I was about 50 weeks pregnant when I realized it was AMAZING to be able to be using videos in the classroom. Before this, I confess I thought that teachers who played lots of videos in class were being lazy.

mind blowing

Mind blown. You can watch videos in class guilt-free!

BUT, now I know better. You can watch videos in class without guilt. So, get ready to dim the lights, crank the volume, and press play because today we’re going to look at why you should be using videos in the classroom and how you can use them more effectively.

Reasons to be using videos in the classroom

1. Flipped classroom

One reason to watch videos in class (or as part of homework) is as part of a flipped classroom strategy. A flipped classroom is when you get students to do the ‘content’ part of a lesson at home and then work on the ‘skills’ part of the lesson in class.

Now, I say ‘flipped classroom’, but if you have long lessons like I used to (70 minutes), you might dedicate lesson time to learning ‘content’ quickly via video. This enables you to focus on students while they are building and refining skills.

Flipped classrooms are also great for peer-to-peer learning as they allow students to discuss what they have seen, relate experiences they have had, or ask questions. There is also some evidence to suggest that flipped classrooms promote deeper learning and higher-order thinking skills.

If you have short lessons, getting students to watch a short video for homework is not a huge burden for them, and it means that they can do all the good stuff (mentioned above) in the classroom.

Individual attention helps students improve skills such as formulating hypotheses, creating investigation questions, researching topics, writing paragraphs and essays, and editing work.


2. Introducing topics

Another guilt-free reason to watch videos in class is to introduce topics. Some videos are great at covering a broad topic and giving a general understanding of it without delving too deeply. 

One such series that springs to mind are the CrashCourse videos.  The history, study skills, and literature videos excel at giving a broad overview of topics with enough detail to highlight ideas, but not enough to overwhelm students.  They are a great way to get students excited about a topic, and the irreverent humor of John Green can give you a giggle when you need it most.

(Bonus: we have a bunch of no-prep visual note-taking worksheets to use with some of these videos. Check out our TPT store to take a look.)

3. To engage visual learners

Visual learners use color, shape, diagrams, and images to learn.  They may find it difficult to pay attention to you speaking at the front of the room (especially on a Friday afternoon, am I right?).

But they may be able to focus on a video with engaging graphics, cartoons, and images. I especially find videos an effective way to get students immediately engaged during lessons where they would usually have low motivation – before the weekend, the last lesson of the day, the last day of term etc.

4. To take a breather

Teaching is full of administrivia – (ahem) silly administrative tasks that consume your valuable time.

Think of all the attendance marking, homework checking, form filling, report writing, email writing, and phone calling you do on the daily.  And none of it prepares you to face down those horrible Grade 9 boys in the last period on Friday!

Throwing on a quick video at the start of class can help – an on-topic video can quickly get your class in the door, engaged, listening, and on-task. 

That gives you some time to take attendance, check homework, and maybe take a sip of your ice-cold coffee before trying to keep a bunch of spotty, giddy, ready-for-the-weekend teenagers on-task in the last hour before the freedom of the weekend beckons.


5. To build background knowledge and context quickly

Videos are a great way to build background knowledge and context quickly. If you’re doing a novel study of The Diary of Anne Frank, you can show a clip instead of lecture students about what Anne’s in-hiding accommodation looked like.  If you’re teaching The Grapes of Wrath, you can put on a clip about the Dust Bowl.  Video is so powerful for context because it’s visual and students can see it.

Using videos in the classroom is also great for building background knowledge quickly.  You could spend a whole lesson teaching students about Shakespeare’s life and Elizabethan England, or you could show a fifteen-minute clip and have students ready to go.  

6. To help ESL and ELL students build vocabulary 

Like building background knowledge, having a visual accompaniment to new vocabulary words helps ESL and ELL students understand more easily.  And if you’re teaching students more complex information and their vocabulary isn’t quite up to the level it needs to be, the visuals in a video are going to compensate for a lack of vocabulary because students are going to understand pictures more easily.

7. To help students ‘catch up’ or complete work while absent

Using videos in the classroom is great because you can also send links home for students who were absent to help them keep up or catch up with missed work. This is especially important for students who miss lots of school for medical reasons, behavior issues, or mental health reasons such as anxiety or school avoidance.

Using videos in the classroom: tips for using them more effectively

So, now you know you are not a lazy teacher and why videos are good for learning, you might want to know how to use videos in the classroom more effectively.

  • Keep videos short, research shows that attention wanes after 6 minutes. If the video goes longer than 6 minutes, try breaking it into chunks and viewing sections at a time.
  • Consider allowing students to use individual screens if your students have devices and headphones they can use. This allows students to set their own pace, to fast forward or rewind, to check information, and to pause if they need time to process.  It also enables you to spend one-on-one time with students as they are working.
  • Ensure you have activities to go before, during, and after the video so it’s integrated into the lesson instead of ‘stand-alone’.  Ideas for doing this include, using quizzes, worksheets, note-taking, and discussion to integrate the video into the lesson as a whole.
  • If your students are expected to take notes, give students times to process the information and take notes. It’s difficult to process information and simultaneously take notes, so consider taking ‘pause breaks’ during the video to allow students to take notes.
  • Turn on closed captions so that students can read the information too.  Not only does it encourage reading, it helps students with hearing difficulties and when sections of the video are unclear.
  • Ensure the videos help students meet their learning objectives.  While it’s tempting to show funny videos in class for the joy of it, it’s important that you’re generally using videos in the classroom to help students achieve learning goals.

Want some great sites for video content?

Now that you’re convinced that using videos in class is a great idea, you probably want some pointers for finding good content.  Luckily, we have a few great ideas. While not an exhaustive list, these are YouTube channels with great content.

  • BBC’s YouTube Channel for great documentaries and news
  • CrashCourse has great videos for just about everything: literature, history, study skills, biology, chemistry, physics, maths, film studies etc etc etc.  These are my favorite videos to show in English class because they are funny, engaging, and offer a mixture of background information, critical interpretation, and major plot, character, and theme information.
  • Khan Academy has videos for grammar, as well as history life skills
  • Sparkle English for grammar and punctuation videos
  • Grammar Girl for the origins of language, how words are used, grammar and punctuation

Looking for more ways to engage your students? 

Check out my other popular posts.

Want to stay in touch?

Sign up for our email list here.

Sources cited and consulted

Updated 30 January 2023