A Different Approach to Presentations: Round Robins

I teach academic presentation skills in some of my English language courses in Academic English Studies. These courses focus on academic preparation for higher education and professional skills, so they can be quite intensive. I try to keep the class presentations interesting by using a variety of strategies, from interesting prompts to creative projects that culminate in presentations. My latest attempt is one that I’m particularly fond of because of the language practice involved. We’ll call it the “Round Robin” approach. Much like in a sports tournament, where each participant plays against every other participant, this approach gives each student multiple practice in presenting to all classmates.

Round Robin Presentations

In this approach, students present to a small group of their peers several times. In the AES Program, we teach presentation skills which include how to design a good Powerpoint to accompany a presentation. We also have access to classroom sets of Chromebooks for students to use for their presentations, so this explanation includes students using screens to present, but it is not necessary if it isn’t part of the curriculum.

  1. Set up one laptop in each of the four corners of the room (fewer for smaller classes or shorter class times) and arrange three to four chairs around each laptop.
  2. The first set of presenters stays at their stations to present and the audiences rotate. Each student gives his/her presentation 3-4 times (4-5 when considering the final round).
  3. Once the audience rotation is complete, a new set of students presents, and so on.
  4. For the final round of presentations, group the students who presented  at the same time because they weren’t able to see each other’s presentations. In this final round, the rotation happens within the group. In other words, the audiences don’t rotate, but rather the presenter in each group does. 

Benefits of Round Robin Presentations

The first benefit of round robin presenting is that it reduces the pressure of presenting in front of a large group. I used this approach one summer when my students seemed particularly busy with responsibilities outside of the classroom. I wanted to assign presentations, but I didn’t want to add to their stress.  I also knew from experience that the pressure of a formal presentation, one in which each student stands in front of an entire class of 20 to present, would increase anxiety. However, when I told the students that they would present to a small group several times, it was less daunting to them and their attitudes were generally positive.

Another major benefit is that students repeat their presentations several times to a live audience, so they get a lot of language practice. I always tell students to practice their presentations several times, and with this activity, I can be sure that is happening. Lastly, as mentioned previously, it adds variety to the classroom experience. It’s a nice break from the normal routine. 

Considerations When Planning Round Robin Presentations

Be organized. First, I recommend putting a limit on the length of the presentation. I took this approach to presentations in my class recently, and I gave the students a time frame of 6-8 minutes. The presenters also had to have a discussion question ready in case they finished in 6 minutes. I set the timer at 8 minutes for the audiences to rotate. I allowed 30 seconds of leeway in case someone went a little over 8 minutes. I asked the presenters to wait for my cue before they started talking so that we would all be on the 8-minute rotation schedule. This was something that I needed to have planned out ahead of time based on the number of students in the class and the length of the class. It might be worthwhile to span this activity over two class periods if the class is shorter than two hours.

In addition to being organized with timing, the instructor needs to evaluate each presentation quickly. There isn’t much time, if any, for the instructor to gather his/her thoughts or finish writing notes after each presentation. Therefore, I recommend a detailed rubric with items that can be checked quickly, noting what is satisfactory and what needs extra practice.

There are a few more aspects to consider. It would not work well in a very small classroom because of the noise generated from 3-4 presentations being given at once. However, I found a moderately sized classroom to work fine. The last point of consideration is to let students know ahead of time that they could be evaluated on their first presentation, their last presentation, or anywhere in between. I was worried that students might find this unfair, so I presented this aspect as something that could work in their favor either way. While it seems that the last presentation would be best since the student has had some practice, sometimes the first one is better because of the excitement and adrenaline of giving it for the first time. In the end, the students accepted this unique aspect without concern. 

Do you have a different approach to presentations? Or have you used Round Robin activities in your classes for speaking practice or other skills? If so, we’d love to hear about them. Please share your ideas in the comment section. Here is another useful post on using Oral Presentations to Help English Language Learners Succeed, including resources.