My Top 5 (Free) Apps for Engaging Student Presentations


I think that we have all sat through a seemingly unending sequence of one after another mundane and, really and truthfully, painful presentations by students who nervously stammer through the reading of PowerPoint slides with content that they copied from the internet, with no comprehension or even the ability to correctly pronounce the words… and the thought crosses our minds that there are fates worse than death.

If this describes your experience with student presentations, there is help on the way. While there are countless apps that can be used to create some truly engaging presentations, below are five of my favorite.

Sock Puppets

Sock Puppets

I have to start this one with full disclosure, I was originally not a fan, in fact, I was a little creeped out by the sock puppets at first. I do have to say, however, that they have grown on me over the years.

With sock puppets, students pick from a handful of avatars, all of which are, literally, sock puppets. They can then pick from some backgrounds and props and record themselves explaining a concept, re-enacting a scene, or demonstrating a skill. It is super easy to use and creates an engaging product with which students can really show what they know in a way that is more engaging and more apt to really allow the students to show their knowledge and skills than nervously standing in front of the class would.

toontastic 3d

Toontastic 3D

I have to say that this app is the favorite in my household, especially with my little guys. If a four-year-old can figure out how to use this on his own, then your students can too. With that said, I really don’t think that this app is just for the primary grades, or even just for elementary school. Your middle school and high school students will enjoy using it too. 

In Toontastic’s second rendition, this time in 3D, students get to create a video that stars any of a number of avatars, including historical figures, that are sure to catch kids’ attention. They can select from a number of canned backgrounds for settings, many of which have interactive elements such as doors that move and animals that ———— and other elements to help the students tell their story. Students then have the ability to record themselves speaking as they move the characters. As a bonus, the characters all have multiple animations that they activate as they move them in different ways.

This app is ideal for those assignments when you want students to re-create a portion of a story that they have read, tell an original narrative, envision a scenario, or relate an event from history. And you’ll get a kick out of what they create too!

haiku deck

Haiku Deck is one of my favorite tools to create presentations and one that I especially love to see students using as well, and here’s why.

I think that the problem with boring presentations from the beginning of time has been the ability for presenters to put massive blobs of text on the screen and then just read the text to the audience. (This pretty much describes much of my undergraduate experience.) Just for giggles, you should read one of my favorite editorials, Julie Keller’s “Killing Me Microsoftly.” I know that you will be able to relate!

Anyhow, Haiku Deck forces students (and teachers) to rely on images rather than text in the presentation. This is powerful for a couple of reasons. First, we have emotional reactions to images; when strong images are used, those emotions create associations in the brain that help with the retention of what is being said, and, here’s our favorite side-effect, engagement increases. Moreover, since the text is not up on the screen, it forces the student (or teacher) that is presenting to naturally face the class instead of the screen and talk to the class rather than read something that the class could most likely read anyway. This means that the student must know the material (and isn’t this what we want anyway?). There is a crutch, however, as the presenter is holding the iPad, he can see presenter notes for reference which do not show up on the projector screen. I’ve even used this myself when giving a presentation for the first time to a large group of professionals.

Doceri will change your life as a teacher, and here is why. What Doceri does is allow students to demonstrate a process just as they would if they were sitting down in front of you on a 1:1 basis. It is a whiteboard app, meaning that they can write or draw directly on the white board and record themselves speaking as they explain what they know or demonstrate what they can do. Doceri also has the ability to import video and images to for use in the demonstration.

There is an upsell with Doceri that you may use if you don’t have a Mac computer with AirServer (or other software or that allows you to display what is on the iPad, such as an Apple TV connected to your presenter, you (or students) can use Doceri Desktop to stream the presentation, lived, from the iPad to the computer. As for me, I use and love AirServer (only $7.99-11.99 for a license, and I am not an affiliate/do not get a commission for this).

adobe spark video

Adobe Spark Video

Ok, I lied. This really is my #1 app. I absolutely love Adobe Spark Video (formerly known as Adobe Voice) and I think that it is the perfect app for students to really be able to explain what they know in an efficient manner.

In a nutshell, this relies heavily on images (icons really) or very, very limited text, and the students just get to speak into the presentation, slide-by-slide, recording each slide separately (and as many times as they need to in order to get it right). This is ideal for those quiet, shy, insecure students who would rather fail an assignment than stand in front of the class and speak. After all, what’s scary about speaking to a personal device… absolutely nothing. Another cool thing about Adobe Spark Video is that there is also a web app that can be used from any device and whatever is done on the iPad will be available on the web app, and vice-versa.

Even more importantly, this app is so simple to use, without being simplistic, that even kindergarteners can use it, yet it doesn’t seem childish so that the high schoolers would want to avoid it (as they might with Toontastic or Sock Puppets). When I first tried it out, I was doing it with my four-year-old to help him learn his alphabet. Before we were a quarter of the way through the alphabet, he was pushing my hands aside so that he could do it himself. One of the favorite ways that I have seen this done with students was in a Kinder class where they took pictures of different items that were in their classroom, like clocks, desks, etc… to explain the different shapes that they were learning. The teacher then posted the video online – the parents loved it!

For more ideas with using Adobe Spark Video, see my YouTube video.

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