Watching Videos is Now an ACTIVE-ity

There are so many great historical documentary films out there.  PBS and Ken Burns come to mind immediately as producers of the the best ones.  However, there is a fine line between learning from a film and sitting in the classroom while a film plays.  Many students, often unintentionally, miss key parts of documentaries showed in class simply because it is hard to maintain undiverted attention to the screen.

Here are a few strategies to help solve that problem.

Backchannel with TodaysMeet

A few months ago I wrote about my first experience with backchannel in my classroom.  Since then I've used the strategy many more times and each experience has been better for my students and myself.  This strategy works best for longer screenings that last at least half the duration of a typical class period.

How to Do It

Set up a backchannel chat room on You can decide how long the transcript will be available in advance; from one day to one year.  Give students the URL of the room.  They join with their name and then start chatting live.  The benefit of TodaysMeet is that it can be access on any web browser.  Students can use smartphones, tablets, laptops, or any other mobile device with internet access.  Your students can:

  • react to what they see
  • pose questions to you and their classmates
  • note memorable information or phrases
  • respond to questions you pose to them.

Why My Students Like It

We can ask questions while we watch and the teacher can answer them right away. So we get more immediate feedback.
Sometimes when you watch a movie you forget stuff because you can't take notes all the time on your own. With backchannel you have everyone's notes right there to look at.

Check for Understanding with Socrative

Socrative is a live response app that is available via web browser or mobile app across all platforms. It behaves like an advanced clicker system that can be utilized with existing devices in the room.  I use it to facilitate class discussion, to allow students to share their ideas with each other and vote on the best one, and to check for student understanding all the time.

How to Do It

Create a teacher account on the Socrative website or using the teacher version of the app.  You can also customize your room number so that it makes sense to your students when they log in (mine is Gallagher341 - my last name and the my physical room number at my school). Students either access Socrative through the website or by downloading the student version of the app. Cue up a series of short video clips for students to watch. Instruct them to check in on Socrative and answer the questions you've prepared after each clip and before starting the next.  Students can watch the videos and take the intervening quizzes at their own pace on their mobile devices with earbuds during class or at home in a flipped model.

Why My Students Like It

It's hard to watch video and write at the same time. The breaks between short clips and Socrative questions helped me check in for my understanding.
We don't miss information during the video because we aren't distracted by taking notes while viewing.

Flipped Classroom with eduCanon

eduCanon allows teachers to use any YouTube or Vimeo video and add interactive questions.  eduCanon will automatically pause the clip and give students time to think before moving on.  If you assign this on the flip for home viewing, you can check to see who watched the video during the evening as well.  You'll also see which questions they get right and wrong and which they went back to fix.

How to Do It

Go to and create a free teacher account.  Plug in the URL of a video from YouTube or Vimeo that you would like to use with your class.  The rest is so easy.  Check out this tutorial:
You can even have students sign up to join your class and monitor their progress live in the evenings.  If there are questions that students struggle with, you can be sure to take the time to review that content in class.  Here is an example of one I created on the Restoration and Glorious Revolution.

Why My Students Like It

It felt dynamic and engaging. 
We were able to work individually at our own pace. 
It made it easier to understand the video because of the questions popping up to check on me.
All of these strategies have been road tested in my classroom.  Students have been more engaged than ever while viewing film and I have found that they retain the information better when I'm using these tools.  The student feedback you read above are really my students' words.


  1. Great post - great ideas, easy to follow. I love the "how to" and "why students like it" Things readers can apply right away to their classrooms.


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