MFL teacher Joe Dale explains how sound can be added to PowerPoint presentations to engage pupils, reinforce pronunciation and help personalise learning
Inserting audio files into PowerPoint can transform a presentation into something more engaging and meaningful. For a MFL teacher, this could mean the voice of a native speaker, a song in the target language, an aural prompt or a sound indicating a right or wrong answer. Using free software such as Audacity and an inexpensive microphone, it is easy to record sound and export it for use in the classroom.
In my experience, pupils are always intrigued when they see a loudspeaker icon on the interactive whiteboard and want to hear what sound it may emit when clicked. Sounds can bring a presentation to life and catch the attention of the more reluctant learner.
There are various ways of inserting sounds into a PowerPoint presentation depending on the type of audio file you have and the effect you want to create. Two common formats are wav and mp3. The former can be embedded in a presentation, but is larger in size as opposed to the latter which may be smaller, but can only be linked, meaning it must be stored in the same folder as the presentation, but cannot be integrated within it. For more explanation of the differences of embedding and linking files in PowerPoint, click here
CDex is a free program which allows the user to change the mp3 file extension or 'riff' of an audio clip to wav and retain its file size at the same time. The process known as riff-ing is useful because it means that smaller files can therefore be embedded into a presentation and do not need to be linked to separately.
To riff an mp3 file, launch CDex and click on the Convert menu. Select Add RIFF-WAV(s) header to MP2 or MP3 file(s). In the next window, click on the three dots top right to browse for the folder where your mp3 files are stored. Select it and click OK. You should then be able to see the available mp3 files in that folder. Hold down the Shift key and select the ones you want to convert. Click Convert. If you now go back to the folder where the original files are, you will see that they have been duplicated and have wav extensions. You can check by right clicking the new files and selecting Properties. Type of file will say Wave sound, but the file size will not have changed.
Being able to embed mp3 files with wav extensions is a neat little trick because it means that you can create standalone presentations with self-contained audio which are considerably smaller in size than their wav equivalents.
So what different ways are there for inserting audio files into PowerPoint to create different effects? Here are some ideas:
Adding narration to individual slides can be used to personalise and reinforce vocabulary presentations, create talking big books or photo-stories and help GCSE students revise for their coursework. To do this, click on Insert Movies and Sound and then Sound from File. Select the converted mp3 file you want to embed and click OK. You will then be asked how you want the sound to start in the slide show either automatically or when clicked. Having made your choice, a loudspeaker icon will appear in the centre of your slide and you can choose whether you want to position it on or off the slide.
Playing Sounds Across Slides
To add a narration which plays over a number of slides, go to the slide where you want your audio to begin and click on the Slide Show menu and then Slide Transition. Click on the dropdown menu next to Sound, then scroll down and select Other Sound ... Find your audio file as before and click OK. Next, tick the box which says Loop until next sound and go to the slide where you want the narration to stop. Follow the same procedures to bring up the Slide Transition dialogue box and instead of selecting Other Sound ..., click Stop Previous Sound.
Action Settings and Action Buttons
As well as directly inserting sound files into a slide, you can also attach audio files to an image or text box as a sound effect or auditory prompt. Just right-click any object and select Action Settings ... Make sure the Play sound box is ticked and then click on the dropdown menu underneath and select Other Sound ... Browse as before and click OK. In addition, you can choose whether to play the sound by clicking on it or by hovering over with the mouse by selecting the appropriate tab at the top of the Action Settings dialogue box.
You can also use an Action Button to launch your audio. To do this, go to the Slide Show menu again and hover the cursor over Action Buttons. Twelve different types of Action Button will then appear and you will probably want to choose the one with a loudspeaker on it although you can attach a sound to any one of them. Upon clicking on your chosen button, your cursor will turn into a black cross. Hold down your left-click and create the size of button you want by dragging accordingly. When you release the mouse the Action Settings dialogue box will then appear and you follow the same instructions as above for attaching a sound to it.
Another way of adding sound is through Custom Animation. Not only can you make objects and text appear and disappear or move them around the screen to reinforce a grammar point such as er verb endings, you can also play a sound file at the same time for emphasis and to grab attention. Here, you have to right click the item you want to animate and select Custom Animation. Click Add Effect and choose an appropriate animation. Then click on the dropdown menu by the selected item and click Effect Options. Click on the next dropdown menu next to Sound. Scroll down to Other Sound ... Browse as before and click OK.
There are other ways of incorporating sound into PowerPoint too such as by recording narration directly into a slide with Windows Sound Recorder or by playing a CD track through a presentation. However, both have their drawbacks. The former will produce a wav recording which potentially could be very large in size and the latter requires you to keep the original CD containing the track in the drive during playback. If you own the copyright of the recording, you can rip it using readily available software such as Windows Media Player and then embed it afterwards as described above.
However, if you are looking for music sites which do let you legally use their audio files to enhance your presentations, you can choose from the list I've compiled in my Del.icio.us account under podsafe which is covered by the Creative Commons licence. To make life easier, I've included it as a tagroll in the left hand sidebar of my blog.
My favourite site from the list is Flashkit which has a large selection of loops which you can download and freely use as long as you acknowledge the author. These short clips last on average between five and twenty seconds and are therefore ideal for presentations or podcasts. For sound effects, FindSounds is a great site to explore. Read about their copyright policy here.
The digital age has arrived and as some high street stores decide to reject old technology and no longer stock audio cassettes despite examining boards still insisting that oral exams are recorded upon them, we find ourselves in the fortunate position of being able to be far more creative and flexible with how we choose to use audio in the 21st century.
Making mp3 files is straightforward and can help to personalise learning. Listening is an important skill, particularly in languages where it can be used to improve pronunciation and reinforce meaning. Now that we have the technology in our schools, let's not allow our pupils to power down in class, but use these tools to enhance our lessons and bring PowerPoint back to life. Sounds interesting? Let's embed the idea.