Shortcuts for Making PowerPoint Activities

Let’s face it, we’re all short on time. We've got lots of ideas for great activities, but little time to make them! Today let's start with that “short on time” problem. Rather than jumping in with some of the techniques in PowerPoint that build up into some pretty awe-inspiring abilities, let’s go over tricks to simplify and shorten your work.
If you master the simple techniques for copying elements and pages from other PowerPoint activities that already work for your students, you can spare yourself a lot of time re-inventing the wheel.

Remember, things will always work best (and fastest) in PowerPoint if you take the most direct path.
And sometimes that route involves borrowing rather than creating from scratch.
When you find something great in an existing PowerPoint activity, whether it is one item or a group of items or a great page (or two or five), you can copy objects into a new activity very easily. Then, once you have it saved into you activity, feel free to tweak the content and appearance and save it fresh so it works for your students.
To import an element you like from another PowerPoint activity into your new project, open the old PowerPoint. Click or drag your mouse over the object/s you want to select. Then copy (CTRL-C works easily, or right-click and select "copy" from the pop-up list) the object to your computer’s clipboard (1). Switch to your new project with a blank page in edit view, normal mode. Click the large page in the main pane to select it. Paste the item (CTRL-V) and it will stick in the same location as the old activity (2). You’ll notice all its behaviors—actions and animations—paste right along with it!
Bring objects in from an activity you like by pasting them
onto a page in the main pane of Normal View.
You can alter the element by replacing the text. You can record new sounds. You can adjust colors and textures and pictures. You can change the types of animation effects it has. You can switch out hyperlinks. All these changes will make your new activity look and sound entirely different.
However, you cannot change the shape of a shape without losing the animation effects unless you are working in PowerPoint 2010. For all earlier versions, keep the basic shape of a button the same and just tinker with the handles on its outline when it is selected.
What about copying a whole page? Easy! Let’s say you find a book adapted into PowerPoint whose pages have features you love:
--a great-sized picture area
--page-forward and page backward buttons
--a button for playing recorded narration
With that book open in edit mode and “normal” view, you can simply click one of the thumbnail pages in the left-hand side panel, copy (CTRL-C) a page (1). Open a blank project in PowerPoint and paste (CTRL-V) the copied page into that side panel (2). Voila! You should now see the same old page in your new activity. It is likely the new background will be white, but you haven’t assigned colors yet.
You can bring one or many pages from a PowerPoint activity
into the side panel of your new activity to create new pages.
You can modify the page by importing your own pictures and recording narrations for the page. I like to use Audacity for recording; it’s straightforward to use and does a good job. You can download it free from CNET here.
Another way to simplify the process of designing an activity is to use pre-made templates. You’ll find such goodies at teacher websites. Here are a couple great ones from Vicki Blackwell and Pete’s PowerPoint Station. I’ve also made and posted some sample activities at Google Docs that you can use and then save as templates.
When you open a new activity, the "new presentation" start screen offers you a choice of templates saved in various locations on your computer (1). It also offers you a list of templates you have used recently (2).
The New Presentation start screen lets you easily choose
from templates on your computer.
Choose one of these and make good progress right from the start! Just be sure to save your work often as you are working so you don't lose your changes.
Which brings us to the important topic of saving your activities. If you’ve put time into an activity, you want it to save the right way to make it most useful.
It is critical to save ALL relevant files incorporated into your activity in the same folder. Always. All your sound effects and recorded narration clips should be saved to the folder with the PowerPoint book. All video clips should also be saved in this folder as well. Doing this keeps the integrity of the links within your activity.
Then you choose the format in which to save your activity. If it is macro-enabled (stay tuned for more on this in a future installment), be sure to save the in the macro-enabled version of the same format.
1) Slideshow mode (.pps, .ppsx, .ppsm). Slideshow mode automatically launches the activity when it is opened. If fact, you can save it to your desktop and assign it a catchy icon and title from there so your students don't have to search for it. Changes to the activity will not save when it is closed, so students can’t accidentally alter the file. If you want to modify a Slideshow, open PowerPoint, select the activity, and edit it from there as for any other presentation.
2) Presentation mode (.ppt, pptx., pptm). Presentations open in edit mode. This is convenient for the teacher but requires that a student navigate to the slideshow launch ribbon. If you’ll be using an activity as the basis for others, save it in presentation mode. Then changes to support different access needs or different levels of sensory input can be saved as individual slideshows, ready for the students!
3) Template mode (pot., potx., potm). Templates are a great way to save an activity you want to modify often. If you frequently adapt books, you’ll definitely want to save one as a template! These files store in their own location, making them easy to find from the PowerPoint start menu.
Activities you make from templates are automatically assigned a presentation-mode file extension, saving you from accidentally saving over your template. You can edit a template, which is helpful, but saving it as a template again takes conscious thought. This is a good feature. Very good.
When you master this ability to snag elements and pages from existing PowerPoint activities, you will be able to create some highly customized and advanced projects. Even if you don't fully understand the advanced features we'll build from scratch over the next few weeks, your ability to borrow them from elsewhere and past them into your projects will serve you well.
Be sure to stick around as we explore how some of the basic PowerPoint functions can be used to support specific learning needs...and then as we build upon those skills and venture into the amazing world of advanced PowerPoint.
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Earlier posts in this series on using PowerPoint as Assistive Technology:
4. AT Considerations for Creating Activities in PowerPoint (thinking about the accommodations needed by specific students)

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