15 Videos To Help Bring Classroom Lessons to Life

Videos add important liveliness and novelty to classroom topics. A carefully chosen video, whether used in its entirety or by selected scenes, gives educators the opportunity to pre-plan and address challenging issues with educational forethought. Here are 15 DVDs educators can show elementary, middle school, and high school students.


The Road to Justice (Video Project) ©2021


Videos add important liveliness and novelty to classroom topics and help bring ­lessons to life. They can offer a field trip to an animated building site, views from an ocean sanctuary, highlights of another country, or a stop at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, site of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s 1968 assassination. A carefully chosen video, whether used in its entirety or by selected scenes, also gives educators the opportunity to pre-plan and address challenging issues with educational forethought. Films that incorporate real-world interviews, personalities, and situations give space for middle and high school students to observe and process important topics, especially with nuanced or emotionally charged subjects, where debating the right/wrong answer is not the goal. Works that do not take a neutral stance provide an opening to discuss persuasive and rhetorical discourse, whether all opinions deserve equal weight, or if ongoing research is likely to support or contradict the current conclusions. Videos offer the opportunity to pause, rewind, and revisit, giving emotional space for processing when needed.



Weston Woods, a partner with Scholastic publishing, continues its 70-year history of adapting well-reviewed, often award-winning picture books into audiovisual experiences. Weston Woods’s selection process considers not only excellence as reviewed by adult educators but also the genuine appeal for young audiences. They also must be works that will stand the test of time. These choices deliver tidbits of history and science, along with faithfully adapted slice-of-life stories for elementary students.

Let Liberty Rise. adapt. from the book by ­Chana Stiefel. illus. by Chuck Groenink. narrated by David de Vries. music by Bruce Zimmerman. Weston Woods. 2021. 13 min. ISBN 9781338794106. $59.
Gr 1-3 –Accordion music sets an appropriate tone for the history of France’s 1885 gift to America and impressive facts of Lady ­Liberty’s construction. Expressive voices adeptly handle sophisticated vocabulary (hoisting, hull, colossal), facts about the ­statue’s height and weight, and Joseph ­Pulitzer’s grassroots fundraising to finance the Statue of Liberty’s foundation. VERDICT Animated fireworks celebrate the successful campaign that included pennies from schoolchildren and citizen donations, ­allowing her to take her place atop a pedestal on what was then named Bedloe’s Island. Elementary school students will enjoy!

The Sun Is Kind of a Big Deal. adapt. from the book by Nick Seluk. narrated by Emily Eiden, David de Vries, Lauren Ezzo & others. music by Jack Sundrud & Russ Pahl. Weston Woods. 2021. 15 min. ISBN 9781338802948. $59.95.
Gr 3-5 –Stars shoot through the night sky and comets trail fiery tails as the solar system family parades across the screen to rock-and-roll–inspired music. Cute animated planets, a moon with dance moves, and Pluto (feeling a bit left out since being demoted to dwarf planet) discuss asteroids, orbits, the seasons, and more. VERDICT Abundant humor acquaints young viewers with the solar system, benefits we get from the sun, and the water cycle.

Someone Builds the Dream. adapt. from the book by Lisa Wheeler. illus. by Loren Long. narrated by Janina Edwards. music by Ernest Troost. Weston Woods. 2021. 7 min. ISBN 9781338801620. $59.95.
PreS-Gr 3 –“It takes a team to build a dream,” rhymes the cheerful narrator, from the architect who designs a building to basement diggers and wall raisers and all the “someones” who bring a project to completion. Majestic music sets the tone, as workers with a variety of clothing and hairstyles design and construct a bridge, a park, and bring a book from concept to publication. VERDICT Fans of heavy equipment will be especially entranced as projects reach completion thanks to group efforts. People of many cultures and skin tones plan and design, and provide skills as workers in this inclusive story.

Middle School

Ecology, conservation, climate change, and social justice are top of mind for many educators and in many classrooms. These notable films highlight scientists and their passions, how people pursue their goals, and how learning from situations past and present can motivate and bring out the best in people. As befits life, the films also occasionally capture the problematic or negative aspects of interactions when tensions run high.

Discoveries Costa Rica: Architecture & Religion. 52 min. ISBN 9781604903010.
Discoveries Costa Rica: Birds-Quetzals to ­Cuckoos. 63 min. ISBN 9781604903027.
ea: (Discoveries). Bennett-Watt Prod. 2021. $24.95.
Gr 5-9 –These entries in the “Discoveries” series, at about an hour each, provide compact introductions to an area, in the style of a travelogue or a promotional film. The series now includes 36 international destinations. Birds-Quetzals to Cuckoos highlights some of Costa Rica’s over 900 bird species, photographed at preserves, parks, and botanical gardens. Photography tips, conservation notes, and feeding information accompany footage of toucans and hummingbirds and the rare rufous-vented ground cuckoo. ­Architecture & Religion showcases church interiors, exteriors, altar pieces, and stained glass, discussing their historical and religious significance and architectural styles. ­VERDICT The high-definition format and travel-documentary–style combine education and ecotourism, occasionally featuring comfy lodge interiors or noting the hours a business is open. In most situations, the ­upbeat DVDs will neatly fill a class period.

The Emoji Story. Bullfrog Films. 2021. 79 min. UPC 194874564X. DVD $350. S
Gr 7 Up –Emojis are everywhere, adding tone and whimsy to electronic communication, bath towels, billboards, and more. The first “picture characters” were released in Japan in 1997, and there is an ongoing formal process to pitch new characters to the Unicode Technical Committee. ­Menstrual emoji? Turned down. Triceratops? Turned down. Person with headscarf emoji? ­Accepted in 2017. This film also answers questions like: Who expanded the skin tones beyond yellow? Which are the most and least popular emojis? VERDICT Fascinating, well-researched, and engagingly presented, often funny with occasional f-bombs. Sure to be of interest for history, art, and popular culture classes, and general audiences.

Kindred Spirits: Artists Hilda Wilkinson Brown and Lilian Thomas Burwell. dist. by Cintia Cabib. 2020. 27 min. UPC 040232527364. DVD $89; Digital site license $500.
Gr 6 Up –Born in 1894, Black artist and educator Hilda Wilkinson Brown created a respected body of work through the Great Depression and beyond, at a time when gallery space and museum placements for Black artists were few. Lilian Thomas Burwell, Brown’s niece and also an artist, narrates her family’s history, with abundant photographs, insider stories, and historical context. Six minutes of fascinating bonus information includes interviews on the history of Washington, DC’s LeDroit Park neighborhood, Miner Teachers College, and gallery treatment of “colored” artists. VERDICT Burwell’s captivating narration and the ample historical archives make this useful for fine arts, art history, and American history classes.

The Map to Paradise. Video Project. 2020. 95 min. ISBN/UPC unavail. DVD $89, schools & libraries; DVD + digital file $139.
Gr 6-10 –As a shared resource, the oceans and their inhabitants, from coral reefs to great blue whales, deserve protection, say the scientific and humanitarian leaders interviewed in this film. Sea turtles gently swimming in a protected area; the Palau legend of Chuab, a baby with an insatiable appetite; and occasionally grisly footage of whale poaching accompany insights from rangers, conservationists, scientists, and Prince Albert II of ­Monaco about the importance of protecting the oceans and the plants and animals that live there. VERDICT Sobering statistics and forecasts on the loss of biodiversity are balanced by scenes of restorative sea sanctuaries and a hopeful tone overall. Scene selection is useful when class time is limited.

Nature’s Cleanup Crew. Bullfrog Films. 2020. 54 min. UPC 1948566639. DVD $295. Rental. S
Gr 5-9 –Humans don’t always appreciate scavenger species who eat or remove the dead, but the scientists who study them can speak passionately to their vital contributions. Urban ecologists and scientists study ants in New York City, vultures in Ethiopia, opossums in Toronto, and foxes in Berlin, showing how each has a place and function in maintaining a healthy ecosystem. ­VERDICT A bit of ick is to be expected when looking at creatures that dine on dead things, but their contributions make them deserving of respect, protection, and occasional awe.

On the Fenceline: A Fight for Clean Air. Video Project. 2021. 25 min. ISBN/UPC unavail. DVD $69; DVD + digital file $119.
Gr 7 Up –When explosions rocked a Philadelphia oil refinery in 2019, residents of the surrounding low-income neighborhood were not sorry to see the smelly business cease, citing elevated case counts of cancer and breathing issues as further reasons to close it permanently. Neighbors, some who have lived near the refinery for their whole lives, become grassroots activists, forming Philly Thrive. They use tactics from blocking intersections to attending city council meetings to make their voices heard. In the end, the land is purchased by a company who plans to clean up and repurpose the site. VERDICT Protests occasionally turn into ugly shouting matches, as Philly Thrive members square off against business interests who point out that people need jobs and, the country needs oil. Consider for government, environmental science, health classes, and for discussions involving social justice and activism.

The Road to Justice. Video Project. 2021. 31 min. ISBN/UPC unavail. DVD $89. DVD + digital file $139.
Gr 7 Up –Students from a Chicago middle school join older Americans who lived through the Civil Rights movement, riding a Greyhound bus to see the stark realities of segregation and change in the South. Most of the students are Black; most of the older participants are white. Little Rock High School, sites in Birmingham and Selma, the Lorraine Motel, and conversations with Freedom Riders about Emmett Till open old wounds for some and make events real for the students, who may have only briefly heard of them. Photos of lynchings, occasional f-bombs, and challenging topics will likely require processing and discussion. VERDICT An important reminder of a difficult period and the sometimes slow pace of change. Worthy of consideration for most classrooms.


High School

Most high school students consider themselves well on the way to adulthood, and these films don’t pull any punches. Whether they are forecasting a future where humans cannot feed and house themselves (The 12th Hour) or presenting opposing viewpoints on the value and purpose of the Confederate flag (Meltdown in Dixie), educators will appreciate the ability to address tough topics, while preparing in advance for post-viewing discussion.

The 12th Hour. Video Project. 2021. 52 min. ISBN/UPC unavail. DVD $89; DVD + digital file $139.
Gr 10 Up –The interviewed scientists, authors, philosophers, biologists, and anthropologists use phrases including “catastrophic,” “desperate and deadly,” and “human-caused mass extinction” when discussing the effects of climate change. Filmmakers Susan Kucera and Jim Swift approach the topic from an evolutionary perspective—that our brains are wired for short-term reward, and discount long-term threats. Controlling population growth and reining in use of fossil fuels are cited as two immediate and necessary actions, but the overall conclusion of the film is that we will not make sufficient changes on our own, but rather nature will make it for us, drastically changing current lifestyles. VERDICT The narrator bluntly states that the future world may not include humans, although several of those interviewed offer windows of optimism if immediate and profound changes are made. Educators will want to allow class time to help students process the film’s conclusion, which is tempered with a small ray of hope as the credits conclude.

Crutch. Bullfrog Films. 2021. 96 min. ISBN 1948745704. DVD $350. S
Gr 10 Up –Bill Shannon, born in 1970, is an incredible breakdancer, skateboarder, and performance artist who uses ­custom-designed rocker-bottom crutches to help him execute his moves. Shannon has a femur condition that causes chronic pain, but questions whether every so-called disability must be cured, or even viewed as a handicap. He is a somewhat prickly hero, with an occasional four-letter-word vocabulary. Shannon ­declines to be seen crutch-first, and demands that his audiences examine unspoken ableist assumptions. VERDICT A thought-provoking joy for high school audiences.

Meltdown in Dixie. Bullfrog Films. 2021. 54 & 40 min. UPC 1948745682. DVD $295. S
Gr 9 Up –When Tommy Daras came out of retirement and opened an ice cream shop in Orangeburg, SC, he never dreamed how things would end. A tiny corner of the lot was deeded to the Sons of Confederate-Veterans, who chose to fly a small and then much larger Confederate flag, characterizing it as the heritage flag of their ancestors, and tuning out associations with slavery and white supremacy. Daras tries reasoning with the SCV, taking matters into his own hands, and legal action, to no avail. Because the flag appears to be a part of Daras’s ice cream shop, he eventually decides to close. While Daras lost the battle over the .003 of an acre, the town’s population is changing and the film closes with a successful vote calling for the removal of a Confederate monument downtown. Occasional crude language and offensive insults are uttered on both sides. ­VERDICT With its conversation on whether the Confederate flag is a racist slap in the face or a symbol of honor and personal ­liberty, this film offers ample opportunity to discuss free speech, civil rights, effective protest, legal precedents, and U.S. history.

Threshold. Video Project. 2020. 77 min. ISBN/UPC unavail. DVD $89; DVD + digital file $139.
Gr 9 Up –Brazilian filmmaker Ruiz interviews her mother, herself, and her transgender son. Her child knows that the label female doesn’t fit, and through childhood and teen years they are filmed (with permission) trying to figure out what fits ­better, eventually settling on Noah (he/they), and beginning hormone therapy. The film touches on politics, Noah’s grandmother’s nontraditional marriage, and his mother’s bisexuality. Noah is an engaging, relatable, and articulate narrator, willing to struggle to give meaning to their gender fluidity on camera while trying to put his feelings into words, so his mother and viewers will understand. VERDICT Ruiz grieves the loss of her dreams for her child even as she supports her son’s emergence. Moving and thoughtful with mature and candid discussions. ­Previewing and scene selection will help focus educator discussions.

Youth v. Gov. Good Docs. 2020. 110 min. ISBN/UPC unavail. S options from $129. Study guide avail.
Gr 10 Up –With the help of legal counsel Julia Olson, 21 young people, ages 11 to 22, filed a lawsuit against the U.S. government saying their right to a safe climate was being breached and they were suffering irreparable harm. With some coaching from ­Olson, the articulate plaintiffs argue that since the government is not protecting them, the courts must intervene and mandate a plan. Scenes from the lawsuit are interspersed with dramatic footage of fires and weather events. Many of the diverse young activists are filmed at home with their families, clowning around together, and speaking passionately about why they got involved and how climate change affects them individually. Along with legal concepts (redressability, writ of mandamus) the film shows the importance of discovery and research. VERDICT An empowering story of young people working within the system to make their voices heard. Consider for government and social studies classes and current events discussions.

Maggie Knapp, Trinity Valley Sch., Fort Worth, TX

Be the first reader to comment.

Comment Policy:
  • Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  • Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  • Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.
  • Comments may be republished in print, online, or other forms of media.
  • If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.



We are currently offering this content for free. Sign up now to activate your personal profile, where you can save articles for future viewing