Using Video Effectively in the Classroom

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

March 21, 2016
Tanner Higgin Director, Education Editorial Strategy
Common Sense Education

CATEGORIES In the Classroom, Technology Integration, Tools

Editor's Note: Check out our using video in the classroom Teaching Strategies page for our most up-to-date tools, tips, and resources.

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 itStudents 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 Essential Teaching Strategies 

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.


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.


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 ViewingsMultiple 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


Make use of YouTube's closed-caption 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.


Use Zaption to string together multiple videos in a tour; you can also add essential questions and checks for understanding along the way.



Instead of starting a video with an essential question, add them 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.


For older students, Twitter can work great as a real-time, in-class backchannelling tool during a viewing, but it could shine even better as an asynchronous, at-home backchannel. Give your class a hashtag, assign a video, and have students post their thoughts to Twitter, using the hashtag, whenever they happen to watch.


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.

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Students should be active and reactive viewers.