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New Teachers Online: How-To Articles: Use New Technology to Reinforce Instruction

Using Overhead Projectors in the Classroom
Carl Sannito

Over the last year or so I’ve been (unofficially) mentoring a third grade teacher at my school. One day she called me to her room and asked if I would take a student out of her class because his behavior was causing such a disruption. She had enough of his nonsense. So I went up to her room, asked him to come with me and I gave both the student and the teacher a break from each other.

I brought the student into the computer lab and I asked him what he thought the problem was. After listening to his story, I was wondering if there wasn’t enough blame for both parties to share. Sure enough, after he had calmed down and told me that he was ready to return to the class, I walked him back upstairs. When I walked in the room I noticed that the class seemed to be up for grabs. Some students were talking to each other, some students were just sitting at their desk drawing. Others were vying for the teacher’s attention through a variety of methods. In short, the teacher was having one of those days.

We all have them. I certainly do.

She looked at me with a look of exasperation and said, “What can I do?”

It was clear to both of us that she needed to work on her classroom management skills. So I asked her if I could try something with her class. “Anything,” she replied.

I asked her where her overhead projector was. Apparently it was gathering dust in a corner. I dragged it out, plugged it in and quickly got the kids to shuffle their desks so they could all see the wall where I was going to project the screen. I grabbed a blank transparency to write on and put a quick heading down for them to copy. Shockingly, the kids looked at me like I had just put an Algebra equation up for them to solve. So I explained what a heading was. The great thing was that as I was talking, I could face the entire class while demonstrating the heading on the wall. Not only that, but the projection was large enough that no matter where you sat in the room, you could see what I was doing.

As I taught, I could see the light bulb go off over the teacher’s head. She learned what some of us already know: the overhead projector is a great teaching tool as well as a powerful technique for maintaining order in your classroom.

You can purchase the transparency sheets (also called transparency film) at most office supply stores. Be aware that there are a few different kinds, made for different printers and copiers. There are some that you can run through your inkjet or laser printers, that means any image you have on your computer can become an overhead, including color pictures! Some are designed to run through a copy machine. Imagine taking a paper that a student has written and turning it into a document that you could share with the class? Of course you should blank out all personal information first. I’ve even taken rough drafts that students have written, made them into overheads and edited them with the class on the overhead. Then we’ve taken our rubrics and scored them. You’d be amazed at how engaged the students become.

Most office supply stores sell overhead projectors. Consider purchasing a cart so you can keep all your pens and overheads organized. If it is in your budget, you can also purchase a screen to show your overheads. If you can’t afford a screen, a simple white sheet hung from the ceiling will do fine!

I would encourage all classroom teachers to investigate using an overhead project as part of their daily teaching routine. Not only is this visual tool an excellent way to teach, but it also works as a great classroom management strategy.

Oh, by the way, that aforementioned teacher? She LOVES using her overhead and claims that it is her salvation.


  • Many basal reading series come with pre-made overheads. And even if you don’t have them or you can’t afford them, most teacher’s editions will tell you what to write on the board. Who’s to say you can’t make your own overheads?
  • I used to create all my overheads for the day in the morning. It really made my life easier during the day.

If you have a comment or suggestion, you can e-mail Carl at carlsannito@yahoo.com.

See also, Making Transparencies by Paul Hewitt.


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