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April 25, 2011 Using Video Clips to Build Bridges and Activate Schema By Megan Power
Grades PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5, 6–8, 9–12

    Students' prior knowledge can help or hinder learning.

    Carnegie Mellon’s Learning Principles

    When you want to learn how to do something new, where do you go? Chances are you head right for the Internet. More specifically, to videos. There is something about watching a video that explains things better than just reading. The visuals combined with the information, either told or written, helps many people to grasp the concept they need to learn.

    Well . . .

    Your students are the same! Read on to see how one- to three-minute video clips can assist your students in building the background knowledge necessary for them to learn the content you're teaching.


    The idea of building schemas has been around for a long time, and video is a great way to build them. It helps students see and hear about the topic being studied. It clears up misconceptions right away and gives exposure to the students before the in-depth study. Many times this important schema-building process is skipped due to time constraints. Teachers often assume that students already have sufficient background knowledge from previous years of studying the topic. When students are learning new information, however, their brains need something to tie the new information to, in order to understand it and remember it better.

    Videos in Language Arts

    Below is a sample introduction to Little House in the Big Woods that builds schema for the students before they read the book.

    Book Intro: How well can you introduce the book and share the importance of the author’s life in three minutes? In three minutes can you:

    • Build interest in the story?

    • Show visual clues from the time period?

    • Explain the importance of the writing in documenting the time period?

    • Give students the setting of the story?

    • Give background about the writer?

    • Explain the author’s purpose for writing the book?

    • Teach vocabulary words like "pioneer"?

    You probably could not do all that in three minutes. Take a look at this three-minute introduction to Little House in the Big Woods that will allow you to answer "yes" to the above questions and get you wanting to read and learn more.


    Take a look at some more examples of how you can use video to build bridges for students:

    If you are beginning the book Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl, why not begin with a video introduction like the one below? It will completely catch your students’ attention and build their interest in reading the book.


    A book that many of our 4th graders read in language arts is Island of the Blue Dolphins. A great way to expose them to the animals and setting of the story is to show quick video clips before the chapters. Here is an interesting and catchy book trailer to play before reading the book:


    Starting an author’s study on Eric Carle? Why not show your students this author video in which Eric Carle explains where he gets the ideas for some of his stories?


    How motivating do you think it would be for your students to watch a book talk on Diary of a Wimpy Kid given by a young actress?


    For a kindergarten or 1st grade class learning about beginning, middle, and ending in stories, take a look at a video clip like this one from Sesame Street.

    Videos in Science

    This past week my kindergarten students have been learning about eggs and oviparous animals. All of my students knew that some animals came from eggs, and they were able to name many of them. The fact that they had this background knowledge didn’t stop me from showing them a few short clips of animals hatching from eggs. Just because they know it happens does not mean they have ever seen it happen.


    Many 2nd grade classes work on life cycles in science. I remember having caterpillars in my classroom when I taught 2nd grade to allow my students to witness their metamorphoses into butterflies. Even with caterpillars in the classroom, students still benefited from previewing or reviewing the different phases of a caterpillar's life cycle with short video clips like these

    If you are studying space in your science class, there are hundreds of amazing videos to take your students to places they have never been. Whether you are showing a clip about a shuttle launch or videos taken from space, your students will be in awe. Take a look at NASA's video collection.

    Learning about that mysterious creature, the bat? Here are some really interesting videos from the BBC that will give your students a better understanding of them. Take a look at this two-minute video clip showing bats using echolocation.

     Videos for the Arts

    Introducing an artist and their work? Why not show students a video like this one on Georgia O'Keeffe?


    There are many other great sources of video clips to motivate students and build background knowledge, including Journey NorthNational Geographic KidsPBS KidsScholastic.comTeacherTube, and YouTube.

    When showing videos in the context of instruction, it is important to pick short clips that quickly give background information and/or motivate students. I would love to hear about your use of video clips during instruction. If you use other Web sites with video collections, please share them!


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Susan Cheyney