Technology Integration

Lights, Camera . . . Engagement! Three Great Tools for Classroom Video

February 21, 2012

How many times have you thought to yourself, "In what way can I spice up this unit and make it student-centered?" One great way is to let your students be creative using video. With all the tools and technology available, making videos is easier than ever for you and your students.

Recently at the annual National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) conference, Becky Ellis, Greg Kulowiec and I presented three different ways you can use video with your students in the classroom.

There are plenty of ideas and resources available through the links we shared. In this post, I present an overview of these video styles, each with varying degrees of technology and resources needed.

1. Use Animoto

Step A: Sign Up

Animoto is an easy-to-use website where you and your students can create 30-second videos for free. As an educator, you can sign up and get a free Animoto Plus account. The Plus account allows you to sign up 50 of your students for six months with the ability to create videos of unlimited length. The account is renewable, so be sure to take advantage of the free offer. Otherwise, the Plus account is $30 a year, which is not bad -- but we already spend enough money on our classrooms!

Step B: Try It Yourself, Then Show Your Students

The great thing about Animoto is that all you have to do is follow the easy steps they provide. Load photos and/or text, select your music and theme -- and then produce. Your students will have access to over 600 music tracks to select from, or they can download their own music for their video creation. It's great for students to create a variety of projects from current events to a video biography or whatever you and they can imagine. All you need is access to a computer, and your students will be creating cool videos using just a few photos from the Internet and a lot of their own imagination. My students were able to get started at school. I was able to assist them with the sign-up process, and then they did most of their creating at home, where they had access to their own pictures and music.

Step C: Share with Your Classes

Students really enjoyed watching and presenting their videos. I put a time limit of three minutes on each so that it wouldn't take too long to watch and critique their work. The students had a lot of fun with it, and the topics they chose were interesting and well thought-out.  

2. Have Students Create Common Craft-Style Videos

What are Common Craft-Style Videos?

Common Craft videos are made using simple paper cutouts and dialogue that focuses on explaining concepts "in plain English." Pioneered by Lee and Sachi LeFever, this style of video utilizes a white background and will have all elements planned out to make a complex subject simple. Another key to the video style is that it is short, usually around two to four minutes.

Tasks for Creating Common Craft-Style Videos

Storyboard a script for the video.

This will involve making sure students are explaining how something works, or why it was important. Encourage students to time their explanation in order to reduce it to its most simple form.

Create props for the video.

Props in this case will largely be paper cutouts of simple drawings. Students can plan to use printed words as part of their props. Ideally, printed words should be used for a title slide and a bibliography slide. It will take students a few extra minutes to type, but this will result in a more professional-looking product.

Shoot the video.

It's usually best left to the teacher when there are time constraints. Students familiar with video production can be trained to take on this task.

Narrate the video.

One or two students can be assigned to this task. Students can narrate as the action is taking place, or narration can be added on a separate voice-over.

Designate presentation specialists.

Two or three students should be involved in manipulating the paper cutouts in sync to the narration/explanation of the historical event.

Steps Needed for a Common Craft-Style Video Project

Step A
  • Assign topic.
  • Students determine images central to project.
  • Students script or "storyboard" their topic.
  • Students find clip art or draw their figures for the presentations.
Step B
  • Students participate in a trial run of the shoot where they practice the script and manipulation of figures and words.
  • Students will need a template for the area the camera will see when they are practicing.
  • Students are encouraged to make changes to their script and use a timer to make sure they are talking about the most important aspects of the historical event.
Step C
  • Teacher or student videographers film student projects.
  • Students who are finished with filming may then add a voice-over if time permits, or edit out any parts they feel detract from the expository nature of the film.
  • Students complete a group project evaluation form.
Step D
  • Videos are shown to the entire class. This would be appropriate as a test review or as a culminating project for the entire unit. This activity does not have to be done directly after filming.

Sample Common Craft-Style Videos

Classroom Wins with This Style of Video

Common Craft video projects are student-friendly. After seeing one example, students understand their task. This particular video style honors Gardner's theory of Multiple Intelligences and allows students to excel in areas of strength. By having students work on the storyboarding, script, manipulatives and titles as homework, a teacher only needs to spend a part of the class period to complete this project. The meaningful homework assignment is a bonus as well! Common Craft style videos are a low-tech. You only need a video camera, tripod, and white surface for students to create this type of culminating project.

3. Choose Your Own Adventure: CYOA

CYOA videos are a fun way for students to learn content and be creative. You need to be a little more advanced with technology, but the process is simple for the students. They'll need a green screen, video camera and tripod as well as some real preparation before they start filming. These projects are great for teams to collaborate and learn.

Typically CYOA projects are one week of class time and would follow this basic timeline:

  • Day 1 - Introduction and begin planning
  • Day 2 - Finish planning and write scripts
  • Day 3 - Finish scripts and begin filming
  • Day 4 - Filming
  • Day 5 - Finish filming, editing and linking

Tips and Pointers for CYOA

  • If you have computers available for student use, they can edit and link the videos themselves.
  • If you are limited on computers, you could cut this timeline down to four days by editing and linking the videos yourself.
  • It is reasonable to expect that students will be responsible for the content of the scripts as well as the digital images needed for the backgrounds.
  • You will need to get a green screen. Any green material will work as a green screen.
  • Make sure you have a light source between the students and the green screen to avoid shadows behind them.


The most important part of Choose Your Own Adventure videos is the planning phase. Below is the process that Greg's students went through to plan their video and filming.

Making videos is a natural medium for this generation of students. These kids make videos and post them to YouTube on their down time. So why aren't we bringing video production into the classroom? Using Animoto, Common Craft or Choose Your Own Adventure videos can really spice up your classroom and take the pressure off you as the teacher. Having students make their own videos helps them to be in charge of their own learning. As an added bonus, using videos in the classroom helps school get just a little closer to a kid's real life.

Share This Story

  • email icon

Filed Under

  • Technology Integration
  • Media Literacy
  • 6-8 Middle School
  • 9-12 High School

Follow Edutopia

  • facebook icon
  • twitter icon
  • instagram icon
  • youtube icon
  • Privacy Policy
  • Terms of Use
George Lucas Educational Foundation
Edutopia is an initiative of the George Lucas Educational Foundation.
Edutopia®, the EDU Logo™ and Lucas Education Research Logo® are trademarks or registered trademarks of the George Lucas Educational Foundation in the U.S. and other countries.