Six pieces of advice I wish I’d had before making my first learning video

Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise: making learning videos is really easy if you want it to be. Sure, you can make things as simple or as complex as you want, and I won’t belittle the work that some teachers go to in producing content; some have spent years perfecting their skills and spent hours or days producing a singly high quality video. But, of course, not every educational video has to be an award winning high budget piece. What’s more, many educational videos don’t involve a camera or any kind of filming; converting a PowerPoint presentation into a video is quick and easy.

Even if the videos you start to produce don’t have a sparkly “high quality” feel, that doesn’t mean the educational quality of them is anything less than very high. Remember that when making videos for education, you are already a professional: a professional educator. Having little or no experience in video-making is not something that should hold you back.

So, if it’s so easy, how do you get started? Here are the tips I wish I had when I started making videos for my students.

1. Choose a topic, and keep it short

You want to share the information as simply and concisely as possible. The first video I ever made (which I introduce with “This is a quick presentation to describe the process of…”) was anything but quick. It ran for about 15 minutes – WAY too long.

Aim to make your presentation 3 to 5 minutes. And don’t be tempted to repeat anything for clarity. It makes sense to use repetition for re-enforcement in the classroom, but with videos the students can pause and replay easily (that’s one of the main benefits), so let them choose.

When it comes to choosing a topic, I strongly recommend keeping it bite-sized. It might be tempting to try and cover a full chapter/unit of work in one video, on the pretense that keeping it all in one video condenses the whole thing. This isn’t as effective as it sounds. Students will generally benefit from watching a video on a single individual concept. When they are learning or revising, they’ll be put off if they have to skip forward to a certain point into a 20 minute video to find the exact bit of information they want.

For example, a science teacher doing a unit on “forces”, should avoid doing a video summarizing the forces chapter, but instead do several videos with titles like, “What is a Newton”, “What is the gravitational constant”, “Calculating force using Mass and Acceleration” etc. A prep school English teacher might want to summarise “Grade 5 grammar rules” in a single video, but it would probably be better to do a series of 2 minute videos on each individual grammar rule. This is far more accessible for viewers.

2. Create a high quality presentation

If you haven’t ever made a video before and don’t know where to start, narrating a presentation is a great starting point. Microsoft PowerPoint and Apple’s Keynote both allow you record and narrate a presentation, then export that as a video. I won’t go into exactly which buttons to push because it changes with each new version of the software but generally you need to click “Slideshow” somewhere at the top of the screen, then click “Record Slideshow”. You won’t struggle to find it, whichever version you’re using.

Make sure you consider how your presentation will come across as a video. We all know what death by PowerPoint feels like, we’ve all had to sit through presentations where someone puts a block of text on the screen and reads it to us, so much so that it’s a cliché now. The rules for presentations for video are slightly different, but not entirely different. Here are the main things to remember.

– Your voice is in the video so don’t worry about relying on text.

– A picture (or diagram) is worth a thousand words. Videos are visual, so take advantage of this.

– Use lots of slides, rather than a few slides with lots of content on each. This makes the content look for sleek and clean, and means the viewer is focused only on the information you want them to focus on. Having a single slide with only one word or phrase on is perfectly reasonable.

3. Choose your animations CAREFULLY

By animations I’m talking about the way you can make text and images magically fly in and bounce around the screen. This is part of creating a quality presentation, but it deserves a special mention of its own.

Usually I would say don’t use animations in normal (non video) presentations; they’re overdone and cheesy. But with videos they are very useful. I strongly recommend making things appear when you want to discuss them, and not before. This is another way to keep the viewer focused on what you want them to focus on.

A good example is a labeled diagram: show the diagram, unlabeled, and as you describe each feature, make the label for that feature appear. The reason this is more important with video content is because you can’t point at something on the screen like you might in class. There are tools for using the mouse as a pointer when recording a presentation but I find them clumsy and hard to use, so I rely on animations.

Now, when I say use them carefully, I mean stick to one type of animation. If you’re first piece of text bounces in from the left of the screen, don’t have the second piece of text fade in with sparkles. This not only looks awful, it becomes distracting and takes the attention off your content. I tend to stick with a simple “fade in” effect on all my presentations, and only use anything different when there is a distinct, relevant, dramatic effect I’m trying to achieve.

4. Borrow free photos, and give credit

Plain text is boring, and as I’ve already mentioned, a picture is worth a thousand words. Add relevant images into your presentation to support what you’re saying.

I’m very careful with copyright when it comes to using images. I used to spend AGES searching for images online with the appropriate license that allowed me to use them. It gets complicated because you have to understand the type of license, and what the creator of the image expects of you. For example, some say you can use their picture for anything without limits, others say you can use it but must give them credit, others say you can use it but not modify it. Some creators are very specific about HOW you credit them. The point I’m making is that finding and using images legally can be a huge time constraint.

I really wish someone had showed me Pixabay and Pexels when I started out. These websites share photos with a Creative Commons 0 license, which means you can download them and use them in your videos (even if you’re making money from the videos), and you don’t need to give credit for the photo, so there’s no concern that you might accidently use something incorrectly and get a take-down notice.

For the sake of professionalism, I recommend having a “credits” section as the final slide of your video, and perhaps stating something like “Stock photography from Pixabay”, just as an acknowledgment that you’re not claiming that it is your own photography.

Also remember, plagiarism is a huge problem in this day and age, and it’s good to set the right tone with the students you teach.

5. Script it, then narrate it

When I started, I figured, “Hey, I know what I’m talking about with this topic, I’ll save some time on scripting the presentation and I’ll just wing it.”

Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

Some people have a gift for winging it, and make it sound good. But honestly, I believe the vast majority of people need a script. I remember narrating a single slide, fumbling over the words, re-recording, fumbling again, practicing it, then trying again… and then on to slide 2. It became very time consuming.

Do yourself a favour, spend 5 to 10 minutes writing a little script or even just some bullet points (word for word isn’t really necessary), to save yourself 30 minutes of fumbling over your own words while narrating.

6. Share it

Get a Youtube channel if you don’t already have one, and make sure it’s future-proof. By that I mean, think about the direction you are taking the channel when you choose your name.

Maybe you are making grammar videos for your Grade 6 English class. You might call the channel “Mrs Smith’s G6 grammar”.

Well, first off, is it possible you will create content for grades 7 and 8 as well? Next, will it only ever focus on grammar? Or will you branch into other aspects of the course?

Don’t let me dissuade you from being specific; being vague in your channel name can make it unclear. For example, “Mrs Smith’s Grammar” is better than “Mrs Smith’s Channel”, assuming grammar is the only focus.

And, next are you sure that you will only make videos for your own students? What if your first video gets 50 thousand views and you hope to monetize it in future? In which case, do you want your name on it or do you want more of a catchy brand name like “Apostrophe Ess” (get it?!)? Either way is fine, but it’s a choice you need to make.

Wrap Up

Ultimately, the best thing you can do is just get started and feel your way, because nothing beats actual experience, but if you follow the advice here hopefully you’ll find the whole process runs far more smoothly. If you’re just getting started with the idea of making videos for your students, then best of luck with your first video.

If you use my advice for your videos, please share it in the comments section and add in any advice for others that you might have gained from making your first video.

Reflecting on a flipped learning lesson

Recently I did a flipped learning lesson on enzymes for a year 10 (age 14-15) IGCSE Biology class. The results were fantastic, and the lesson was well received by the students. The content was covered far more efficiently than with a traditional (non-flipped) lesson, and students were obviously having a great time.

(The full lesson plan and all resources are available here.)

At this point I should mention that not all of my lessons are flipped; I think flipped learning is a positive paradigm shift in teaching and I aim to maximise its use, but I don’t think teaching is a one-trick show. I don’t think there is one teaching method that suits every topic, every teacher, and every student. (And the science supports this; students learn better when there is variety, but more on that in a later post).

The basic outline of the lesson went like this:

  • At the end of Monday’s lesson (Monday’s lesson wasn’t related to enzymes), I gave the students the worksheet on enzymes, and directed them to the video on Youtube that would give them the information to complete the sheet.
  • At the very beginning of the next lesson (which was on Thursday), students did peer checking to compare answers. The work wasn’t assessed as it was a learning task, not an assessment task, so students were told that changing answers is OK here, it’s not “cheating”.
  • After the peer review, we did a class review, then I took questions. The students were all engaged, and most of them took additional notes on their homework sheet as part of the group review. By now we were 10 minutes into the lesson and all students had covered all the content and reviewed it. Of course, the level of understanding each student had, and their ability to apply the work, was unknown at this point, but that’s OK for now.
  • Next, the students started the in-class task. They had to create a role-play to demonstrate enzyme function, including the effects of extreme temperatures. (For the non-science teachers: Enzymes change shape and therefore can’t do their job if the temperature gets too high, and this is an appropriately challenging concept to demonstrate as a role-play). I’ve used role-plays a lot in different types of lessons and for different topics. From experience I know that these can be quite non-inclusive as students who are shy, or possibly don’t fully understand the work, tend to say nothing and just do as instructed by the other students to complete the role-play. My solution for this was a staggered planning phase:
    • Students work in pairs to plan the role-play.
    • Students find a new partner and share their ideas again.
    • Pairs join pairs (to make a group of four) and then collaborate on the best way to do the role-play.
    • Repeat this until the group sizes are as you want. I ended up doing some extra re-shuffling and had groups of 6 for the role-play


By the time that large group work got underway, every student had had a chance to apply the work in a pair setting. Careful teacher monitoring is important here, and throughout this lesson, as a form of micro formative assessment to determine how much understanding and application there is. The room was a hive of activity and enthusiastic discussion throughout the pair-share sections. Keep Bloom’s taxonomy in mind here: the students “remembered” and hopefully “understood” before the discussions even began. In the pair activities some students had the chance to gain an understanding from their partner, while others were at the level of “applying” and “creating” as they came up with ideas for the role-play. Do you see the implication here?! Some students were reaching the highest order of thinking within 15 minutes of their first lesson on the topic!

The role-plays at the end of the lesson were really useful for me and the students. For the students, the role-play gave them a goal to pull everything together; the idea of performing a role-play to the class gives a healthy sense of pressure. But for me, this was a great chance for some formative assessment; the performances were a direct reflection of student understanding and highlighted any misconceptions. I was pleased to see, there were very few.

I can’t talk about all of the pros without addressing some of the cons associated with this approach. In the past I have taught this topic the traditional (non-flipped) way. Typically it would take around three lessons to cover the amount of work covered here. Over those lessons, new ideas would be introduced, and each time a new idea is introduced it would be presented in the context of what had already been studied. In short, students would have had several lessons to review and re-apply the key concepts of the topic. Does this flipped method race through the content and deny students important review opportunities? My instinct says, “no”. My long-term plan would be the same regardless of the teaching method: the amount of time I have available to teach the chapter on Enzymes is the same. The students may have covered most of the chapter in a single lesson, but that doesn’t mean this is the only lesson we will spend on it. The only consequence I can see is that I now have “too much” time available. This is never a bad thing. Here is the chance to fit in an extra practical activity or maybe try some other idea that I’ve wanted to implement for a while but never had the time to schedule it.

I rounded off the lesson by a quick show of hands from the students, asking how many preferred the “learn at home first” way and how many preferred the “learn at school” method. The results were 18 to 2 for flipped learning. There’s not too much to read into this because what a students wants, and what is best for their learning, are often two very different things. Nonetheless, giving students a chance to share their opinions on their own learning is always important, and asking these questions as way to tell students that their opinion matters. It’s good for rapport building at the very least.

If you want to try the Enzyme lesson describe here, all resources including the homework, video and lesson plan are available here at Science Sauce Online.