4 Important Tips for Using Videos in Lessons

Written by Richard James Rogers (Award-winning author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management)Illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati.

This blog post comes with an accompanying podcast episode. Listen here:

Videos are a staple of the modern practitioner’s arsenal. They’re often easy to source, well-made and free.

Video hosting platforms like YouTube and Vimeo have allowed us, as teachers, to turn our classrooms into makeshift cinemas (and our virtual classrooms into large resource banks). This is a revolution of sorts – one that has been spurred on by many factors, not least the declining cost of smart boards, sound systems and data projectors as the years have gone by.

As a teacher myself I have made use of videos in my practice extensively over the past sixteen years: even earning the invisible badge of honour that comes with wheeling in a TV on a trolley with accompanying DVD player back in 2008.

Videos can offer great instructional material for students – but only when they are sourced and executed carefully by the teacher. Whilst this may seem like a simple and straightforward process, further analysis reveals that there is much to consider.

In today’s blog post I will draw upon my experience of using videos extensively over my entire career. My aim is to provide you with strategies and points to consider, so that you don’t make some big mistakes along the way (like I have!).

So, without further ado, let’s hit the ‘Play’ button and get right into these top tips for using videos as teacher.

Tip #1: ALWAYS watch the video yourself before you show it to your students

This can be a challenge when time is limited, but it is a crucial first step that we should always take. Watching the video beforehand allows us to check the following:

  • Is the content at the right level?
  • Is it age-appropriate? Are there scenarios within the video that could be culturally insensitive?
  • Does the video contain any swearing?
  • Is the volume of the video loud-enough?
  • Will I show the auto-generated captions/subtitles within the video? Are these subtitles an accurate reflection of the spoken words within the video? Do the captions contain any swear words by mistake (or on-purpose)?
  • Are there any points-of-interest that I can capitalise on? Are there any real-life examples or applications that I can think of that link directly to the video’s content?

One key mistake I’ve made a number of times as a teacher is sourcing a video quickly, only to find that much of the material was either too advanced or too basic for my students. Be particularly careful with captions/subtitles – a old colleague of mine got into some hot water for showing a video to students that contained clean spoken language, but subtitles containing swear words.

Surely it must be every teacher’s worst nightmare to show a video to students that wasn’t checked beforehand, only to hear or see crassness, immorality or inappropriate scenarios on the video when played in on a big screen in front of the students. The fear of embarrassment alone should be enough for us to remember the cardinal rule of using videos in teaching: ALWAYS watch the videos before we share them with our students.

Tip #2: Keep Videos Between 5 and 15 minutes long (as a general Rule of Thumb)

I’ve made the mistake on a number of occasions of finding a reputable, clean, amazing video, only to then play it to the class for 40 minutes or longer (e.g. in the case of lengthy documentaries). When the videos we choose are too long (or the segments we choose to play are too long) then many students will become disengaged and irritable. This is understandable – in today’s digitized social landscape students are more distracted than ever before in human history.

For me personally, I attempt to keep my videos to 15 minutes maximum. For this to happen, I have to choose videos (or video segments) very carefully. Sometimes I’ll source videos that get straight to the point (e.g. a laboratory demonstration of an experiment) and that take less than 5 minutes to play through.

In short – be aware of how much time the students spend watching the video. Is that time being efficiently used, or does the video explore topics that the students don’t need to know?

Tip #3: Watch the students as you’re watching the video

I once was blasted by my mentor during my teacher-training year. Why? – I had committed the atrocious crime of showing a video to my students, and then casually sitting down to watch the video with them.

Of course, any experienced teacher will immediately be able to identify the inadequacies of this strategy – when you don’t watch the students as the video is playing, then small pockets of chatter, disruptiveness and distraction can manifest.

My mentor put it bluntly: “When you show a video to your students you must watch the students. Don’t watch the video!”. I had been reprimanded (well, probably just advised, but it felt like a reprimand).

That was sixteen years ago. Today, I would have to say that I disagree with my old mentor, at least to some degree.

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I believe that as a video is playing it is most effective for a teacher to watch the students AND watch the video. Consider the following:

  • Walk over to students who are chatting during a video, or who are being disruptive, and stand next to them. Normally this will bring them back on-task, but if it doesn’t, then a quiet one-to-one word should do the trick. “I really need you to focus on this video, Lucy”, for example.
  • Stand to the side or behind the class so that every student is within your field of vision.
  • If disruption becomes too pervasive, then don’t be afraid to stop the video and talk to the class. For example: “I’m so sorry to those students who were listening quietly to the video. It is unfortunate that some students are not paying attention”. Then play the video again ONLY when every student is focused.

However, why should we watch the video as we are watching the students? Well, there are many answers to that question, but the core principle is that you may wish to use key material within the video for discussion or tasks later. You may even want to pause the video at key points to discuss a real-life example or application, or even to re-phrase something the video has just described. Don’t be afraid of pausing videos at key moments like this, by the way – students learn a lot when prior concepts are linked to content that has been very recently covered.

Tip #4: Make sure the video has a purpose, and is utilized afterwards

We must not get into the habit of showing videos to students for the sole purpose of filling time, however. We must attempt to extract all of the juice that we can out of a video. Consider asking your students to do the following:

  • Make a list of key bullet points as the video is playing (which could be used as source material later in a group activity for example).
  • Complete a worksheet based on the video.
  • Use information from the video to complete exam-style questions or past-paper questions.
  • Follow the instructions within the video, step-by-step (e.g. if it’s a ‘How to’ video’). This could apply to tasks as diverse as coding, model-making, conducting scientific experiments, cooking, etc.
  • Collaborate with others to create a presentation, infographic, mind-map, news report or debating panel based on the concepts and information covered.

There are exceptions to this rule, of course. Sometimes we might want to show students videos as stimuli material, or to build passion for and interest in a subject. Recently, for example, I was teaching a physics lesson about forces and motion. The lesson covered pretty rudimentary calculations involving speed, distance, time and acceleration. However, I was presented with a most unusual gift – NASA had just landed a new rover on Mars. This was a golden opportunity to excite my students – so I played some footage from the Mars landing and initiated a short discussion about the physics involved.

Conclusion

I feel that we’ve become so used to the accessibility of high-quality videos that we’ve become somewhat complacent. We must always ensure that video content is sourced, planned and executed well. We do this by:

  • Watching the videos before we show them to our students
  • Being mindful of video duration
  • Keeping our eyes on our students, as we’re watching the video with them
  • Making sure that there’s some kind of activity or task included in the lesson that links to the video in some way (where possible)

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Author:

High School Science and Mathematics Teacher, Author and Blogger. Graduated from Bangor University with a BSc (Hons) degree in Molecular Biology and a PGCE in Secondary Science Education. Richard also holds the coveted Certificate in Mathematics from the Open University (UK).

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