How to Teach with Video Clips

Posted by Matt Reid | Updated 8/21/2019

This guide contains my thoughts on the best practices for integrating video clips in the classroom. This is not a definitive guide and it is largely based on my experience using clips in lecture, and my favorite style of teaching with video is to embed clips within PowerPoint slides. Here I have provided some of my slides as an example, but this wisdom is equally applicable to other instructional approaches. Furthermore, my preferred presentation program is PowerPoint, but this approach works the same with Prezi, Google Slides, or other programs.

So, let’s say you found an excellent online video you want to use in class. What is the best way to go about doing this? These are 5 things to think about to effectively use the video in your teaching. Considering these factors will help you “up your game” and may even impress your students.

(1) Location… Where should the clip be placed in the lecture? This is largely subjective and based upon how you structure your lessons, but I have generally found students like videos as examples. Therefore the best use of a video may be following an explanation of an idea, concept, or theory. You can certainly do it the other way around, but equipping students with definitions and details ahead of time allows them to better see the sociological importance of the video. Showing the video after teaching a concept also allows you to pose questions and facilitate a discussion immediately after the video is over.

If showing multiple videos in one lecture, my advice is to scatter them throughout rather than having them back-to-back. Students consistently state in my teaching evaluations that they enjoy how videos break up the lecture, and I agree with this from an instructor’s point of view. Videos allow both the class and the instructor to take a small break from note-taking or speaking, so sprinkle them throughout class rather than saving them until the end.


(2a) Pulling the Clip… I listen to a lot of radio and a common expression I hear is “pull the clip”, meaning the clip is ready to play at the push of a button. Using the phrase for our purposes, make sure you “pull the video” before class begins. Having to look up the video and then sit through an advertisement can kill any momentum you have built up in your lecture, so it’s best to do this background work ahead of time. If you do not want to embed the video directly into your presentation, spend a few moments before class organizing the videos in separate browser tabs. See Image 1 for an example. Often, YouTube videos will play an advertisement before the video begins, but you can sit through the ad before class and simply hit pause once the actual video starts. Do this with all the videos you plan to show in class that day. You can also get around pesky advertisements with a YouTube Premium account, but make sure you've logged into this ahead of class and still pull the clips before you begin the lecture.

IMAGE 1: An example of a set up where each clip is pulled in a separate browser tab before class.

(2b) Embedding the Clip… I believe this is the optimal approach for integrating videos into class lectures. If you embed the video directly into PowerPoint, you do not have to worry about advertisements and you also get to look like a pro in front of your students. This is a simple process and detailed directions can be here. If done properly, it will appear seamless to your class and you do not have to switch between program windows. More importantly, you can also pose questions on the video slide and provide video information if desired. The questions should direct student thinking towards important takeaways. The questions can also be hypothetical or rhetorical, but I find focusing questions work best. You can also keep the question general, as in “What concepts from today’s topic do we see in this video?”. Important here is to make sure the video is sufficiently large. My preferred method is to devote an entire slide to the video rather than trying to fit it in another content slide. See Image 2 for an example.


IMAGE 2: An example of a set up where clips are embedded directly into lecture slides.

(3) Introduce the Video… To use radio terms once again, “setting up the clip” means you introduce it to your audience in a captivating way. Rather than just hitting play without a set-up, tell your class something like, “In this video, we’ll see…”. The important thing to do here is to stimulate their interests! Try to make your introduction exciting, funny, suspenseful, or significant. There are many ways to do this, but consider trying some of the following to capture your students’ attention:

  • Contextualize the video by mentioning relevant background information. If the video clip is part of a larger series or show, what do students need to know to fully understand the clip’s significance? The same works for current events. For example, if showing a clip on food assistance, something like the following works well: “Last year, the government tried to cut funding for food assistance programs. Now they’re trying to limit what families can purchase with food assistance money“.

  • Point out when the video was published. Students like brand new content and it shows you’re an edgy instructor. I often say something like, “I saw this on the news last week and I knew I had to show it to you too”. If the video isn’t fresh, then saying something like “This is from 2013 but I have yet to find any better examples”.

  • Briefly mention how the video may have changed your views: “I never knew about -—- before I saw this, but now I can’t stop thinking about it”. Likewise, students appreciate when you’re honest and real with them, so don’t be afraid to say something like: “I always thought ----- wasn’t such a big deal, but this video really made me realize its importance”.

  • Point out some weird or interesting things they will see in the video. If someone in the clip says something odd or funny, say “You gotta love the guy who talks about ------“. The goal here is not to provide spoilers, but to prime their attention as to why the video is entertaining and engaging.

  • Do a quick show of hands with your class if the video is something relevant to them. For example, I show this quick video about failed social media challenges as an example of fads and mass behavior. I’ve set this up before with: “Show of hands, who has done a social media challenge before? … Well, check this out”.

  • Identify things that go beyond class content. One of my favorite things to do with news segments is to make students aware of how the video is shot or edited. News segments often cut to “B-reel” footage numerous times in a segment, and if you pay attention to what is cut in, you’ll begin to see how tactful editors can use extra footage to flavor a segment. The same applies to music and sound effects.

  • Finally, if the video contains sensitive subject matter, consider issuing a content warning. This allows students to momentarily excuse themselves if they are emotionally triggered by discussions of sexual assault, abuse, death, etc. Even if this isn’t the case for any of your students, they may simply appreciate a “heads up” so they can psychologically prepare themselves for a heavy topic.

(4) Concluding the Video… I think it’s best to cut the video off before the credits roll. In the age of streaming media, many narrators use the end of their videos for their “like and subscribe” pitch, and this can also kill the momentum of your lecture. Furthermore, I have found some channels jolt the volume of the narration during their end credits which can be incredibly annoying (sometimes even uncomfortable). My advice here is to just maintain your awareness and stop the video at whatever point the content stops.

(5) Questions and Discussion… After the video, review what was important with your class. If you posed focusing questions on the video’s lecture slide, open it up for answers. Furthermore, ask if anyone has had experiences with the issue in the video, knows more about the topics discussed in the video, if anyone can think of other solutions, saw any other sociological examples, etc… Specific questions work better than general/open questions, though. As such, it’s good practice to watch videos before you show them in class and to brainstorm some discussion questions.

The preceding 5 points summarize the best practices for adding videos into a traditional lecture. Yet as I have been teaching with video clips for many years now, I have noticed my preferences have evolved. Here are a few personal reflections I would like to share:

(A) Shorter clips can be better than longer clips… I used to be wary of showing something below 3 minutes, but as my teaching style has evolved, I actually prefer shorter clips now. This is probably because I prefer to use clips as illustrative examples rather than thorough explanations of a concept/idea/theory. Sometimes 6+ minute videos work well when they succinctly sociologize the issue, but I find that I can do a better job of explaining the issue myself (and in a shorter amount of time). Moreover, shorter clips often cut to the point and focus on the important information. Sometimes longer clips dwell on personal/individual stories, have prolonged scenes of people walking or engaging in other mundane activities, or include other forms of filler to stretch the length. This may be done to build empathy with the people in the video (which is very important), but I only have 75 minutes with my classes and there's lots of material to cover.

(B) Many (short) clips are okay… The advantage of shorter clips is the ability to show many of them in a single class. There are so many weird and wonderful examples of sociology in action and spending too much time on one video can detract from showing others. Likewise, having video dominate lecture is not usually a good thing. In all honesty, it comes across as lazy to your students, especially if it’s material you could easily convey yourself (which is one of the reasons I do not use TED Talks in class).

(C) It’s okay to truncate videos… If you are short on time or only want a small segment of a particular video, don’t be afraid to cut out unimportant content. Start the video where the action is and stop it when said action is over. YouTube even has a feature which allows you to start a clip at a specific time and you can also program it to stop at a specific time. 

(D) Avoid animated text videos… There is a growing trend where algorithms cut up news stories, lay the text over related images, and set generic music to play in the background. You can find an example of this format here and here. When it comes to breaking news this often done solely by machines with no human input, and it’s kind of obvious. These animated news stories are not only dull, but they also take longer to watch than reading the article. A more atrocious version of this format uses a text-to-talk digital voice to narrate the short snippets of text as they appear on the screen. Video is often said to have the ability to foster human connections and evoke emotion, and these types of videos do none of that. 

Now that you’re ready to integrate videos into your teaching, browse our collection of sociologically-stimulating YouTube videos and media clips.