« Author Interview: 'Just Ask Us: Kids Speak Out on Student Engagement' | Main | Response: Using Videos to 'Enhance Learning Experiences for Students' »

Response: The Best Ways to Use Video in Class

(This is the first post in a two-part series)


The new "question-of-the-week" is:

How should teachers use videos/movies in the classroom?

Videos can be a useful learning tool in the classroom.  Teacher have also been known to use them as ways to fill time without actually teaching.  This two-part series will explore ways to use them effectively.

Today's contributors are Jason Griffith, Ken Halla, Dr. Rebecca Alber, Jennie Farnell, Cheryl Mizerny, and Michele L. Haiken. You can listen to a 10-minute conversation I had with Jason, Ken, and Rebecca on my BAM! Radio Show. You can also find a list of, and links to, previous shows here.  


I use video extensively with English Language Learners, and you can read about those strategies in this Edutopia article (co-authored by my colleague Katie Hull), Eight Ways to Use Video With English-Language Learners. That article also includes links to additional resources I've collected.

In addition to showing videos, I've also had students create them. ELLs love creating short Instagram videos about academic vocabulary (see The Best Resources For Learning To Use The Video Apps "Vine" & Instagram). My IB Theory of Knowledge students create many different kinds of videos, including modern-day Allegories of the Cave and commercials using multiple fallacies.

As with every tool with possible use in the classroom, video has its place and also has to be kept in its place.


Response From Jason Griffith

Jason Griffith is a National Board Certified Teacher and Fellow of the National Writing Project who taught middle and high school English for 12 years in Pennsylvania. Currently, Jason is a Teaching Associate and PhD Student in English Education at Arizona State University and the author of From Me to We: Using Narrative Nonfiction to Broaden Student Perspectives:

Rumor has it that an administrator walked in on a teacher showing the classic Will Ferrell comedy Elf to a high school class for no apparent curricular reason. Whether that was true or not, early in my teaching career, my district issued a firm set of restrictions for using video in the classroom including having a clear curricular rationale for doing so and showing clips of no more than 15 minutes in length.

The first rule is fair. Whether it's a time-tested canonical novel or a fleeting hit of a pop song, a basic tenet for including any text in class is addressing what students will do with it and why. However, the 15-minute viewing time limit is a bit more arbitrary. Would we limit the in-class reading of a print text if it took more than 15 minutes? Such strict rules play to the general misconception that watching movies in class is just a time-killer and not worthy of valuable classroom time.

Furthermore, considering the rise of our visual culture where still and video images (along with music) frequently accompany words in multimodal texts, teachers must guide students to critically view and respond to film just as we do with print text. No doubt recognition of this fact inspired the Common Core Standard asking students to compare multiple versions of a text in various mediums. The genre of narrative nonfiction offers one specific example for why such work is necessary.

A recent study showed that viewers tend to believe fictionalized "movie facts" over truth reported in the narrative nonfiction books used as source material. Lee Gutkind, the editor of Creative Nonfiction magazine calls these Hollywood adaptations "BOTS" (based-on-a-true story) since they often engage in compressing timelines (to fit into the standard 2-hour movie length), creating composite characters out of multiple real-life people, and even introducing completely made-up characters and events to enliven a film's plot. While some BOTS are more faithful to their source text than others, it takes a critical comparison of film and book to notice when fictional elements creep into a nonfiction account.

Considering how frequently memoirs, biographies, and works of literary journalism are adapted into BOTS (Hidden Figures and Sully are recent examples), comparing book and film versions of a true account provides an interesting classroom opportunity for engaged and critical film viewing. As I wrote in my book, this type of activity "puts the student in the role of truth-detective. Asking students to identify and discuss what the filmmakers changed and what they got right allows the student to examine the rhetorical choices of editors and producers just as we examined the rhetorical choices of the author while reading the book."

One simple and effective activity for comparing versions (which works for both full length books/films and excerpts/scenes) is to have students draw a comparison/contrast T-chart after they've read the source text. As they watch the film version, they can briefly list items on the left that are the same as the book while using the right column to note things that were changed, added, or omitted. While it's important to recognize which parts of BOTS have been fictionalized, the point of this activity isn't just to count how many movie facts filmmakers invented, but rather students can draw from their comparisons and contrasts to analyze why the changes were made and whether the adaptations were effective.

For example, after reading Steve Lopez's The Soloist: A Lost Dream, an Unlikely Friendship, and the Redemptive Power of Music, my 10th graders noticed the film version included the character of the narrator's ex-wife, who doesn't exist in the book. Upon discussion, students recognized that the ex-wife was a composite of three real-life characters who separately criticized the author/narrator in the book. One of my students said, "I didn't really like the change, but I understood why [filmmakers] did it."

By studying both book and BOTS pairings, students not only get a better understanding of each text independently, but they also come to recognize how stories develop, interact, intersect, and diverge across mediums.



Response From Ken Halla

Ken Halla ([email protected]) is the eLearning Coordinator for Fairfax County Public Schools where he runs the district's online school and works on other educational technology issues. His recent book is Deeper Learning Through Technology: Using the Cloud to Individualize Instruction:

Video As a Cornerstone for Self Paced Learning

During my first year of teaching some veterans approached me and suggested I show the "epic" film 1776 about the American revolution. It was a different time. There were no state exams, nor any way to find clips that might be better than an entire movie. So I showed the movie, all 168 minutes of it and squirmed the entire time realizing my mistake the first class period but not wanting to go against my grizzled colleagues. Twenty-five years later when I left the classroom to become an administrator it remained the only movie I had ever showed.

For years I copied clips from movies, television shows, etc and created created video tapes. I would use to highlight a point, but none of the clips lasted more than five minutes. My favorite was the Ken Burns Civil War film which I used to bring life to our learning about that time period.

But as technology improved I found a new use for videos, that of screencasting the most important points for a lesson.  Initially it started out innocently as I wanted to flip my classroom. But over time it led to a completely new way to teach. My room changed from a U-shape meant to foster whole-group, single-paced learning to groups of four meant to combine students of different levels. It also meant we could toss out the textbook for videos I found all over YouTube. Like the kids' book If You Give a Mouse a Cookie it led to completely changing student assignments and letting "my kids" move higher up the Bloom's taxonomy ladder. Rather than lecture on the electoral college, for example, my students had to logically decide who would win the presidency and why. For students who needed more time we could alter their assignments and I could move around the classroom to easily assist them. Essentially, using the videos allowed me to create multiple small classrooms while I ended up with daily time for one on one conversations with each person in my classrooms.

But, there's more. During the "early" years of creating my videos I assumed it was best for the students to hear my voice on the screencasts. But with the increased spread of videos on YouTube, more and more I started using others'. For my penultimate new prep of Advanced Placement Micro/Macro class, fully 90 percent of my videos came from another teacher in my district. I used to tell the kids that they had the benefit of having, not one, but two teachers in the room all year long. It was really the ultimate in sharing both content and another teacher's expertise. Because so many of us liked the videos, we created a collaborative team of four teachers all coming from different schools. No longer was I bound to the norms of one school, but had the benefit of multiple ways of teaching and the expertise to create a class I could never have done on my own.

It doesn't have to stop there. For example I am the coordinator of my county's online school and we can now have the students do their work on their own schedule and meet with the teacher once a week. This allows students to email and even call their online teacher or meet him or her in an online meeting room for help when they need it. There are break-out rooms for group work, quizzes, sharing of documents, etc. Since our classes can be recorded, students who miss the class have an opportunity to keep up with their peers on their own time. So the online courses can utilize the best of the brick and mortar lessons and vice versa.  

Really, technology is allowing classrooms to crash traditional boundaries both for students and their teachers.

So the video is just the beginning to creating learning centered, self-paced classrooms and it all started for me, with a mistake, the epically long 1776 movie.



Response From Dr. Rebecca Alber

Dr. Rebecca Alber is an instructor at UCLA's Graduate School of Education where she teaches teachers. She is a literacy specialist, blogger and consulting editor at Edutopia, and a compulsive reader. She dips into the Pacific as often as she can get away with:

I read somewhere that most of us, 80 percent of the population, are visual learners. With this in mind, and from my own pedagogical experiences, video/film is a powerful learning tool and I recommend using it often. Visual media can supplement and enrich a piece of text like nothing else. For example, reading about the civil rights movement and Jim Crow? Before you read and after you read, why not show an excerpt from Ava Duvernay's award documentary, 13th? And by excerpt or clip, I mean simply a handful of minutes, five to seven will do. That's all you really need and it can have quite an impact on your learners. It can help them visualize people and places better and also set the context—historically, politically, socially, emotionally. I'm not a fan of watching an entire film or documentary. Students can do that on their own at home, especially with the access they have now. The value is in the power of the visuals and audio they just experienced and how that enhances their understanding of what they are about to read or just read. The value is in the discussion and writing that follows.

While students are watching film/video, don't ask them to write. This is an age-old classroom practice that is a poor practice in my opinion. Who can watch with undivided attention and write? (Adults can't do it well either. Try it.) I realized while teaching high school that when I asked my students to "answer these questions while you watch this clip of the Crucible," that so many (even my "A" students) hadn't written anything. Then I realized: It was because they were watching! So ask a question first, then play a small piece, then pause it and have them write or discuss. That's one strategy. Their responses will be richer and much more detailed.



Response From Jennie Farnell

Jennie Farnell is the assistant director of the English Language Institute at the University of Bridgeport, where she specializes in assessment and curriculum design, teacher training, and student support. Her research interests include supporting learners with special needs and integrating technology into education. She has been teaching ESL/EFL since 1998 across all levels and ages of students:

I am a huge proponent using of videos and movies in the classroom for many reasons. Obviously, they're enjoyable and certainly more attractive to most K-12 learners (and many adults) than just reading and/or listening to a script. They're also more in line with the way most of today's learners get information outside the classrooms, regardless of age. However, in my opinion, the best reason for using videos/movies is that they allow for a greater degree of sophisticated thinking and discussion for learners who may still be at the lower levels of English acquisition.

When I taught English as a Foreign Language to Japanese junior high students, I immediately realized that their English levels were way below their maturity levels. They weren't interested in learning "This is a pen" but they WERE interested by movies. With that in mind, I ended up designing almost all of my lessons around movies. We started with Shrek; what a goldmine that movie is in so many different ways! I designed grammar lessons around describing the scenes; I adapted American fairy tales to their grammar and vocabulary levels. We learned grammar, vocabulary, reading strategies, and culture all at the same time.

We examined the deeper ideas of stereotypes and discrimination, using the themes from the movie and examples from their own lives to set the stage. For more advanced learners, we learned about the Western motif of the hero's journey and traced Shrek's path. From that point forward, even when I did find textbooks that had interesting and level appropriate readings for students, I always incorporated videos to introduce the subject, induce higher level thinking skills, practice grammar/vocabulary related to the topic, etc. At the end of a thematic reading unit, we would watch a movie on the same topic and wrap up with project based learning (incorporating text to self, text to text, text to world).

That was the utopia of not having a pre-ordained curriculum as an EFL teacher. Although now back into the standards and outcomes based-world, I still continue to use a large quantity of movies/videos, regardless of what subject I'm teaching. They're engaging and more importantly, they're versatile. They can be used to practice any skill—grammar, speaking, listening, vocabulary practice, and writing. They can be used as a warm-up to a reading or an introduction to a new topic. You can flip the classroom by having students watch a video for homework and then discuss it the next day, freeing up class time for discussions, clarification of new ideas, etc. Videos and movies, when carefully chosen, help students make real world connections. I always use The Great Debaters in my speaking and listening classes, followed by a class debate. Typically, even those students who didn't feel a debate would be a relevant activity changed their mind after watching the film and participating in their own debates. (I usually give the class an option of two final speaking activities, a debate or a different type of presentation. Majority decides.)

The only caveat, and this is not specific to videos/movies, is that they are tools, not an end in themselves. Yes, they are fun and engaging, but there should always be a clear purpose for including them in lesson planning. However, that's true for every tool we as teachers use—textbooks, handouts, technology, project based learning, etc. I typically use a loose backward design plan: a) end goal, b) what students need to learn to reach it, c) what materials will be the most engaging and useful to teach it, and d) which of those materials will fit into the time frame available. There are times an entire film would be wonderful, but the value of using the entire film (minus the entertainment factor for students) isn't worth the amount of time it would occupy.

I can't think of any way videos/films CAN'T be used in the classroom. It's up to the teacher to decide how to focus the material chosen on the goal of the lesson. This is certainly more work than predesigned text activities, but in my mind, more authentic and meaningful than pre-packaged materials. With videos and movies, teachers are limited only by their imagination and if that fails, there are many good websites which have predesigned lesson plans using video clips; they're just a google away.



Response From Cheryl Mizerny

Cheryl Mizerny has been teaching for over 20 years, is passionate about middle level education, and serves on the faculty of the AMLE Leadership Institute. Her practice is guided by her belief in reaching every student and educating the whole child. She currently teaches 6th grade English in Michigan and writes an education blog, It's Not Easy Being Tween, for Middleweb.com:

I've been out of school for a really long time, yet I have a few vivid memories of lessons and activities that had a lasting impact. Several of these involved watching movies in the classroom. In elementary school, we watched Donald Duck: Mathmagic Land (which was old even then, but we loved it), Free to Be You and Me, and, my favorite, the 70s CBS News Series of historical reenactments, "You Are There." In middle school, we gathered in the auditorium to watch the first Space Shuttle launch and cheered. In high school, it was Gandhi and Romeo and Juliet. Watching movies was a special event and they stuck with me as a result.

Today, our students have access to more videos than we would have time to show even if that is all we did every day. They are used to being in front of screens and spend hours surfing through videos on their phones. Rather than being a detriment to learning, this development actually helps teachers because it gives us access to brief, engaging video clips that we can seamlessly integrate into our curriculum and serve the purpose to reinforce retention of information.

Since the advent of the internet, my colleagues and I have found numerous ways to weave video into our classrooms.

Among these are:

  • to take students on a virtual field trip to places it is not feasible in reality.
  • to illustrate complex concepts in action.
  • to see and hear works of art come to life.
  • to reach children of all learning styles and abilities.
  • to provide a common experience as a springboard for discussion.
  • to supplement the curriculum by providing background knowledge or reinforcement of a concept.
  • to practice critical viewing skills and "reading" a text other than in print.

My students get excited if they see "video clip" on the day's agenda. There are, however, some caveats to using video effectively, and some pitfalls to avoid that I've learned the hard way.

  • Our primary task as teachers is to educate our students. Therefore, all materials utilized in class much be pedagogically sound and support our learning goals. It may be fun, and even beneficial, once in a great while to show a funny, non-curricular clip, but that should not become a regular practice.
  • Video should not be used as a reward or time-filler. When it is used, it should generally be brief. Although there are times when showing a full-length movie is appropriate, doing so several times a year loses its impact.
  • Teachers need to view the video first to avoid any embarrassing, and potentially hurtful or inappropriate, content. Also using a filter such as ViewPure hides these from student view.
  • Watching videos should be active and not passive. Provide a focus for viewing—a goal or something to watch for. Have students do some sort of simple, brief note taking such as sketch notes or a mind map while watching to identify evidence of the desired learning.
  • Rather than show the clip and move on, students should then critically respond or discuss the video so that it becomes incorporated into the unit.
  • If possible, the video should be made available for students to view again if they wish or if they were absent.

Video, if used wisely, can be a fantastic addition to a challenging, engaging curriculum.



Response From Michele L. Haiken

Michele L. Haiken is a middle school English teacher in Rye, N.Y. and an adjunct professor in Literacy at Manhattanville College. She edited the book Gamify Literacy: Boost Comprehension, Collaboration, and Learning (ISTE, 2017). To see examples how she addresses literacy, technology, and the Common Core in her own classroom and learn more, visit her blog http://theteachingfactor.com and follow her on Twitter at @teachingfactor:

As technology and schooling are continuously evolving, teachers must equip students with literacy skills needed to participate, engage, and succeed in our global and digital society. To do so, students must read, decode, and  think critically, moving between printed, visual, and digital text.

Movies are a great tool and text for critical reading and viewing across content areas. At the same time, movies and videos can also be used as a creation and production vehicle with students. Students are naturally creative and movie making lends itself well to collaborative, project based learning. Students can use movie creation to show their understanding and learning.

Majority of students have smart phones and can use the video camera on their phones to make a movies. Here are six different types of movie making projects I have used with my own students to create, synthesize, and communicate their knowledge and understanding while tapping into the Common Core Learning Standards and ISTE Standards for Students.

1. TED Talk - TED Talks address reading, speaking, and listening standards. Show any TED Talk to students for students to apply close reading strategies to non-print text, analyzing rhetorical devices and elements of argument. Students can also create their own TED Talks on inspirational and informative topics.

2. Screencasts - Screencasting is the capture of all the action on a computer screen while you are narrating. Don't just require that students create a Prezi or Powerpoint, allow students to record their presentation with screencasting tools like Screencast-o-matic or Screencastify. Screencasts can be used for teaching and reflection when aligned with lesson objectives, goals, assessment practices, and standards.

3. Five Frame Stories - This idea comes from Jacob Burns Film Center, a nonprofit educational and cultural organization located in Pleasantville, New York. The Burns has an outstanding website with "View Now Do Nows" that are quick creative projects and a visual glossary of film terminology. For the Five Frame Story students tell a story in only five frames or pictures. Using only five frames to tell a story or retell a story requires students to evaluate and think about character, beginnings, middle, and ends, as well as conflict and resolution

4. "Common Craft Style" Videos - Common Craft videos are screencast of an illustrated presentation. There are only a few items in Common Craft videos—a whiteboard, paper cut-outs, human hands, and markers. There is no music and the videos are never over four minutes long. Also, when characters cut-outs are used, none of them have faces. Students can create Common Craft style videos on a concept or idea in math or science class. Students can create a Common Craft Style video to explain an event in history. Check out this Common Craft video on beginning fractions.

5. Choose Your Own Adventure Video - Youtube has a feature that allows you to link videos within videos. I first learned about this from Greg Kulowiec, a high school history teacher and classroom technology integration specialist. Kulowiec's students used the concept to create videos comparing the French Revolution and recent Egyptian revolutions. He describes the planning and organization process for making the videos on his blog.

6. Stop Motion Animation - Recently, one of my students wanted to learn how to create a stop motion animation for her Genius Hour project. Check out her video here. Think about the possibility of students creating a stop motion animation using Legos or Clay (claymation) to explain a science concept like osmosis. Sounds like a cool idea to me.


Thanks to Jason, Ken, Rebecca, Jennie, Cheryl, and Michele for their contributions!

Please feel free to leave a comment with your reactions to the topic or directly to anything that has been said in this post.

Consider contributing a question to be answered in a future post. You can send one to me at [email protected]. When you send it in, let me know if I can use your real name if it's selected or if you'd prefer remaining anonymous and have a pseudonym in mind.

You can also contact me on Twitter at @Larryferlazzo.

Anyone whose question is selected for this weekly column can choose one free book from a number of education publishers.

Education Week has published a collection of posts from this blog, along with new material, in an e-book form. It's titled Classroom Management Q&As: Expert Strategies for Teaching.

Just a reminder—you can subscribe and receive updates from this blog via email or RSS Reader. And, if you missed any of the highlights from the first six years of this blog, you can see a categorized list below. They don't include ones from this current year, but you can find those by clicking on the "answers" category found in the sidebar.

This Year's Most Popular Q&A Posts

Classroom Management Advice

Race & Gender Challenges

Implementing The Common Core

Best Ways To Begin The School Year

Best Ways To End The School Year

Student Motivation & Social Emotional Learning

Teaching Social Studies

Project-Based Learning

Using Tech In The Classroom

Parent Engagement In Schools

Teaching English Language Learners

Student Assessment

Brain-Based Learning

Reading Instruction

Writing Instruction

Education Policy Issues

Differentiating Instruction

Math Instruction

Science Instruction

Advice For New Teachers

Author Interviews

Entering The Teaching Profession

Administrator Leadership

Teacher Leadership

Relationships In Schools

Professional Development

Instructional Strategies

I am also creating a Twitter list including all contributers to this column.

Look for Part Two in a few days..

Notice: We recently upgraded our comments. (Learn more here.) If you are logged in as a subscriber or registered user and already have a Display Name on edweek.org, you can post comments. If you do not already have a Display Name, please create one here.
Ground Rules for Posting
We encourage lively debate, but please be respectful of others. Profanity and personal attacks are prohibited. By commenting, you are agreeing to abide by our user agreement.
All comments are public.

The opinions expressed in Classroom Q&A With Larry Ferlazzo are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

Follow This Blog


Most Viewed On Teacher



Recent Comments