Research School Network: Designing great slides to reduce cognitive demands Lucy Rundle on the role of simple slide design


Designing great slides to reduce cognitive demands

Lucy Rundle on the role of simple slide design

by Bradford Research School
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Lucy Rundle is Vice Principal at Dixons Trinity Chapeltown, Leeds. She is also Trust Curriculum Lead for Primary at Dixons Academies Trust.

Our working memory is limited. There are lots of things that can cause it to be overwhelmed. 

At Dixons Trinity Chapeltown Primary, we take this into account by ensuring that our slides are designed with cognitive load in mind. Firstly, we reduce cognitive overload through simple design decisions, for example, the use of fonts, images, chunking and sequencing. And secondly, staff take advantage of dual coding when using slides in the classroom.

Designing slides with cognitive load in mind

Our slides are consistent, so students aren’t thinking about the design of slides each lesson. The font used on slides for all students is simple and easy to read and is always consistent too: EYFS to Year 4 use a primary font and from Year 5 upwards we use Calibri. We also have a handwriting font with joined writing. We use this to demonstrate when students should hand write something, rather than when students have to read something. In addition, all slides have a light colour background which is easier to read than black text on a white background.

A good slide deck can also aid the sequencing and chunking of the delivery. We don’t cram too much onto one slide and instead prefer to make multiple slides with less information on. This supports the member of staff delivering the lesson to sequence and chunk their delivery as best they can. 

We also think carefully about the images we use, and how we use them. We try to avoid having pictures with backgrounds, as it detracts from the main point. This approach means the key components can be easily identified and it draws students’ attention more easily. This neutrality also leaves the viewer to consider their own context not the background in the chosen image. We do use photos where possible, which gives a more accurate picture. I would always expect the size and quality of the image to be good enough for the student sitting furthest away from the board to be able to see it easily.

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Dual Coding

Dual coding is when teachers use both visual and verbal stimulus at the same time. The benefits of dual coding are threefold: to reduce cognitive load, to take advantage of both visual and verbal stimulus to encode new information and giving the students multiple ways to retrieve the information.

Teachers at Dixons are careful when using text on slides alongside delivery. We know that trying to read text while listening to someone’s delivery splits the attention of students and is distracting to the learning process. Our teachers reduce the amount of text on a slide to just focus on supportive information like key words or images. As the teacher explains the concept, it gives students two ways to encode the information and then later retrieve it. 

We wouldn’t expect to see a teacher reading text word for word from a slide. If there is text to read, it will be more easily accessible for a young reader to follow if it’s in a book or booklet at their tables. Instead, teachers use images and key words alongside verbal delivery.

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Read our guide to Working Memory here. See more examples of cognitive science in the primary classroom on Dixons OpenSource, including this one on chunking delivery:

The role of cognitive science in the classroom:

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