13 Tips for Engaging Flipped Classroom Videos

We can’t all be Bill Nye the Science Guy. He has a team of writers, a director, cameramen, and editors to help him create his videos. If you’re like me, you don’t have that. I had to make a lot of videos before I figured out some key elements to help make the videos more engaging and increase the likelihood the students will watch them all the way through. Based on my own trial and error and discussions I’ve had with other flippers, I came up with a list of 13 tips to help you make better videos.

1. High Energy (I Mean Over-the-Top Energy)

Many people don’t realize that your demeanor and personality seem very muted when put on video. Just as an actor will tell you, you need to overact in order to appear normal. I don’t know the science behind this (I mean, I’m an English teacher), buttrust meits true. So, if you just have a normal conversation with the camera, it will come across as dull and possibly even as though you’re bored. When you create the video, you need to ramp up your energy to uncomfortable levels and when played back it will appear closer to normal.

A good way to practice this is to record yourself having a normal conversation where you are explaining something. Maybe talk to your spouse, your friend, or your dog. Play that video back and see how engaging you come across. Next, ramp up your energy as much as possible, use your hands to gesture (even if you aren’t on camera), really play to the camera. Re-watch that and see if you sound and look more engaging. Continue this exercise until you’ve found an energy level that really hooks the audience.

After you’ve found the energy level, you need to find a way to tap into it consistently and sustain it. Admittedly, there are times when I’ll turn to caffeine to boost my energy. You’ll need to find a way to give yourself a boost on those days when you’re tired or distracted, but need to get a video recorded. For me to sustain that energy, I would make four or five videos in one sitting. I would prepare my visuals in advance and then sit down at one time and knock out several videos. With this process, I could produce four or five videos in an hour and I could also sustain my energy level throughout the process.

2. Student Reflection

Many people forget this key piece of the process. You should add pieces of reflection to the videos that will make the students think about what it is that they’ve just watched. If we expect the students to just view the video and nothing else, you won’t find much value in the videos. There needs to be a reflection piece. I use a combination of note taking and Google Forms. I’m not a big fan of asking students to pause the video, do an exercise, then unpause to continue watching. The reason I don’t like that method is that you are asking the students to delay gratification (finishing the video) and asking them to do an exercise that won’t get immediate feedback for them. Which is going to have more pull? My guess would be finishing the video.

I ask students to take notes during the video answering certain questions along the way. I do a notetaking lesson early in the year to teach the students effective note taking. When I do a note check in class, I ask deeper questions to see if they can process the information and use it in a different context. This helps me assess understanding. If a student’s notes are incomplete (or in some cases too complete), poorly organized, or not effective, I can give him or her individualized instruction on how to improve the notes.

Like a lot of other flippers, I also use Google Forms. I create a Google Form asking key questions I want them to answer after the video to show their thinking process. I’ll embed the video and Google Form together on a Google site or blog so students have them in one place. After watching the video, they fill in their answers and click submit. I then get a spreadsheet of all the students’ answers and can review and assess them. Many teachers use this process to determine what topics to focus on in class. It also gives me an easy way to see who is watching the video.

If a paper form or guided notes is more your preference, Crystal Kirch has an excellent form she uses for her flipped math classes that she calls WSQ (pronounced “wisk”). WSQ is an acronym for Watch-Summarize-Question. She uses the WSQ forms in much the same way others use a Google Form. Even though Kirch is a math teacher, the WSQ form concept can be modified to fit your class.

Whatever you find works best for your class, it is important to make sure to add a reflection piece to your videos.

3. Script or No Script? That Is the Question.

Some people have a dynamic speaking ability and can turn on the camera and the words just seem to flow. I don’t. I even do improv comedy as a hobby where the point is to think on your feet and entertain and I can’t do it with my videos. Most people, I believe, don’t have that ability. In that case, a script or outline is best. I recommend starting with a script. It does take a little longer to prep for a video if you write out a script, but it will help you get a sense of timing and make sure you don’t forget anything. Once you start to get a feel for the flow needed from scripting, you can move to working from outlines. I have a habit of saying “um” when I’m thinking. Therefore, I need to leave myself little time to think while I am recording a video. Obviously, you know your personality and presentation style better than I do, but I think it is critical for the overwhelming majority of teachers to work from an outline at a minimum. We teach our students the importance of prewriting. We should practice that too.

4. Keep It Short

When some people first hear about Flipped Learning, they envision students watching videos more than 20 minutes long. I don’t think it is any surprise that students won’t watch videos this long. A good rule of thumb is one minute per grade level as a maximum time. So an 11th grader’s videos should only be 11 minutes long as a maximum. Now, I can’t always keep my videos to the maximum amount of time for my classes (which would be seven or eight minutes), but because the majority of my videos fall in the four to seven minute range, my students know I do respect their time and try to keep the videos short.

Students attention span is limited even with the most engaging content. Find ways to keep your content concise and efficient. If your video is getting significantly longer than it should be and you feel you can’t cut anything, make it a two-part video and have the students watch it over two or three days.

You also have to consider that the time on the video isn’t always the viewing time. It can take your average student about twice as long to watch a video with pauses as the actual run time. So a five-minute video will take most of your students 10 minutes or more to watch. Early in the year, I ask my students to keep track of how much time they are spending watching the videos. If I find a student is spending an hour on a seven-minute video, I need to fix that. Either the student is too meticulous with trying to process every detail of the video, or the information is too complex for him or her to understand. In either case, that is an opportunity for me to individualize my instruction for that student. I’ve told the toometiculous student to cut watching the videos off at 20 minutes. I’ve told the struggling student to try and gain smaller concepts or I give him or her tips of what to watch for in the videos. Sometimes it requires me to sit and watch a video with students individually and walk them through the thought process involved. But the flexibility of a Flipped Classroom allows me to do that.

At first, your videos will be longer than needed. That’s another reason an outline is good. But it is imperative for the long-term success of a Flipped Classroom to keep the videos short. The length of your videos can adversely affect the quality of your instruction. My goal is always a video under five minutes. Sometimes I make it, sometimes I don’t. But my students appreciate and have more buy-in knowing that I try.

5. Personalize

Flipped Learning is all about developing better relationships with your students. Personalizing your videos is a big step in developing those relationships. I recommend teachers make the majority of their own videos. It is alright to supplement on occasion with other teachers’ videos, but shouldn’t be the norm for your class. Students want to see their teacher even if your video is not as good as someone else’s. They want to hear your voice and feel like you are talking directly to them. I also put on screen shots of me in nearly every video I make. Not the entire time, but at least the intro and outro. Some free screencasting programs won’t allow you to put your webcam image into the video. If possible, find a way to make that happen. It seems small, but it really makes a huge difference for the students.

6. Tell Stories

Going along with personalizing and building relationships, it is important to tell personal stories that relate to the content. I hope we all know what is too personal to share, but recounting some life lessons really draws in your students. Sharing some of your interests, just as you would in the classroom, makes the students see you as human. A great storyteller can weave a lesson throughout a story but keep students on their seats until the end. It may not be a good idea to start with sharing stories in your videos if that isn’t something you’ve done in the past, but experiment with it. Tell some non-embarrassing stories to introduce a topic and set up an expectation or to conclude a topic to really hit home an idea.

7. Create with Another Teacher

When I began flipping, I searched for another English teacher willing to make videos with me and was unsuccessful. I forged on anyway and made all my videos solo. And you can do that. But, in their book, Flip Your Classroom, Bergmann and Sams say, “There is something powerful about watching two people have a conversation instead of watching one teacher talk at the viewer” (Bergmann & Sams, 2012). I absolutely agree. The dynamic of having someone to play off of in your videos makes them infinitely more interesting. Additionally, having someone to share the workload can reduce the amount of stress and anxiety new flippers may feel. If you cannot find someone in your own district or town, reach out to others online. I can’t think of a better way to model collaboration for your students than for them to see you collaborating with another teacher in your videos.

8. Make It Multimodal

Have you ever been in a class where the teacher instructs the same way every day? Did you like that class? If that teaching style worked for you, then you may have. However, most prefer some variety. The same is true for videos. You should add more to your videos when possible. In other words, make the videos multimodal.

Images can elicit an emotion response, either positive or negative. Add images to your visuals to create connections. Haiku Deck is an excellent resource for Creative Common stunning presentation-ready images. Add clips of video from others or movies to hit home a message you’re trying to convey. I have former students make videos as a “guest speaker” and I package my own content sparingly around their videos. This variety in style, voice, and presentation really adds punch to your videos. However, don’t forget to keep your videos copyright friendly. Once your videos are out in the public realm, you never know who might stumble across them.

9. Go on Location

It is always great to see how excited students can be on field trips. There is just something special about seeing an occurrence happen that makes it more real. Therefore, I suggest you go “on location” for as many videos as you can. It is easier for science teachers to get video of observable scientific phenomenon for their videos. But ELA teachers can get creative. I saw a artistic bench at the Indianapolis Museum of Art that reminded me of the Freytag Pyramid of plot structure. So I went back with my video camera and recorded footage of me on the bench. When I visited Monroeville, Alabama on vacation, I recorded me saying a few words outside the To Kill a Mockingbird museum. English and reading does happen in the real world. Get creative in finding ways to link an image, a background, a setting to the content and it becomes more tangible for the students. You don’t have to record the whole video on location. Sometimes I’ll observe something that I think would be great. Rather than write my whole video right then, I’ll record some video with my smartphone or video camera to use as an introduction. If you see a humorous sign with a grammar error, take a picture to show your students. Some of you may teach in schools where your students rarely get to travel outside of your town. With technology today, it is now easier than ever to bring that world to them. I can assure you, my students cannot go to the Indianapolis Museum of Art now without thinking of plot structure.

10. Consider Interactivity

“One of the criticisms of this teaching tool [the Flipped Classroom] is that students receive knowledge in a passive state—by watching video,” says Jac de Haan. We’ve addressed that criticism in one way by adding a student reflection piece. It can also be addressed by adding interactivity. Admittedly, this takes some technical skills and may not be for everyone. But having students interact with the video by clicking answers or actively directing parts of the video can be very powerful in engaging students in the content. Camtasia Studios has a robust array of interactive features for quizzing, tables of contents, and more to add to your videos. YouTube has annotation features that can be added simply. Once you get down an efficient videomaking process, I encourage you to experiment with different methods of interactivity to take your videos to the next level.

11. Done Is Better Than Perfect

Jon Bergmann often says when he presents, when determining the right time to finish a video, a good rule of thumb is, “Do you need it perfect or do you need it Tuesday?” Many flippers early on in their videomaking process spend way too much time trying to make the videos perfect. Kevin Brookhouser turned me on to this concept of “done is better than perfect” that he got from Facebook. The idea is that trying to be perfect prevents you from getting other things done. There are times when perfection doesn’t matter and it only prevents you from being finished. As long as there are no major issues with the content of the video, don’t worry so much about making mistakes. If you’re like me, you make mistakes in your classroom. Why shouldn’t you allow yourself to make them on video? Put in some sloppy transitions every now and again, stumble over your words, briefly forget you’re recording and talk to someone else in the room. All experienced flippers have made these mistakes and more. Adopt the philosophy that “done is better than perfect” and move on. Besides, you need that video by Tuesday!

12. Use Self-Reflection

Many teachers have a fear of being on camera. They are nervous about putting their videos out there where others might see them. That is a natural fear, but one you must get over. A good exercise to do is to make a handful of videos first. Then show them to a small audience of trusted friends and family. Get their honest feedback. Then reach out to experienced flippers and see if they have the time to critique one of your videos. Get their honest feedback. If you have the time, get a few trusted children (maybe your own kids or the neighbor’s kids) of similar age to your students and ask them to watch a video or two. Get their honest feedback. Once you’ve gone through this process, you should have a good deal of information on what could be better in your videos. Self-reflecting on this feedback will not only improve your videos, it will improve your teaching.

If you are afraid when recording the videos, you will come across as timid and unsure. Find someone to give you a pep talk or do it yourself. If you show confidence and bravery, think of the example you are showing your students. I once heard someone say after viewing some bad teacher videos, “Whether you like these videos or not, you have to admit it takes courage to put your work out there for everyone to critique.” Most of my videos are in public spaces, like YouTube. Many get thousands of views from people I have no idea who they are. It could be a student from another school trying to learn the topic. It could be a teacher from another school looking to flip. It could be a parent wanting to see what his or her child is learning. All of them probably have some opinion about my methods and ability as a teacher based solely on the video. I can’t worry about that. My priority is the students in my classroom. My videos are made for them. Others are free to privately enjoy, critique, or gain material from my videos. So possibly my biggest advice is to put those doubts and fears out of your mind and just do it. You’ll be glad you did.

13. Have Fun

I can’t stress this one enough. Maybe I should have put it first instead of last. Have fun! You’re embarking on a journey that is going to transform the way you teach. Enjoy the process. Let students see you having fun making your videos. Tell jokes. Laugh at yourself. If you’re having fun, and showing it, it’s more likely your students will have fun. I remember one video I did on different types of verbs. Every time I said “intensive verbs” I did my best Hulk Hogan impression. (For those under 30, Hulk Hogan was a popular professional wrestler in the 80s. Google him.) “That is an INTENSIVE verb!” I would proclaim. I was having fun and my students had fun right along with me when they watched the video. Those moments still happen in the classroom even if they were started on video. It’s that relationship thing again. Are you sensing a theme? Flipped Classrooms are about creating better relationships with your students. Why wouldn’t you have fun doing that?