups to students who make individual presentations in front of class.


All of the junior three students of Caritas Gakuen who participated in the speaking test, and were not absent on the day of the survey were given a questionnaire in Japanese to complete (copies available on request). There were five intact classes of students who gave group presentations as groups in front of groups (N=99) and five intact classes of students who gave individual presentations in front of classes (N=92), Total N=191.

Statistical Procedure

A 2-by-3 chi-squared analysis (2 student arrangements, 3 possible answer responses) for each of the ten questions on the survey was calculated using Microsoft Excel.


Table 1: Survey results of student attitudes toward making presentations - small groups versus whole classes

Small Groups

Whole Classes







Do you think your English improved?







Was it fun?







Are you now confident of speaking English in front of...
a) a group?






b) your class?






c) a large audience?







Do you want to do this kind of activity again?







Did you have sufficient time to prepare?







Were the other presentations interesting?







Did you think the scoring system was fair?







Which is better, speaking in front of a large audience straight away, or practicing in small groups first?

straight away

practice first

Small Group - Whole Class





Table 2: Chi-squared analysis of student attitudes toward making presentations - small groups versus whole classes

Do you think your English improved? 4.31

Was it fun? 7.02 *

Are you now confident of speaking English in front of...
a) a group? 7.77 *
b) your class? 3.13
c) a large audience? 1.43

Do you want to do this kind of activity again? 16.01 *

Did you have sufficient time to prepare? 4.99

Were the other presentations interesting? 4.81

Did you think the scoring system was fair? 44.94 *

Which is better, speaking in front of a large audience straight away, or practicing in small groups first? 9.85 *
df = 2, *p < 0.05


Five of the questions produced statistically significant differences between the two types of classes (see tables 1 and 2), and I would like to discuss these further:

Question 2 - Was it fun?

Many students who made class presentations reported dissatisfaction with their performance because of nervousness. Some students who made group presentations also reported feeling nervous in front of the other groups, but this did not appear to be as debilitating as in the class presentations.
Brown (1984) states that in tasks where speakers are largely successful in meeting a particular task demand, then repeated practice may enable them to improve further their performance in this respect, and indeed may be a pleasant and motivating experience.
I believe that my students had more fun because they were generally less stressed, and because they had time to practice and improve.

Question 3a - Are you now confident of speaking English in front of a group?

More students who made group presentations felt that they are now confident of speaking in front of a group than students who presented in front of a class feel about presenting in front of a group. This is perhaps understandable, given that they had had the opportunity to find out, but the tendency is for group presentation students to feel more confident in any situation, including giving class presentations, although the difference in these other cases is not statistically significant. Anecdotal evidence suggests that some students who gave group presentations managed to iron out their problems with practice. Some students who gave class presentations report letting themselves down so much that they don't want to speak to others in any situation. In other words, some group presentation students gained confidence while some individual presentation students lost confidence, and this was enough to make a significant difference.

Question 4 - Do you want to do this kind of activity again?

The task was not exactly the same for each class, so we cannot say for sure whether it is the student arrangement, or the nature of the task that made one class more eager to do the activity again than the other. (My partner chose to do introductions, and asked each student to introduce a favorite person, pet or possession to the class, and to talk for about one minute. He also modeled it and provided students with a structure.)
I think my students enjoyed having a free reign to choose their partners, countries, topics and language, and also found the task challenging. They also appeared to enjoy working in groups. For a fairer and more interpretable comparison between groups and individuals, however, we would need to keep the task identical.

Question 7 - Did you think that the scoring system was fair?

There was a big difference but the result was an anomaly. I had originally asked this question because I felt that some students would perceive a group score to be unfair. This turned out not to be the case, with only two students objecting in my classes; one is very bright and independent and would have preferred an individual score, and one had to ad lib on behalf of two of her absent friends. The discrepancy probably arose because my colleague was not transparent with his students about his scoring system. Consequently it is impossible to make a fair comparison of students' opinions for this question.

Question 8 - Which is better, speaking in front of a large audience straight away, or practicing in small groups first?

Five times as many students who made presentations in front of class believe that speaking in front of a large audience straight away is better than practicing in small groups first. The groups differ largely because of these students. Perhaps this is just a realistic attitude of those who have had a degree of experience speaking in front of an audience, or it may be that some students discovered that an element of stress was facilitive to a good performance. However, of the fifteen students who believed that speaking in front of a large audience was the best approach, only six of them felt that they were confident themselves to do so. With so many students who made presentations in front of class reporting that nerves contributed to their underperformance, this would appear to be a Pyrric victory for the jump-in-at-the-deep-end advocates. The vast majority of students in either situation felt that talking in groups first was the better approach, but it was the minority of outliers who caused the groups to be different.


The purpose of this action research was purely personal; to investigate student attitudes about making presentations in order to understand my students' needs, which in turn would help in planning presentations for the future. The results were interesting for me, but one cannot generalize too much about these findings. Firstly, my colleague and I did not do exactly the same presentation, so we didn't control for content. Consequently, one cannot say for sure to what extent the subject matter affected student choices.
Secondly, the statistical analysis is somewhat flawed, because I gave myself multiple attempts to reject the null hypothesis in the same paper, yet kept the alpha level at 0.5.
If the two groups had shown a difference for only one question, I may have felt sceptical that this was due to chance alone (ten spins of the researcher's roulette wheel and you have a fifty-fifty chance that lucky number 20 will come up once). But the fact that there were four out of nine differences (one question was invalid) suggests that these differences are probably real and not due to chance alone.


Most junior three students in my school enjoy presentations regardless of class arrangement, but students in groups get more practice, have more fun, are more motivated to do presentations again, and are more confident of speaking in front of other groups. Group students and whole class students also differ about which is the best way to prepare for a presentation in front of a large audience, but this difference appears more difficult to explain than the other differences.


So you had your students play with colored pens for two lessons, did you?

Yes. I was concerned that it might not have been a good idea. Although students occasionally do draw in class, this was the first time that their drawing was not directly related to an aural exercise. I thought that students worked very hard in these two warm-up lessons and discussed many things while they were working on their posters. Visual aids help support a presentation and they are good at keeping students' attention during a presentation. Students took pride in their posters, and it was good to meet and acknowledge the artists, particularly those who are not particularly known for their strength in English.

You're making it too easy! School is not about being easy. I had to stand up in front of class at school, and I survived. Why are your students being pussyfooted around?

Some students find the stresses and strains of school life almost unbearable. If I can find an effective and efficient way to get students to learn, which is also fun, I'll choose the fun way.

Group work is noisy!

But it's group work.
Group work is essential to any classroom that is based on principals of experiential learning. Through group work, learners develop the ability to communicate through tasks that require them, within the classroom, to approximate the kinds of things they will need to be able to communicate in the world beyond the classroom (Nunan, 1999).
My only reservation about doing group work in Japanese schools is that in an environment where teachers traditionally transmit knowledge to passive learners for most of the time, this kind of approach may lack face validity. Face validity may be meaningless, but ignore it at your peril!

Would this work for other students, too?

I don't know. Handing out blank sheets of card and asking your students to get on with things may well be a disaster if your mind is just as blank as the cards, but if you know your students capabilities and have faith in them, and you balance this kind of lesson with a variety of structured and teacher-centered lessons, then why not?

But you didn't teach them anything!

Ellis (1988) states that learners are more likely to acquire a second language when they have a choice of what is said, and when they have uninhibited practice. Therefore, I didn't restrict students on their choice of language, nor provide a framework. We did study a little about countries in the last unit of my textbook, Now You're Talking (Elvin, 1998), and this provided the structure for getting some students started, but there was no penalty for not choosing to use that language. The important thing is to help those who need it, and let the rest get on with things by themselves.
I think that there are times when teachers should stop teaching so that learners can start learning.

The final word (translated)

"At first, I thought it was going to be impossible, and that the other groups wouldn't be able to understand us. Actually, researching was fun, as was preparing our presentations and speaking to the other groups. I was also surprised at how much the others could understand us, so it was a lot of fun. If we get another chance, I'd like to do this again."

Yumi Fujita 3233

"I was very nervous speaking in front of the other groups, but I think it was a great learning experience for me. Deciding on what to say was also very difficult, but I think we were quite pleased with ourselves in the end."

Sayaka Matsuda 3236

"For us to investigate all by ourselves and then present to the others was a completely new kind of lesson to me, and also really interesting."

Yuki Terakawa 3330

"At first I thought, 'as if we could do such a thing?', I had absolutely no confidence whatsoever. But every time we made our presentation it became more and more fun!"

Yurie Hatanaka 3334


Brown, J.D. (1996). Testing in language programs. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall
Brown, G., Anderson, R., Shillock, and G. Yule. (1984). Teaching Talk: Strategies for Production and Assessment. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Ellis, R. (1988). Classroom Second Language Development. London: Prentice-Hall.
Elvin, C. (1998). Now You're Talking. Okegawa city, Japan: EFL Press.
Goleman, D. Emotional Intelligence. New York: Bantam
Kluge, L. (1990). Cooperataive learning. Arlington VA: Education Research Service.
Krashen, S. (1981). Second Language Acquisition and Second Language Learning. Oxford: Pergamon.
Nunan, D. (1999). Second Language Teaching & Learning. Boston: Heinle & Heinle. p. 84.
Shohamy, E. (1992). Performance assessment in language testing. Annual Review of Applied Linguistics, 15, 188-211.

By the way, I will be making a commercial presentation at the JALT 2002 conference in Shizuoka this year to promote my textbook, Now You're Talking. Please come along to learn about extension activities that I have developed and found useful in enhancing the book's goals. Most, if not all, of the activities that I will present can be used with other textbooks and teaching situations, so please don't feel under any obligation whatsoever to take an interest in my book. Attendees will be invited to sign up for PDF files of worksheets that they would like to use, which I will forward after the conference is over. Hope to see you there!

Appendix - The students' artwork

Chris Elvin has a Master's degree in TESOL from Temple University, Japan. He is the author of Now You're Talking, published by EFL Press, and the owner and webmaster of EFL Club, a children's language learning website.

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