Getting students to tune in through active and reactive viewing of video.

When we show videos in class, we want our students to watch actively rather than passively: to comprehend, not just consume. We want our students to be active viewers.

But why stop at comprehension? Active viewing is great, but it isn't enough.

When it comes to video, students shouldn't just get it; they should also have something to say about it. Students need to be active and reactive viewers -- comprehending and critiquing, reading and reacting, getting and giving knowledge. Below you'll find great tools, tips, and strategies for helping to foster both of these essential media-literacy skills.

Three Key Teaching Strategies for Video 

So how do you get your students to tune in instead of just kicking back? It all starts with setting up an essential question before you hit play. This is key to helping students watch the video with purpose and context.

From there, try any or all of these strategies to help kids think critically about what they watch.



1. Backchannelling

Using your essential question as a guide, have students take notes and react together, in real time, with a backchannelling tool. You can even join in on the action, and as an added bonus the backchannel creates a running record to review afterward.

Pro tip: This works great for feature films or documentaries, because it combines the film screening and discussion, maximizing class time.



2. Transcripts

Transcripts aren't always available, but when they are, they can be a really powerful tool. One option is to have students follow along on the transcript and annotate as they watch. Better yet, have students read the transcript before watching -- this way students can create their own essential question for the video.

Pro tip: After students read a transcript, ask them how seeing the video afterward may have altered their understanding or interpretation of what they read in the script.


Multiple Viewings

3. Multiple Viewings

Students may not always enjoy it, but watching a video more than once is key to going from passive to active -- and all the way to reactive -- viewing.

Pro tip: With each viewing, introduce a new essential question to help students see the video in different ways.

Tips and Tricks for a Few Great Video Apps

Active Viewing


Youtube website


Make use of YouTube's closed-captioning feature so students can watch and read at the same time, engaging different modalities. And, of course, use discretion when selecting videos -- it's always a good idea to preview anything you're going to show in class.


Nearpod logo


Use Nearpod to string together multiple videos in one interactive slide show; you can also add quizzes and checks for understanding along the way.




Instead of starting a video with an essential question, add questions throughout a video using EDPuzzle's audio track or comment features. This works especially well for flipped classrooms where students may watch a video individually or at home.

Reactive Viewing




Do you know that TED-Ed has a built-in tool for designing lessons that feature TED talks? It's a great way for teachers to add context to a video, but students can also use it to show what they know and create their own instructional videos.


Backchannel Chat

Backchannel Chat

Add live (and silent!) commentary to a film screening with Backchannel Chat. While students are watching a film, have them follow along on their computers as you provide your own running commentary, pointing out important moments or offering extra context. Students can also chime in with questions or observations.




Give students an authentic reason to watch and understand videos by having them remix a video using MediaBreaker. Remixing requires students to understand the material deeply, and MediaBreaker encourages students to add critical, socially engaged context.

Tanner Higgin

Tanner was Editorial Director, Learning Content at Common Sense Education where he led the editorial team responsible for edtech reviews and resources. Previously, he taught writing and media literacy for six years, and has a PhD from the University of California, Riverside. His research on video games and culture has been published in journals, books, and online, presented at conferences nationwide, and continues to be cited and taught in classes around the world. Prior to joining Common Sense Education, Tanner worked as a curriculum developer and researcher at GameDesk, helping to design and launch and the PlayMaker School. While at GameDesk, he co-designed the United Colonies alternate reality game (ARG) with Mike Minadeo. This ARG is to date one of the most sophisticated to be implemented in a K-12 environment. Outside of education, Tanner has been a Technical Writer-Editor for the Department of Defense, a web designer, and co-editor and co-creator of a print literary journal.