Be Active, Not Passive

Last month I overheard a conversation between two teachers looking through the DVD’s in the school library. Allow me to paraphrase the conversation.

“What do you think of this one?”

“Hmm. I think that’s okay. I might have used it last year.”

“Is it age appropriate for my kids?”

“It’s from <publisher name> so you should be okay.”

“Great. I need something to show this afternoon. This’ll work.”

I find it difficult to accept that in 2014, with all the media available to us, that many teachers still do not preview videos before showing them to their students.  I know that teacher time is a valuable thing, but so is face to face lesson time with students. Why would anyone want to squander that time by with a video that may not even meet your content standards? Or worse yet, use a video as “filler”?

Going through my old files yesterday, I came across this classic Hall Davidson handout. I don’t know if it is even available online anymore, but I hope he won’t mind me sharing it.


Most of us have moved beyond VHS tapes, but consider the wealth of video resources we have available through YouTube, SchoolTube, TeacherTube, and subscription services like Discovery Education.  There are so many options to create powerful learning experiences for our students.  But as Uncle Ben said in Spiderman, “With great power comes great responsibility.”  Let me point out some strategies for ACTIVE video watching that are still quite relevant today.

  • Preview the video before you show it. This seems obvious but it’s easy to skip this important step. Even if another teacher has recommended a video WATCH IT YOURSELF first. You don’t want to be surprised by content. PLUS knowing the content ahead of time will help you plan activities that will help your students learn the most from the video.
  • Use short segments rather than full videos.  If the concept you want to teach can be demonstrated in a 90 second video clip, you don’t need to use up valuable face to face time with students showing a full 20-30 minute video.
  • Use the PAUSE button. Want to make sure your students got that important concept? Pause. Ask questions.  And if you need to, back up the video and show that part again.  It’s just like re-reading an important passage of text. Besides, the fact that YOU are actively watching and making sure THEY are paying attention sends a message to the students that “This IS important.”  You send the opposite message if you just let them passively watch while you sit at your desk and grade papers.
  • Have a plan! Know what you want your students to know after watching a video clip.  Have a pre-video activity (something that prepares them to watch) and a post video activity  (something that you can use to assess whether or not they learned the concept).
Stuck for ideas?  Check out the many SOS Strategies for actively using Video and Media in your classroom.  Here are just a few ideas to make watching videos more meaningful:
These are just a small sample of the many SOS ideas. Click the link below for a list of all the SOS Strategies:

8 thoughts on “Be Active, Not Passive”

  1. You are so right about this! Our time is precious. Multimedia is a powerful learning medium if used judiciously and with thoughtful reflection. Thanks for the post!

  2. I couldn’t have come across this at a more perfect time. I just pulled out a VHS tape I used last year-good info, but boring, I have to admit. Previewing is not an issue this time, but I am now persuaded to preview ENTIRE video in the future. I really appreciate the ideas you’ve listed in order to make the videos more meaningful-rather than just “take notes” or “fill in the blank” as they watch.

  3. Good Morning!
    It’s unfortunate to hear when teachers “fill” students time instead of spending their time furthering their education or inspiring them to learn something new. I feel that we’ve all been there however and I love your tips about how to at least make the videos meaningful! I recently watched a TED talk discussing how teaching has changed and how students no longer rely on the teacher to obtain information, but are looking at teachers more as coaches to train them how to get the information and how to make meaning from it. Pausing, rewinding, and having a pre-video activity are all simple and not very time consuming things, that I think really make the video more meaningful and relatable to the students, and provide opportunities for discussion.
    Thanks for sharing =)

  4. I really find this a relevant concept in today’s classroom. With Netflix and YouTube it is so easy to play any movie and with the new standards for third grade including experiencing a story in different medias I can even justify watching a movie at least once a month. However, the amount of educational minutes lost would be ridiculously high. So I have started to improvise. Students can experience a story in different medias without spending two hours watching a movie. For instance when we read “Beauty and the Beast” we did not watch the full length Disney movie. Instead, we watched the 5 minute Emoji version available on YouTube. My students were still able to compare the two stories, look for similar scenes, find where they hand made changes, and they did not have to lose too much time.

  5. The phrasing in this blog hits the nail on the head with having to actively seek out accessible material for our students. I think you are also on the right track when you discuss how readily available digital resources are to us in the classroom. Most of the videos I show my students are only 30seconds to 3 minutes long, as they tend to lose interest/focus if it’s longer than that.

    If you are reading this blog and looking for collections of interesting short videos to share with your students, check out this website!
    While checking out other blogs, I came across one called “The Kid Should See This” where they collect videos related to all subjects of education and they will even send you weekly updates of new education videos if you sign up for it! (Much like NewsELA’s current article emails). We are currently talking about the adaptations of animals and there is a video collection from the “robot zoo” where they show animals in robotic form to mimic their movements and show enlarged features. Pretty cool!
    Thanks for the reminder to actively seek cool, relative resources, and thanks for the link to the discovery education spotlight on strategies. (I had to click on the folder of all PDFs, not the individual links, but found them and I like them!) I’m digging your topics on other posts too

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