Lifelong Learning: Proceedings of the 4th Annual JALT Pan-SIG Conference.
May 14-15, 2005. Tokyo, Japan: Tokyo Keizai University.

Using the 'poster session' format in L2 contexts
ポスタープレゼンテーションを授業に取り入れた教授方法について (Japanese Title)

by Kristofer Bayne (International Christian University)

本稿は、会議での一 的なポスタープレゼンテーションの方法を授業に取り入れたものである。学生はポスターを使用し-とりでプレゼンテーションを行うが、それが同時進行の形で幾つか行われ、聞き手側はそれぞれのプレゼンテーションを聞くために教室内を移動し、質問等をしながら理解を深めていく、という方法である。実践に際し、理論的な説明も加え段階的にどうすべきかを示した。ポスターに関連する課題や評価方法についても触れた。

キーワード:ポスター、プレゼンテーション、参加型授業 、 EFLアクティビティ、ポスター痺Zッション


This paper describes one approach to conducting presentations by following general guidelines used for conference poster sessions. It suggests a way to conduct presentations concurrently and individually to an audience that is fluid, active, and engaged. The paper defines the suggested format with a rationale for its use. It systematically presents its classroom application and touches on assessment issues and related tasks.

Keywords: educational posters, visual presentations, audience participation, EFL activities, poster sessions

In many ESOL programme curricula it is becoming commonplace to find subjects such as Presentation Skills or Public Speaking. Many ESOL teachers include a presentation of some kind as part of classroom activities and assessment. Much of the time a 'presentation' would consist of an individual 'presenter', a pair or a small group presenting to or 'fronting' a larger 'audience', usually the remainder of the class. Opportunity may be allowed for question time at the end of a presentation. While such presentation formats are a reflection of reality in academia or business circles, poster sessions also represent another possible format for EFL classrooms.
In this format, learners base their presentation around a topical poster they have prepared according to certain guidelines while the actual class session could be conducted along the lines of conference poster sessions. The latter presumes a high level of audience participation. There may be various approaches to a 'poster session' as in how the poster is constructed, who presents and actual organisation of time/audience on the presentation day. In the Japan EFL context alone recent approaches to posters sessions are described by Fraser (2004), Edwards (2005), and Jost (2005). Others will be cited in the course of this article. The individual, concurrent poster session approach described here is, I feel, closer to the 'academic' format used at most conferences.

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Illustration 1
Illustration 1. Japanese EFL students at a poster session on 'Epidemics' (May 2005)

This paper describes 'poster sessions' as an alternative to more traditional group/class-fronted presentations. It also explains why they are generally interesting, functional classroom activities for any language learning context. It first defines the concept and format, then presents a rationale for its use before moving on to its classroom applications. It concludes by discussing assessment issues and poster related tasks.


Presentations anywhere, anytime are for an audience. Even in educational settings, as Johnston points out, "oral presentations don't occur in a vacuum, but in a classroom full of real people whom speakers must communicate with, making an unfamiliar topic clear and interesting" (1985:250). We can imagine a three-way interplay between what the speaker wants to say, how they say it, and aids they use in support.
Posters sessions also work as a form of 'triangular communication', very much expecting and requiring audience participation.

Figure 1
Figure 1. A model of poster session tripartite interaction.

Guidelines and 'tips' from any random selection of on-line conference sources would give a fairly standard description of what poster sessions and actual posters require. These are also central to the approach described here. Note these examples:
Posters are usually a combination of pictures and text arranged in an aesthetic manner for easy viewing and for conveying information. There are also interactive sessions associated with the posters where all poster authors attend their display and conference attendees can discuss the work with the authors. The discussions tend to be open and free-flowing and you are allowed to ask the viewers questions as well as have them ask questions of you! (Borland Conference, 2003)

The ideal poster is designed to (1) attract attention; (2) provide a brief overview of your work; and (3) initiate discussion. Text should be confined to brief statements. Be sure to use fonts and illustrations large enough to be easily read from a distance of 1 m. Keep tables, figures, and photographs simple (i.e., convey only one idea per image). (IXth International Otter Colloquium, 2004)

Poster sessions provide a more intimate forum of exchange than do regular paper presentations by facilitating informal discussions between presenters and their audience. (American Anthropological Association, 2005)

Lane explains that, "Poster sessions are less linear than a demonstration, workshop, or research paper" and that while they are obviously organised, "In reality they are likely to introduce, discuss and conclude many times. It is a more fluid, dynamic, and recursive role with its own unique demands and opportunities" (2001, 46-47).

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Just as there is a wide range of presentation formats there are variations on the use of posters in presentations (cf. Cullen and Pudwill 2003, Furmanovsky and Sheffer 2003; Hammond 2003). The approach proposed here is of an individualized, i.e. by one student, and concurrent 'conference'-type poster session. It is one that can encourage and maximize three key elements of presentations:

(1) Positive behaviours by both presenter and audience

There is a temptation for EFL students to read oral presentations. In an attempt to curtail such habits that limit non-verbal aspects of presenting, students are not permitted to read from a script. Posters contain all the information required to present in an enlarged 'note card' format which students can refer to if necessary. Moreover, their presentations cannot be memorized due to the fluid nature of the activity. While presenters should know their information in detail, the audience may ask for different information at different times and thus presenters may be required to answer questions they might not predict.
A range of positive behaviours is summarized in Table 1.

Table 1. Suggested behaviours of presenters and participants in poster sessions.

Presenters should: Audience should:
encourage people to look at their poster and give them sufficient time to do so take time to look over and read the poster
offer some basic overview of their topic to an assembled audience ask about sections of the poster they find interesting or unclear
point out features/sections of their poster ask questions, request repetition, clarification, examples etc.
encourage people to ask questions offer information and comments
offer explanations or details if there is a lull or drop off of questions take a very important part in the session by 'activating' the presenters with questions and comments
be ready to start again with a new group be sensitive to the situation of the presenter
be sensitive to audience dynamics use eye contact and non-verbal cues to give feedback
use more eye contact and non-verbal cues to 'work' audience be positive and supportive
consider how to effectively use the poster think how to 'take leave' and move onto another poster
be positive but assertive

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(2) Use of class time and student-on-task time

Using conference-style poster sessions allows significant numbers of students to present for an extended length of time in one class period. This can satisfy timetable constraints and address the sometimes-contentious issue (for students) of presentations split over two or three classes (the later presentations having more preparation time). In a poster session (Option 1 in Table 2 below) for a ninety-minute class of 20 students, four students would concurrently present for approximately fourteen minutes (with a minute or two for each poster/presenter change over), and the remaining 16 students would be the audience. This equates to an acceptable presenter-to-audience ratio of 1:4. Each student would be able to attend 16 other presentations. These conditions compare favourably with other general presentation formats (with or without posters) as can be seen in Table 2.

Table 2. Quantitative comparison of presentation format options.

No. Students: 20
Class Length: 90 mins.
Option 1 Option 2 Option 3 Option 4
Format Conference-style Poster Session Individual to Class Group (of 3) to Class Individual to Small Groups (of 5, presenter inclusive)
No. of sessions conducted in one class 20 20 7 20
No. of sessions conducted at one time 4 1 1 4
Approximate length of presentation 14 minutes 3.5 minutes 12+ minutes (divided among 3 people) 14 minutes
No. of one-minute change-overs required 4 18 7 4
No. of Audience reached 16 19 17 4

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(3) Encourage and stimulate audience participation

In 'real' presentations participants can come or leave freely during the presentation, however students in class do not have this option and may have no intrinsic interest or sense of investment in what is happening before them. They may also be pre-occupied with their own upcoming presentation or 'in recovery' after completing one. Consider too that they may struggle as L2 learners. If some written audience-assessment assignment has been set, often this becomes the focus of their attention rather than the speaker and their content. They are also usually seat-bound. By contrast, in poster sessions the audience is up and mobile, actively involved, experiencing variety, and communicating aurally, orally, non-verbally, visually and, perhaps most importantly, meaningfully. It maintains the 'intimacy' and security of presenting to a small group (Pineda, 1999) and at the same time allows access to the whole class. This, however, refers to 'general' participation.
A further consideration is 'specific' participation such as direct questions or comments. Particularly in cultures such as Japan, students are less inclined to contribute unless directly asked. Open 'Q & A' periods can be unsettlingly silent affairs. Whether the audience takes up any time allowed for participation may, therefore, depend on many affective factors. It would be virtually impossible to and unnatural to quantify participation. We could qualify it, however, according to the criteria listed in Table 3:

Table 3. Some factors influencing participation in poster sessions.

Forum: 'public'
(in front of the whole class)
(in front of a small group)
Opportunity: 'limited' (many students to share 'turns') 'ample' (fewer students to share 'turns')
Pressure: 'tense' (under scrutiny of a large group of peers and teacher) 'relaxed' (within a small group, usually peers only)

Please note that the criteria listed in Table 3 represent a spectrum rather than a dichotomy. Compared to other presentation formats, poster sessions provide a relaxed and intimate forum atmosphere. The small numbers of people at each poster, the opportunity to visit many posters and the proximity to the speakers make it ideal to instill the idea of and confidence in direct and expected audience participation.

Classroom application

This section describes how poster sessions have been conducted by the author since 2003, including orientation, class organisation and grading.

Pre-presentation session

  1. The topic is decided. To date my own poster sessions have all been related to class content, however a simple topic may be chosen to allow for a focus on presentation skills or simply to raise confidence.
  2. Students should be given guidelines. These include a handout on "How to do a poster and poster session" (Appendix 1) and a model poster (Illustration 2). The latter was also prepared as a computer document and distributed.
  3. A mock poster presentation by the teacher (Appendix 2) can (a) show what is expected in a presentation in terms of how to address the audience, positioning in relation to the poster, and use of the poster itself. It can also (b) show what is expected in a poster (see Illustration 2). Reflecting my EAP teaching context I favour a 'note-card' style whereby sections of the poster might easily be used as 'cue cards' or as sections of an essay. However I am flexible depending on my class focus, as can be seen in Appendix 3. The teacher model should reflect the aims and style clearly. A mock presentation also shows what is expected of the audience. I chose a relatively obscure subject for my poster (Illustration 2) to encourage students to ask questions. Depending on the abilities of students some set phrases may be of use.
  4. Once students are clear on the task requirements they are given a specified amount of time to develop their own posters; all students should do their posters on their own time.
  5. A pre-presentation requirement, such as an interview with the teacher or a piece of written work may be optional.

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Illustration 2
Illustration 2: A sample teacher-prepared poster on the 'A Person You Admire' theme.

Presentation session

  1. The choice of venue is important. It should be a room or space that can be arranged for easy student movement and where posters can be displayed.
  2. Beforehand decide where to locate the presentation stations evenly around the room. Wall space at slightly above eye level is best, on surfaces that favour quick removal and posting. Magnetic surfaces are best (blackboards, doors) and windows are okay if the poster paper is thick enough. Prepare tape - 'masking' tape is best - magnets and perhaps pins.
  3. Collect all posters as soon as possible and place equal numbers at each station. Post one immediately (while the first session is underway you can move around and 'tape' the backs of others in readiness). Posting all is distracting and the element of surprise is a bonus. Ideally you could require the posters the day before or earlier in the day to sort and prepare them. There is no need to tell the students the order (in fact to 'tape' them they need to be face down and to be left that way).
  4. On your direction the first students, the presenters stand with their posters for the designated time period (see Table 2). At your signal other students, the audience move and distribute themselves evenly as each session begins.
  5. The audience should spend time at each poster, entering and leaving as they wish.
  6. Presenters can adjust their presentations to suit the audience; and all participants can take a lead in some way, even to the extent of offering additional information besides questions.
  7. Sessions should not run start-to-finish, as in a speech. Presenters should not need any hand-held scripts or note-cards, the poster itself acting in this role. Information should be referred to in a 'touch, turn, talk' fashion and details should be familiar to the presenter.
  8. The audience must activate the presenter with specific questions and/or the presenter can activate the audience by offering to give expanded information on certain sections.
  9. A 'one-minute warning' can be given for presenters to wind up.
  10. At your direction the session ends, presenters carefully remove their poster and can post the next one.
  11. New presenters move to their posters and the procedure starts again.


It must be stated that poster sessions are not teacher-friendly when it comes to assessment. Multiple and simultaneous poster presentations are underway. How many depends on the number of students and perhaps the classroom facilities. For example, to maintain an ideal presenter-to-audience ration of 1:4, in a class of 15 students, three would present and 12 are the audience; in a class of 30 students, six might present concurrently while the remaining 24 are an audience that is fluid and mobile. It is virtually impossible to be objective during the session unless the criteria are very basic and limited in number. It would also require a teacher to be very organised and focused.

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On the issue of assessment, a survey was conducted by Sugihashi and Horiguchi (2004) of teachers who have conducted posters sessions along the lines described in this paper. It raised three important questions to consider:
  1. Given the highly interactive nature of a poster session, should posters be graded separately from presentations?
  2. Can criteria be established by individual teachers to meet their particular instructional objectives?
  3. Can 2-3 basic items be established as grading criteria that are consistent with course goals?
A further question could be raised:

d. Should there also be an 'audience participation' criteria?

A key to all aspects of grading is that the criteria be known by the students beforehand. If possible, this should involve a demonstration so that students can see how the grading happens in real time (Sugihashi and Horiguchi, 2004). Sugihashi and Horiguchi suggested a basic table to help teachers arrive at a grading criterion which might fit particular needs:

Table 4: Possible criteria for grading posters (Sugihashi and Horiguchi, 2004)

Criteria Details
Visually-related visual appeal, layout, clarity, readability
Information-related quality, quantity, interest, basic relevance
Task-related task achievement: poster/presentation/sundry tasks
Task-related task achievement: poster/presentation/sundry tasks
Effort-related effort, enthusiasm
Audience-related popularity

It is doubtful one set of criteria with strict weighting would always be applicable. It may be that teachers wish to emphasize different skills at different times and grade accordingly (refer to Appendix 5; also see the example by LaCombe-Burby, 2006). In the author's context, content was at the fore rather than presentation skills per se. Teachers may wish to keep content at a basic level and emphasize, for instance, non-verbal aspects of presentations via poster sessions. An itemized list of 'Delivery' criteria could be added to the table and the students notified of the importance of that aspect. This might include eye-contact, use of gesturing, posture, positioning and so on. A list of 'Audience Participation' criteria could also be included.

Addressing the final two questions above we can imagine three basic areas for assessment.

The poster

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What is acceptable would depend on expectations and requirements. Although it is not an art competition, some credit should be given to the effort that goes into the visual. The presenter must still make the poster 'work' and it must be user-friendly for the audience. All visuals must support the presentation, not distract from it. Posters must be functional and accessible to the audience. Posters, of course, should be collected and considered at leisure. (See Appendix 3 for a variety of student work.)

The session presentation

The drawback of simultaneous poster sessions has been noted. Conversely, each speaker is speaking for longer and there is a large degree of repetition, so it is easier to get a sense of the depth and involvement. Based on a minute or two at each poster, checklist-type assessment sheets such as the one in Appendix 5 could be used to rate general features such as L2 use, non-verbal skills and use of visuals. If so, the students should be made aware that these assessments would be completed at some time during the poster session.

As for peer assessment, my personal philosophy is that presentations are to be seen and heard and hopefully enjoyed by an audience, not graded by them. I do not require real time peer assessment.

Audience participation

This is the most difficult aspect to assess, but I believe it is a necessary and too often overlooked in most presentation formats. It is not practical to monitor an audience of 15-20 students or even come close to fairly assessing the their participation. Viewing the room as a whole, however, will allow one to get a good impression of who is asking questions and who is not participating at all. As usual it is the quieter, less obvious students who may very well be doing more than their best to participate, but the teacher may not notice them. Participation can also mean listening attentively as an interested third party to a presenter-audience exchange. It is perhaps reasonable to presume all students are participating (and give them a general 'starter' score) then assess up or down from that point as you observe more closely. This admittedly inadequate assessment method could be part of a score that involves post-presentation work.

Related activities

Posters are recognised for their usefulness in presenting work in various stages of process whereby "the poster session would be valuable for people who have done research, who are doing research, and who are anticipating doing research" (Martin, 2003). For L2 learners, both Ford (1999) and Cullen and Pudwill (2003) have included a poster presentation as a preview activity to a more 'traditional' presentation format (2000), and posters sessions have even been used as examinations (Mills, et. al.) and assessment (Akister and Kim, 1998) alternatives. They can also be a step in the final process of critical reading activities in English for Academic Purposes (EAP) programmes for non-native speakers (Bayne, 2003). Depending on what you wish to achieve with a poster session there is a range of possible related activities.

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Pre-poster stage

Students might submit a short written overview of the focus topic. I include this as a compulsory requirement for all my posters. Students are again given guidelines (Appendix 4) and shown examples that include layout and content. This related written activity fulfils numerous roles:

  1. It requires students to think and collect information in advance.
  2. It gives another angle to for the teacher to assess, a skill for students to excel at (some students are better writers than presenters, some students are better organizers than writers etc.) and perhaps in a sense a 'fail-safe' (see example in Appendix 3).
  3. It provides a basis for the presenters (but should not be used during the presentation).
  4. Includes a 'handout' element to presentations.
A number of these aspects could also be covered by one-on-one interviews some time prior to the actual poster session.

Illustration 3
Illustration 3: A poster session underway in a Japanese EFL classroom (May 2005)

Post-poster Session Stage

At this stage students might be required to write:

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Finally another advantage of poster sessions is that they can also better deal with the problem of missed or repeat presentations. A presentation that is designed as a class-fronted exercise does not 'ring true' when presented to an individual teacher at another time outside of class, and it is not always feasible nor desirable to take extra class time for those who were absent, or who need to or wish to re-do their presentation. With a poster presentation, however, only a small audience is required. This could consist solely of 'make-up' students, however options can be give to those who were perhaps under-prepared the first time around. The only logistical hitch may be when and where to run the poster (though all you need is time and a wall...). 'Audience participation' can be much more carefully monitored also.


Posters for presentations can come in many different varieties and be used for many different classes. To date I have conducted poster sessions on the themes such as 'A Person I Admire', 'Racism', 'Aspects of Inter-cultural Communication', 'How to be a More Successful Student', 'World Englishes', 'Epidemics' and 'How to ...'. All these topics related directly or indirectly to classroom content, the last being conducted as part of a seminar for junior and senior high school English teachers. In a simplified manner, the format described above follows very closely what might be expected in a conference setting. While one of its positive features is it overall use of time, a drawback is the need for careful timing during the session. A teacher must be very organised to get posters up and down to maximize presentation time. This, however, is a minor issue I feel compared to the overwhelmingly positive and satisfying outcomes. On that point I will conclude with a view neglected so far - that of the participants - as it is they who are the central figures in the overall success of the approach. Published data (Akister and Kim, 1998; Ford, 1999; Lane, 2001), and personal and anecdotal student feedback on poster sessions suggest that students enjoy and can clearly appreciate the value of this sort of activity. On poster sessions conducted in the manner described, the following comments from data collected for an independent survey (Iijima and Kirimura, 2003) reflect the range of general opinions of students:

I could get much information and experience two-way process. That was my first experience of poster session. I only had experience one-way presentation. One present and others can is more effective than only one present. (Anon.)

Posters are useful to exchange knowledge because its clearness and simpleness. We can understand by looking and hearing the explanations. (Anon.)

I didn't feel nervous when I give poster sessions, so I can explain what I want to say to others. (Anon.)
Further quantitative and qualitative research would develop a clearer picture of the strengths and weakness of this type of activity, however its potential value as an exercise in the second language classroom seems clear.

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Akister, J. & Kim, C. (1998). Poster presentations: Finding alternatives to written assignments for assessing students. Journal of Excellence in College Teaching. 9 (3). 19-31.

American Anthropological Association.(2005). Guidelines for preparing AAA posters. Retrieved 24 June 2005 from

Bayne, K. (2003, October). Poster it! Presented at the English Language Program Staff Retreat. Tokyo, Japan: International Christian University.

Borland Conference. (2003). Call for posters. Retrieved 10 October 2003 from

Cullen, B. & Pudwill, L. (2003). Presentations in the technical English classroom. In M. Swanson & K. Hill (Eds.) JALT 2002 Conference Proceedings. (pp. 220-224). Tokyo: JALT.

Edwards, T. (2005). Poster presentations. English Teaching Professional. 38, 35-36.

Ford, K. (1999, January). The poster review task. The Language Teacher. 23 (1). 41-42.

Fraser, M. (2004, November) A picture can speak 1000 words. Poster session presented at the JALT Annual Conference, Tezukayama University, Nara, Japan.

Furmanovsky, M. & Sheffer, M. (1997, January). Using posters in content courses. The Internet TESL Journal, 3 (1). Retrieved October 9, 2003 from

Harrington, D., & Le Beau, C. (1996). Speaking of Speech. Tokyo: MacMillan Language House.

Iijima, Y. & Kirimura, Y. (2003). Student perspectives of academic learning strategies. ICU Language Research Bulletin, International Christian University. 18. pp. 97-110.

IXth International Otter Colloquium. (2004). Poster session guidelines. Retrieved 24 June 2005 from

Johnston, K. (1985). An approach to the teaching of academic writing. ELT Journal, 39(4), 248-252.

Jost, N. (2005). Poster presentations and language teaching. In K. Bradford-Watts, C. Ikeguchi, & M. Swanson (eds.). JALT 2004 Conference Proceedings (pp. 728-731). Tokyo: JALT.

LaCombe-Burby, L. (2006) Making a poster: poster rubric. Retrieved 9 May 2006 from

Lane, K. (2001, June). Sharing posters. The Language Teacher, 25 (6). 46-51.

Lane, T. K. (2001). Promoting posters. In M. Swanson, D. McMurray & K. Lane (Eds.) JALT2001 Conference Proceedings (pp. 888-898). Tokyo: JALT.

Martin, J. (2003). Librarians share their ideas at poster session. Concordia's Thursday report on-line. Retrieved on August 1, 2003 from

Mills, P. A., Sweeney, W. V., De Meo, S., Marino, R., & Clarkson, S. (2000, September). Using poster sessions as an alternative to written examinations - The poster exam. Journal of Chemical Education, 77 (9). 1158-1161.

Pineda, R. C. (1999). Poster sessions: Enhancing interactive learning during student presentations. Journal of Management Education, 23 (5), 618-622.

Sugihashi, T. & Horiguchi, Y. (2004, November). Poster what!?. Presented at the English Language Program Staff Retreat. Tokyo, Japan: International Christian University.

Return to Main Index Appendix 1 Appendix 2
Appendix 3 Appendix 4 Appendix 5

2005 Pan SIG-Proceedings: Topic Index Author Index Page Index Title Index Main Index
Complete Pan SIG-Proceedings: Topic Index Author Index Page Index Title Index Main Index

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