Teachers are always striving to show more and tell less when introducing students to new information, concepts, and skills. Education researcher Pauline Gibbons tells us, “Rather than trying to simplify information, amplifying the curriculum means finding as many ways as possible to make key information comprehensible.”
New teachers often struggle to find ways to amplify their curriculum. Video clips can be a great tool to assist students in gaining that deeper understanding of content. It’s important to be mindful of how often and how much we use video—it’s important to have a clear purpose for using that film, documentary, or news clip.
Purposes for Using Video
Building background knowledge on a topic. We know that students learn best when they take in information via multiple modalities—through reading, drawing, listening to the teacher’s oral explanations, and viewing visual media. We also know, from much research, that using visuals is key for those acquiring a new language. In California and many other U.S. states, we have a large number of English language learners (ELLs) in our schools. Images and videos support the learning of new content, concepts, and ideas.
An example: In a level one English language development class, students are in the early stages of their journey acquiring English. They’re working on a unit on weather, learning the words hurricane and tornado. The teacher turns on a five-minute video clip that shows examples of hurricanes and tornadoes and how their aftermaths differ. Students discuss what they saw in the video clip and write sentences using the new vocabulary.
Enriching a text or text excerpt. Whether they’re reading a piece of fiction or nonfiction, students benefit from contextualizing the person, place, or thing they’re learning about. Video clips can assist them in visualizing an event or a person, while setting the context historically, politically, socially, and emotionally.
An example: An 11th-grade history class is reading an article about the civil rights movement and Jim Crow laws. Before they read, the teacher shows an excerpt from Ava DuVernay’s award-winning documentary 13th that highlights the segregation and restrictive conditions of the South in the post–Civil War period. The visuals and audio reinforce students’ reading, enhancing their understanding of the need for a civil rights movement.
Deepening or solidifying students’ learning. Child-friendly how-to or instructional videos are readily available on the internet. Typically under seven minutes, these can serve to reinforce what students have learned or are already learning. YouTube, TeacherTube, and BrainPop, for example, provide brief instructional videos on different academic topics and subjects, such as how to do short division or how to write a letter. Watching a short instructional video created for kids is a nice break for students—and something novel or fresh can really stick with them.
An example: Fifth graders have been writing narrative essays. The teacher has provided instructions, a couple model essays, and a graphic organizer to help them write their first drafts. While they do that, she adds to the instructional mix a humorous five-minute video on the dos and don’ts of narrative writing as told by teenagers dressed as famous storybook characters.
Tips for Using Video
Be selective. A clip can have a big impact, so you’ll want to pick the most dynamic and telling parts of the film, news segment, or documentary to show students. Be first clear on your purpose—that will help you determine what to show and how to frame it for students.
For upper grades, there might be a film that has value but is too racy or controversial. You don’t have to dismiss it—just be strategic. In the film Schindler’s List, for example, there’s a lot of intense violence and some adult sexual content. So I showed only a few select clips to amplify my 10th graders’ understanding of the Holocaust.
Provide a mission. How can we make sure students actively watch? Provide a mission before playing the video. For example, “As you watch, I want you to pay attention to....” Setting a goal for what students are about to watch will keep them accountable and attentive.
Pause to ponder (and write). Give students time to reflect by pausing the clip. Avoid having students do a task like writing notes or answering questions while they watch. This is especially difficult for ELLs. (For all of us, frankly. Try it.) Watch a few minutes and then pause the video to ask students to discuss what they just saw, write down reflections, or answer a question you provide. Pausing every few minutes allows students time to process what they’re viewing, which is especially valuable if it’s an information-packed video, or if you teach an early elementary grade.
Turn on closed captioning. Students can read along as they watch. For content-packed video clips, consider including the transcripts, as a handout or digital copy, especially if your students are going to be required to apply the information they learn from the video.