Macros and Add-Ins: Advanced PowerPoint AT

Today we’re going to look at some very useful tools for turning PowerPoint into an amazing assistive technology tool:  macros and add-ins.

Macros and add-ins are programming extras that can make PowerPoint do just about anything you can dream up. They are little feats of programming magic!

I’m sorry to admit that I lack the programming savvy to create them. To write macros that work during a slide show takes knowledge about Visual Basic that I don’t have. I haven’t learned how add-ins are created.

BUT even without this knowledge, we can still bring these little gems into our own activities to make them even more accessible and interactive. You are going to love what these little gems can do!

Such as...

·        drag-and-drop objects during a show. This opens a world of possibilities with a mouse, touch screen or smart board! Now kids can place answers anywhere on the screen!

·        automatically speak text from the page

·        speak notes you have typed off the page

·        allow multiple users to interact with an activity with their mice, with each having their own cursor!

Before we look at how to add these capabilities to your own activities, we need to backtrack a wee bit and talk about the differences between macros and add-ins. These differences matter.

Macros are coded scripts that affect how a single activity will behave. These were often used in versions of PowerPoint up through 2003, although they can still be imported and saved in newer versions if saved as file extension that is macro-enabled. We’ll learn how to do that in a minute.

The benefit of this system is that the macro travels along with the activity it is attached to. This allows you to share the macro. You can share it between files on your own computer or to other computers when you generously share your activity. Sounds great, right?

Yes, but not always. A reason macros are being abandoned in favor of add-ins is that hackers discovered they are convenient packages for sharing nasty viruses. Bad, bad hackers!

Knowing this, promise me you will only download macros from sites you know well and trust. Deal? I don’t want your computer messed up!

PowerPoint 2007 and higher favors “add-ins,” which address the security issues that made macros risky. Add-ins are installed to the computer and become available to all the PowerPoint files you run. You can still install add-ins for earlier versions of PowerPoint as well.

The great part about this is that add-ins are safe and ready to use on all your activities.

The not-so-great part is that if you share with someone else an activity that relies on an add-in, they must install both your activity and the add-in. You can’t simply include it in your activity.

Does that difference make sense?

If so, let’s move on to macros.

My all-time favorite macro allows students to drag-and-drop objects. If I were to assign a more precise name to this macro, I’d call it “catch-and-release,” but then people would probably limit its use to fishing games. It behaves a bit differently than traditional drag-and-drop, in that you don’t have to hold the mouse button down or leave a trail with your finger on the touch screen. These are hard skills for some kids.

Rather, this allows you to toggle on a “capture” of an object with a click or touch. The place you touch or click next releases it at that spot by toggling the “capture” off. Students can release the mouse button while they find that spot.

I’ve used this drag-and-drop macro in a math sample  for you to download. Also, the sorting sample  can be used either with drag-and-drop ability in or self-positioning abilities (just remember to remove the Magic Invisible Boxes for drag-and-droppers).

Another great macro is SpeakNotes, which lets the student hear notes you have typed in the Notes Panel in Normal view. You can use this to provide additional information that you don’t want to show on the page. Use this to define vocabulary or give additional facts related to a photo.

The macros appear to be copying along with the sample files I shared, but sometimes download glitches happen. If you need to or prefer to download macros directly from the authors (good Web security precaution), here are the download sites for these two macros:

·        Drag and Drop macro ( 

You will receive a macro-enabled PowerPoint file from these sites, whether my download samples or the authors’ macro files. Copying the macro into your own activity is pretty simple.

First, open BOTH the file containing the macro AND your own activity. From either activity, open the Developer tab and then click Visual Basic. Along the right side of your screen, a pane will open listing all open PowerPoint files.
Open the Developer tab and click on the Visual Basic button.

This is the Visual Basic pane that opens automatically.
Notice that BOTH the original and the new activity files are open.
Be sure to open the checkbox on the left by clicking on the + sign.

Click and drag the name of the macro file to the name of the new activity (note: you may have to click the + to see the list of macros). Be sure to repeat for all the macro files; sometimes several are interacting together and you want them to function properly.
Click and drag the macro names from the original activity to the new one.
If more than one macro is listed, be sure to drag each of then.

Now both macros have been dragged to the new activity. Looks good!

Now save and close the original file.

In your new activity, you will see the macros listed when you click the Developer > Visual Basic button. It’s wise to check this before going farther.

Next, you will activate the macro action for each object you want to behave with the macro. This means only the objects you want to sort can be assigned movement, while background objects remain inactive (a very good thing, by the way!).  

Click the object you wish to use with the macro and open the action dialog box for that object (see the post about actions if you need a review). In the action dialog, check Run Macro and select the macro from the list (important note: for the Drag and Drop macro, highlight MoveShape to run the macro) and click OK. Now the action for the macro is to your object. Try it cool is that!
To activate a macro, select the desired object (1). From the
Insert Tab (2), click the Action Button (3). An Action Settings
dialog box (4) will open. In this box, click Run Macro (5) and select
the macro from the list.

You can add this macro from your new activity to any other activity you create, just by opening them both, dragging the macro in Visual Basic to the new activity, and activating the macro action for specific objects. Pretty cool, huh?

It’s time to save your work. Be sure that the file extension you select is either labeled “macro-enabled” or one of the earlier 97-2003 versions.  

That wasn’t so bad, now was it?

If you want to know more about using macros in PowerPoint, check out these articles at Microsoft.

On to add-ins...

Remember, add-ins copy to your computer and are available to all the PowerPoint activities you care to use them with. However, they do not transfer with a file; they must be downloaded separately.

What kinds of add-ins might be helpful?

PowerTalk speaks aloud any text on a page. Simply click the PowerTalk icon and open a PowerPoint (2000 or higher) activity. All text displayed on the page will be read aloud by the computer (hint: you can blend text into the background color if you want narration without visible writing).
To have PowerTalk read text in your activity, select the
PowerTalk icon on your computer (1). Then open the activity
you wish to have read aloud (2).

Another fun add-in is Microsoft’s MouseMischief. This allows multiple mouse-users to interact with the screen. It is perfect for classrooms with smart boards or small groups gathered around a large screen. You can read more about it and get lesson ideas here.

More free add-ins can be downloaded at these sites:

· (including a YouTube player for PPT)

· (includes MoveMe add-in for drag-and-drop functionality, similar to the drag_and_drop macro)

You will be amazed at all the clever things programmers have thought to make PowerPoint do! Some of them truly do expand the abilities of PowerPoint to meet the needs students have for assistive technology support.

Have fun as you explore these!

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If you missed any of our Basic or Advanced lessons on creating PowerPoint activities to support students needed assistive technology support, you can view the entire list on the PowerPoint as AT page.            


Deirdre said...

I am so excited about doing this for my students, but I have PP 2011 on a MAC, and am having difficulties. Do you know if I can use a MAC?

Rose-Marie said...

Deirdre, you ask some great questions! I would think these same techniques would work on a Mac, but then, I don't use a Mac so I can't make promises. Also, the steps might be a bit different...magnified by the fact that you are using a newer version of PPT than the one I used for this, which was vs. 2007. The abilities in each version do change. Some of the macro stuff may even be built-in by now; I really don't know.

All that said, there have to be ways in PPT 2011 for Mac to accomplish the same goals. I just don't know what the steps are to reach them. Does anyone else know the answer to that?

I recommend trying the steps as listed and see if they work. PPT is such a great tool!