How to use videos and storyboards to enhance practical lessons for chemistry students

When doing practical work, it’s important that students consider the theory behind what they are doing to ensure it is purposeful. Purposeful practical work also integrates with other learning. If students focus on the reasoning behind a practical, it helps them understand the subject and develops their scientific and manipulative skills.

Three high school students in a practical chemistry class

Source: © Ilya Reznik/iStock/Getty Images Plus

Get students to work in groups of three, with defined roles, to ensure maximum engagement in practical lessons

In a recent study, researchers Naomi Hennah and her colleagues adapted practical work designed to meet specific exam board requirements to be more purposeful. Their modifications enhanced students’ competence in answering practical-themed exam questions.

The study focused on two practicals: making salts and electrolysis. The researchers produced videos about the procedures with narration to explain the experimental steps. They also made concept videos focusing on the underpinning theory. They labelled three 14–16 year-old classes of similar abilities as: the talk group, video group and control group. The students from the talk and video groups watched the procedure videos before their practicals, and the concept videos afterwards. The talk group did so as homework, while the video group watched them during the lessons. The control students were shown different demonstration videos prior to their practicals.

Teaching tips

  • Place students in groups of three – small enough for all individuals to engage, but big enough that absences will not cause issues. Each group should have a technician who sets up equipment and records results, a materials handler who collects, handles and measures chemicals and a manager who coordinates, organises, sets objectives and appraises performance. Students can rotate roles for different practicals.
  • Consider providing a procedure video to watch before the practical and a concept video for afterwards. These work best as homework tasks to bookend the practical lesson.
  • Ask students to storyboard the procedure video with reasoning in class before the practical – this is known as reverse storyboarding. Students can work in threes with defined roles to work out their reasoning – one student asks questions, the second answers and the third contests answers or continues the discussion.
  • If it’s overwhelming to adopt these suggestions all at once, introduce them incrementally.
  • The researchers have made four (roughly seven-minute) videos available online: making salts procedure, making salts concepts, electrolysis procedure and electrolysis concepts.
  • You can access the article about this study if you would like to adopt ideas from it, and for more detailed discussion and examples.

Team talk

During the lessons, talk students worked in groups of three, in defined roles, to make a storyboard of the procedure video they had watched, with reasoning for the steps. All students completed practical-themed exam questions before each practical, and repeated them in the next lesson. The research team also gave students a questionnaire to probe perceptions of their learning experience.

The study demonstrated the benefits of watching the videos at home and of the storyboard activity. The talk group outperformed their peers in the tests. They also improved between pre- and post-quizzes, and expressed greater confidence than the video group.

The researchers suggest that the discursive component of the talk group’s activities was critical in supporting shared understanding and collaboration. They emphasise the importance of group work where students not only interact, but also use language to support more powerful information processing, sometimes referred to as the social brain. During these group tasks, more capable learners provide scaffolding that supports peers to achieve what they could not alone.

David Read


N Hennah, S Newton and M K Seery, Chem. Educ. Res. Pract., 2022, 23, DOI: 10.1039/d1rp00168j