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October 2021 - Year 23 - Issue 5

ISSN 1755-9715

Poster Presentation in the Language Classroom

Ian Robinson is a lecturer and researcher at the university of Calabria in Italy. He has written and presented on various subjects over the years including creativity in teaching, presentation skills, CLIL and test writing.



A difficulty that many of us encounter in the classroom is getting students to interact in meaningful ways in the second language. In addition to this, in the world of EFL at university level, teachers are being asked to do many things, for example, there is the need to teach the language while at the same time helping learners grow and become more functional human beings. Often this involves teaching twenty-first century soft skills that will prepare the students for their lives outside of the language classroom. And of course, these can be combined during the course in specific activities. One way to meet this challenge is to involve the students in poster presentations.

Posters have a long history of being used to disseminate information and of arousing curiosity in others. Although now we seem to be dominated by the almost unceasing demand to be technological and use the technological tools that are available to us, it can also be useful to go analogue and return to paper. Paper posters are a good way to present information away from a computer screen and have advantages over the more “modern” style of presentations. One such advantage is that once the poster has been created it does not need any reliance on technology to work. We can use these traits in the classroom.

This article refers to a project which requires university students to prepare posters on a topic that they are interested in, congruent with their degree course where possible, and to present the information to other students who are taking part in what I like to call a “poster fair”.


The project

The students involved in this project belonged to two Master level degree courses at a university in the south of Italy. One course was Social Work and Social Policy, while the other course was Sociology and Social Research, and for the purposes of this module the two courses were taught together. By the end of the course they were expected to reach an upper B1 level. Another aim of the course was to learn how to create and present a poster in English. During the course the students were introduced to ideas about how to create an effective poster. A lot of the information from this came from the work of Reynolds (2008, 20010, 2011), Duarte (2008, 2010) and Atkinson (2008). These works predominantly looked at how to produce effective presentation slides for a computer-based presentation, but many of the ideas easily translate to poster design and presentation as well. One of the main points to take away is the use of space. Similar to a computer slide presentation, the poster should not be filled with words, but it should be mainly key words or phrases with images or graphs to aid the presentation. The idea is that the presentation is an oral presentation with the visuals as a means of captivating attention to main salient points. The presentation is mainly oral and for these posters the creator of the poster would be by the side of his or her creation to present and explain. There are times that a poster has to be a stand-alone object that contains all of the information in an accessible and captivating manner and this might be the case for some conference posters that are left in a room and people have to read them to find the content. However, in this project the poster is an aid to the presentation.

The students were asked to prepare a poster at least twice the size of an A4 sheet of paper, but no upper limit of size was imposed. It is important that the posters are big enough to be seen from a distance and that there is enough space to give some information and include some images. In some conferences, there are posters of over a meter in size. However, the students were not asked for this size as this would have meant much more work and much more expense for the students (as well as needing more space for the exposition). They were asked to present on a topic that they knew about, but not one that had come directly from a text book. This point came out clearly as in an earlier project conducted by the author, students had not been given this guideline and lots of the presentations were repetitive and taken almost straight from text books. By presenting on a topic that they had personal experience of, or for which they had done personal research, meant that it was hoped that presenters would be more motivated to present and the audience more motivated to interact. Motivation is, as we all know, a very important factor in an EFL classroom. If we can tap into the students’ motivation then a lot of the work becomes much easier and this can be achieved by also tapping into student creativity.

The students were also introduced to language forms that can be useful during presentations. The presentation skills were intermingled with the ESP lessons over the course of the term. Students were encouraged to think about the presentation from an early part of the English course even though the presentations would be at the end of it. They had to provide a provisory title at about half way through the term. This was done so as to avoid last minute poster presentations the night before the presentation.

The presentations took place in a “poster fair”. This was a two-hour long lesson dedicated to the posters. During the poster fair the class was divided into two groups; A and B. Half of the students, group A, put up their posters on the walls around the classroom. They were asked to give as much space as possible between one poster and the next, although given the gregarious nature of the people involved this did not always happen. The other half of the students, group B, would then freely move around the classroom to see the posters and interact with the presenters. This is a very noisy activity and I was helped by the fact that the classroom we were using was some distance from the next classroom and so we were not at risk of disturbing another teacher’s lesson. Noise is a good part of a language lesson, when it is constructive noise, as it implies that the learners are actively involved in the communication and are using the target language. The moving students, group B, were asked to interact with as many presenters as possible and were given a questionnaire to complete. The first question asked “How many posters did you see?” and the second one gave them the space to “Write the titles of five posters that you saw”, and other questions followed which will appear later in this article. This, as well as being a means of gathering information for the project, was a form of encouragement as it stimulated the students to see at least five posters and more if possible. We had a two-hour lesson, which meant that, after the time necessary to get organised and put up posters, the group had about 40 minutes for this part of the poster fair. After this time had elapsed, the first group took down their posters and the two groups swapped roles with the new posters up on the walls. At the end of the session the students were all given a second questionnaire which was used to collect information about the poster design and elicit the feelings of the students regarding the experience.


Results and discussion

41 students came from the degree course of Social Work and Social Policy, 5 were studying Sociology and there was one Erasmus student. For the topic of their poster the majority (24) used information from their undergraduate dissertation, 7 used their placement training experience, 6 reported on their experience as volunteers in the social field and 9 had other personal academic interest in what they presented. In this section I will usually only report on answers that were given by two or more students, individual responses may be interesting but cannot be seen as indicative of shared feelings or thoughts.

The amount of time taken to prepare the posters can be seen in Graph 1. One student interestingly broke down the time into two different parts: time taken to think about it and time taken to create the poster, and more time was taken in the former than in the latter.

Graph One: Time employed to prepare the posters.

The graph clearly shows that, although a few students took more than three hours to prepare their posters, the majority of students took between half-an-hour and two hours to prepare theirs.

2 students reported that they handwrote the poster, 3 did not answer this question, one student handwrote and printed while all the rest printed out their posters. 32 students used a mixture of graphics (this could include graphs, maps, photographs, computer images and hand-drawn images), 12 used only one type, while only one reported not using any form of graphic representation in the poster (one person did not reply to this).

The titles of the posters reflect the range of interests among the students. Here I can give just a few examples: Civil unions; Unaccompanied foreign minors in Italy; Gender based violence in Vietnam; Recognition of the dignity of the mentally ill; Violence against women; Drug addiction – life in a community; Pet therapy; Youth subcultures. Even just reading the titles it is probably possible to guess the degree courses of the students.

The questionnaire also included 15 statements that the students had to grade on a Likert scale of 1-5 (with 1 as totally disagree and 5 totally agree). The two questionnaires follow Dörnyei and Taguchi’s (2010) suggestions and use some negative comments as this helps avoid superficial responses where the respondent replies 4 to everything, for example. The scores for these negatively worded items are reversed in the following table so that the comment “I did not like this experience” had an average reply of 1.1, but reversed to show a positive comment “I liked this experience” it results as a 4.9. In Table One the negatively worded comments have been made positive and the averaged result reversed accordingly.

The questionnaires were deliberately kept as short as possible to try to have as high a rate of completed questionnaires as possible.


Average answer

The poster was easy to prepare.


It was a useful experience for me.    


I enjoyed preparing the poster.


It was difficult for me to talk to my colleagues about my poster


I was anxious before doing my presentation.           


I was anxious while doing my presentation.


I was anxious after doing my presentation.


I enjoyed seeing other people’s posters.


The poster session was too short.     


I would have appreciated more help/guidance in preparing my poster.


This is a good way to learn English.


I am content with my poster.


I liked my presentation(s) of my poster.      


This is a good way to encourage students to speak English.


I liked this experience.


Table One: Students’ elicited responses concerning the poster experience

From the results in the table it seems that overall this was considered a useful and enjoyable experience. The level of difficulty that the students experienced in preparing the posters does not seem to have been excessive (3.4) and was felt to have been more enjoyable than difficult. The open question “What was the most difficult part of this experience (if any) for you?” seems to confirm this as 7 students replied that they did not have any problems. For 11 students the problem lay in choosing what material to include. As a lot of the students used material from the dissertation they had written to complete their first degree they had a lot of information at hand and would have needed to radically cut this down to fit it onto a poster. The same is true for the information taken from personal experience. Finding the “right information” and finding “images” were also noted as creating problems, but only by very few students (4 and 3 respectively).

The amount of guidance given during the lessons on how to prepare a poster would appear to have been gauged well as was the amount of time dedicated to the poster session. Students did not report any great problems in talking to their classmates in English about their own posters, although they did register a slight amount of anxiety before giving their presentations, but this subsided when they were actively engaged in giving the presentations and had practically disappeared afterwards. The students seem to be happy with the final results of their poster (4.5) and the presentation that accompanied it (4.6). It is encouraging to see that the students consider the overall experience as “useful” (4.6), and as a “good way to learn English” (4.5) as well as being “a good way to encourage students to speak English” (4.6). The combined and averaged responses to the comment “I liked this experience” (4.9) was very high and would suggest that the task had proved useful in motivating the students to express themselves in English during the class. This same finding is seen when the students replied to the direct open question of how they felt during the poster session. 8 said that they were “interested”. 7 of them qualified this interest by adding something similar to one student’s reply: “very interested in knowing the topics of the other posters”. Similarly, 5 wrote that they enjoyed themselves in general while another 5 stated that they “enjoyed seeing other people’s posters”. Other comments that were made included it being “positive”, “useful”, a “good experience” and “important”. One student self critically wrote that she or he was “Satisfied for presentation but not for poster”.

No one particular poster stuck out as being more popular than the others, there were, in fact, thirty different posters chosen by students as being the best one. Various reasons were proposed to support why that particular poster was the best. Of these, the fact that the poster presented a “current topic” was the most commonly used expression. This was followed by it being “an important” topic or one that was “interesting”. Other ideas that were expressed by more than one student include the fact that the poster was “clear”, “original”, had a “good structure”, used “simple English, was “simple”, “complete”, or showed “good research” and used “images”.

Although one student claimed to have interacted in English with 20 poster presenters, and another claimed 15 interactions, the majority of students said that they had interacted with 5 or 6 poster presenters. I had expected this number to be higher, but students were encouraged to mingle around the fair at their own speed and only if a student was seen to be not participating for a while would he or she be asked to join in a bit more.

 Most students had a positive attitude to “seeing other people’s posters” and this is reflected in the fact that when asked what they had learnt from this experience 14 replied that they had learnt “new themes” through their interactions. In a later open question of “what new things did you learn from the posters?” 25 students said in one way or another that they had learnt “new themes”, with specific references sometimes being made to specific posters, as in “Bigenitoriality”, “Milgram’s experiment”, and “In Athens there are more problems like prostitution and poverty”.

Interestingly, two people stated that they had learnt more about their own topics by doing this experience. 3 people said they had learnt “new approaches to social work”, 2 that they had learnt “different ways to present the posters”. One student was very clear about this and wrote that he or she had learnt that “Content, layout and colours of poster must appeal to the viewer’s attention”. This would all suggest an active and critically aware participation on the part of the students.

The students also answered an open question: “What do you think makes an effective poster?”. This also attracted various answers but the two most diffuse answers were “the keywords” (14) and “images (14). Other factors noted were the “simplicity” or “clarity” of the poster, the “graphs” and “maps” used as well as if it is “easy to read” and the “interaction” that it generates.

15 students stated that they had learnt new words from this. In an open question about what new words they had learnt nearly all the students wrote some words that were new for them. A total of 69 new words or short phrases were given as examples. There is space here just to show those that were written by three or more students: Bigenitoriality (8), smuggling (7), surgical ward (6, with two more just for surgical), parenthood (6), trickery (5), flaming (4), framework (4), harassment (4), overcrowding (4), snorted (4), chronic heart failure (3), legislative (3), restorative justice (3), sharp tools (3), shelters (3).       Again, the social sciences nature of the degree courses involved comes through clearly in the language used and picked up on.

7 said they had learnt to speak in English, 2 that they had learnt to speak without feeling “shame”. 4 of them noticed that “speaking in English about a topic that interests you is simpler”. These words from the students are encouraging as they should help give them a “can do” feeling about talking about topics close to their hearts and interests. During the limited time we have with our students we cannot set a broad learning objective such as “can speak about anything”, but we can narrow it down to “can discuss about a topic of personal interest or research in the field of study”. These poster presentations can act as a tool to help reach this goal.

Some (3) noted that they had learnt how to create a poster, while others that they had learnt to give a presentation (2) or, as one student wrote, “Enhance my presentation capabilities”. Again, these are useful skills for students to have for their academic and / or future vocational occupational life.

When asked whether they would recommend that the teacher repeat this exercise the following year 44 said yes, 2 did not reply and only one said no, justifying this by saying it was too expensive for students to print up a poster and that more technological means could be used such as power point or a smartphone as a means of showing the poster. 14 would recommend it as it “is a good way to encourage students to speak English” or because it was a “good way to learn English” (8) and that it was a “positive experience” (7) and a “good way to interact” (3).

These replies were reflected in the answers to the last of the open questions: “How would you describe your experience of this poster fair?” with 16 students expressing the idea that it was a “positive” experience, others noting that it was “interesting” (9), or “funny” (7). 10 students came back to the idea that it was “A new experience that taught me a new topic”, 7 wrote that it was “a good to know each other better / interact” while 14 stated that it was an “Effective way to speak English with others”.



Any activity that we propose and engage in during an English course must be there to actively help reach the learning objectives set for that course. Our time as teachers and the time that students dedicate to the course is precious and should not be wasted. One aspect of a university ESP course that is often considered difficult is for the students to be involved in meaningful spoken interaction in the target language in an as autonomous manner as possible. The aim of this study was to see if poster presentations could help reach this objective.

The students were able to learn the skill of creating a poster. This they did through the use of English and so the L2 was seen as a vehicle for learning as well as being the object of the course. The creative process did not cause problems and was seen as being an enjoyable experience. The poster fair that was held was a noisy and, viewed from the outside, could have been seen as chaotic but was enjoyed by the participants. This could justify the idea that  sometimes it is good to break down some of the rigidity that a classroom setting might be felt to impose on us all. The students felt that they had learnt new topics through the L2 as well as learning new aspects of the L2, such as new words and language forms. All this was done as the students interacted in a fun way among themselves, with only the occasional nudge from the language teacher. Filling out the questionnaire gave the students a task to complete during the fair and was used as a motivational tool. The overall response of the students has been very positive and as noted, they begin to realise that “speaking in English about a topic that interests you is simpler”.

This would all suggest that this experience of presenting posters and interacting with peers as they present their own posters is an effective way to encourage spoken interaction in the specific target language and provides the students with a skill that they can use in the future.



Atkinson, C. 2008. Beyond Bullet Points. Washington: Microsoft Press

Dörnyei, Z., Taguchi, T. (2010). Questionnaires in second language research: construction, administration, and processing. Abingdon: Routledge

Duarte, N. 2008. Slide:ology The art and science of creating great presentations. Sebastopol: O’Reilly

Duarte, N. 2010. Resonate: present visual stories that transform audiences. Sebastopol: O’Reilly

Reynolds, G. 2008. PresentationZen. Berkeley: New Riders

Reynolds, G. 2010. PresentationZen Design. Berkeley: New Riders

Reynolds, G. 2011. The naked presenter. Berkeley: New Riders


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