The Right Way To Show A Video

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Video screen

David Lowbridge-Ellis

David Lowbridge-Ellis has 15 years experience in the classroom and has been a senior leader for more than 10 of those. Deputy Head Teacher of Barr Beacon School, he is responsible for CPD, staff well-being, quality of teaching, parental engagement, equality and diversity. An SLE...
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What are the common pitfalls of showing a video?

I remember a time when showing a video to my class entailed booking the one TV and VCR in the department and wheeling it into my classroom. Every time, I had to think carefully whether it was worth the effort or not. Was a video really the best way to impart this piece of knowledge?

Now that we have YouTube and interactive whiteboards, it’s never been easier to use videos in our lessons. However, just pressing ‘Play’ and not considering what happens before, during and after showing a video can lead to disaster. 

How to show a video

It’s more convenient to show a video now of course. But it shouldn’t be seen as a lazy option. Sometimes, a well chosen clip is the best way to communicate a complex idea quickly and memorably. But if our pupils are to get the most from a video, we need to make sure we don’t fall into some common traps. Here are the common pitfalls – and how to avoid them.

Pitfall 1: Telling pupils to “just make notes”

Unless you are very specific and state clearly what they should be writing, there is no point telling pupils to make notes. How will they have a clue what they need to write down? And when they are writing they are missing the video!


  • Instruct them upfront what they need to be making notes on.
  • Give them some key words to listen/look out for.
  • Pause the video when you need them to write anything down.
  • Insist they concentrate on the video without distractions: those pens should be lying flat on their desks until they need them.
  • If it’s a shorter clip, you could play it twice. The first time they just watch it. The second time is when they write stuff down.

Also, make sure you’ve modelled how to take notes from a video beforehand. I always train my pupils to use the Cornell Method, but you may have your own preferred approach.

Pitfall 2: Talking while the video is playing

Just as trying to write while watching a video will quickly lead to cognitive overload, a teacher continuously narrating over the top will distract and dilute a video’s impact. And yet, this is precisely what a lot of teachers do, perhaps as a result of the obsolete notion that progress needs to be as ‘rapid’ as possible. But throwing more information into the mix will just hold pupils back.


  • Keep quiet.
  • If you need to draw attention to something important or insert your own viewpoint then hit the ‘Pause’ button for a couple of seconds.
Pitfall 3: “Video’s done. Let’s move on.”

When the video has finished, don’t assume pupils will have absorbed the information you wanted them to, osmosis-like. Even the best audio-visual content is essentially passive and we might find our attention wandering. Anyone who has found themselves being drawn inexorably to the interactive charms of their phone midway through a Netflix box set binge will relate.


  • Question them about the key points, or give them a pre-prepared quiz.
  • Re-play specific segments if you need to.
  • Pause the image and write all over it if you’re showing it on a whiteboard.
  • If you’re using the Cornell Method for note-taking, devote lesson time to filling the ‘cues’ and ‘summary’ sections.
Pitfall 4: Inappropriate material

And finally, it should (almost) go without saying that a real pitfall would be not watching the video yourself beforehand. It could contain irrelevant or ‘inappropriate’ material. 

A well chosen video is a vital tool in any teacher’s toolkit. But as with any tool, its effectiveness depends on how well you use it. A little bit of planning in advance can end up saving you, and your pupils, a lot of time in the long run.

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