How to make RSA Animate style videos with your class…

Here is a post on how to make RSA style videos with half the work and time, and with a lot less tech experience needed.  And another post on RSA-lite style videos.

If you like the idea in this post, then you might also enjoy my other post 24 Assessments that Don’t Suck.

Nothing fancy in this post, just the nuts and bolts of how to make an RSA Animate style video with your class!  This is also one of those posts that is so long that there is simply not enough time in my life to go back and edit and revise it…so you get what you get and please don’t get upset.

What is an RSA Animate style video? (The Birth of RSA Style Videos Here)

Let’s start with the most popular one:


And the one most popular with educators:

If you want to start at the end and see a student’s final product before getting to the steps involved in making them, pause and watch an example of one of the final videos below before reading on:

This is a unit that was built from the beginning to end with an RSA Animate style video.  Please be careful about just slapping any technology onto a unit to make it better.  If the unit does not need it, then it is probably best to leave it out.  What we have in education is the Instagramafication of teacher’s units.  Just like people think that they can take a poorly composed picture and spiff it up with Instagram filters and it will suddenly become breathtaking, the same thing is happening in classrooms.  Don’t just slap on a piece of technology, or in this case an RSA style video at the end just because you can.  It won’t magically make your unit breathtakingly awesome.  You really have to start off by asking why?  Why is this tool or method necessary for the success of this unit?

So let’s start there…

2012 was coming to a close and I still noticed some important things that my kids could not do yet.  They had a lot of trouble making connections between things that they read, not only across multiple sources, but even in a single one.  They were seeing each paragraph, each sentence as individual disconnected facts.  My guess is that maybe this came from years of “read the chapter, answer the question, spit the question back” without having to put the facts together into a story and make connections between them.  It sounds silly, but yes, what you are reading in the third paragraph happened because of what happened in the first paragraph.

The other problem was that the words they were reading were just that…words.  If they read Benjamin Franklin traveled to France, in their heads he just magically appeared there.  If they read George Washington crossed the Delaware River, they never pictured a boat…or even water.  They are used to simply just reading words and playing a matching game with the questions they received for classwork or homework.  One student during this project actually told me that he was having trouble because in the past he would just write down everything from the paragraph and some of it had to answer the question.  They also still struggle with reading something long, and making it short…getting right to the point.  Another struggle is supporting their point with information from the text they read, and then putting the whole darn thing back into a story.

As I thought about these problems, I decided that making RSA Animate style videos would address all of these.  It was an easy way to make them visualize their information, make connections, and re-tell their facts in a story that had a very tight story line that flowed.  All skills that would transfer nicely to any traditional essay.  I decided on a very straight forward topic, the Louisiana Purchase, and examined it in a very straight forward way without going into some of the nuances of the deal.  I also decided to use the textbook as the main source.  I have faced the reality that the kids will be reading a social studies textbook and anything I could do to make it less scary allow them to read it more fluently will be a huge help in the next 4-8 years of their life.  We also did not have anytime for multiple source research, so the text was our default source.

Day One-Directions and reading

On the first day I handed out the directions:

RSA Animate Louisiana Purchase


I then showed them some examples of RSA videos:


We did find a couple student examples here.

At this point it was still hard to figure out how we were going to go from information in a textbook to an RSA Animate style video.  I was very honest with them about how I had no idea and we needed to figure out how to do it all together because there was no template out there for us to follow.

The first work they did was to simply read the pages in the textbook on the Louisiana Purchase.  I made them put their notebooks and pens away so that they could not take any notes as they read.  The idea being that I wanted they to get the whole picture first, instead of picking it apart and writing everything that they read.  Next they made ten steps, and placed one point from the story on each step.  Each step had to connect to the one prior to it.  They were able to have no more than ten, no less than nine.  This was not random, I did this beforehand and determined that based on what they read, 10 was the appropriate number.  When a kid asked if they could have 14, I knew they were watering something down, and if they asked if they could have 6 I knew they were missing a point in the story.  By having ten I actually somewhat dictating what they would write without them knowing it.


Under each step they had to place three facts supporting their step. We talked about how without support the steps would collapse, and without connecting them a listener would “fall through” and not get the story straight.  They had to label each step before writing the supports, and could only support each with three things.  Again, based on me doing this I thought that was appropriate.  At this point after reading the story, creating the steps, and then evaluating which facts to use for support they had processed the information three times and when listening to them trying to figure out which facts to use could her them making decision based on what happened in prior steps, and what was needed to make the next step make sense.

Day 2-Drawings

On the second day they tried to figure out how they would visualize each supporting fact.  They had to have at least one image per fact.  They also had to figure out what types of captions and labels they would need.


Many kids were concerned about their drawing ability so I told them a story about a bobcat sitting next to three bushes and then drew a very simple picture of a bobcat sitting next to three bushes:

Now what do you see in the image above?   A bobcat and bushes right?  I then told them a story about a rabbit sitting next to three giant heads of lettuce and drew the same picture.  I pointed to the “rabbit and asked them “what is this?”  The whole class said rabbit.  Then I pointed to the “lettuce” and the whole class said lettuce.  So I acted a bit confused since it was the same picture and they had just identified the animal as a bobcat…ah-ha moment.  People will believe anything you tell them 🙂  Everyone became more comfortable.  Then I made a big mistake…I told them to make their drawings very simple.  They made them too simple and took so little time to draw that when the film speed was increased some drawing were barely visible.


Day Three-Dress Rehearsal…sort off

On day three I made a decision to have them sketch out their entire drawing from start to finish before writing their script.  This ended up being a good decision.  They really needed to see what their final product was going to look like and this added a jolt of excitement into the project that made them pay more attention to their scripts the next day.  It is absolutely necessary that a day gets devoted to practice.  After watching, there is no way they could have one from little pictures next to their steps to doing this for film. Many kids sketched it out on small paper before going large…something I would require next year since it really helped to do a quick version first before going big.


When they did a full scale practice some used roll paper and some used whiteboards.  I like the idea of having them do it on a large sheet of paper, even though they might eventually do it on a whiteboard   This way they see everything they have drawn and don’t forget where they just were, and could look back to help remind them as to where they are going.  The same impact could be had on a whiteboard by telling them to not erase anything.

The practice day was seriously orchestrated chaos!

When they were done many groups went back and edited images to make them fit and flow better.  The kids that did it on paper simply rolled it up so they could use it the next day, kids who did it on whiteboards took pictures with their phones.


Day four-record the videos

The day we recorded the videos was simply wild.  Everyone knew that we had just this one day to record, so they could not start over very many times.  I would guess that the average group took about thirty-five minutes to get together, set-up, and record.

The filming went so much better than I anticipated.  We really had no idea how to do this so everyone figured it out as we went along.  What they learned is that a very tiny camera starts to get very heavy after 20 minutes so they started to set-up in some very creative ways and each class took the best ideas of the previous one.

It was important to stress that the kids filming needed to zoom in and focus on what was being drawn.  So if a kid was drawing a person, the person should fill the the camera screen.  It was also important to stay as still as possible…and I bet you can’t guess why.   Let’s say a kid filming moves ever so slightly while filming, so little that when you watch it you don;t even notice it.  Now increase the speed of the film 5x…it becomes unwatchable.  Luckily what saved us is that on youtube you can click on enhancements, and then stabilize.  Without that feature most of the videos would have been unusable.


Some groups did start using tripods-I have two in the class.  A huge difference is seen in the final videos that used tripods, but the camera was not able to move as freely…so still undecided what to do next year.

The supplies we needed were actually easier to get than I thought.  3M donated cameras to our school system, but I think between phones and kids bringing in cheap digital cameras we would have been covered. At least a couple kids in each class used their own camera or phone.  We used 12 whiteboard markers, which by the end of the day were trashed.  Maybe four were still usable.  White board cleaner was a must! We went through two bottles, or at least some kind of cleanser because so much writing was done that in between classes we really needed to totally clean each board.  Our wet paper towels stopped working after the first class.  Another thing that we figured out is that paper towels and whiteboard erasers simply didn’t cut it after a while.  We took some sweatshirts that had been in lost and found for months and cut them up.  That might have been the best idea of the week.


I had a big roll of white paper that we used that a student teacher left behind ten years ago!  The big roll paper used for bulletin boards would have also worked.  We used the white board in class, you could fit three groups at once, and I also had a sheet of shower board at home that I cut into four pieces.  We also went through a bunch of masking tape.  The kids needed it to tape up their practice sheets from the following day so they were easier to follow.

We also established a checklist and place to return everything.  You now how it goes…first period accidentally walks off with one marker, second period 2 more markers, by last class you have one marker.  So everyone froze before leaving and someone went through the check-list to make sure everything was back where it belonged.

It was important to stress to the kids that they could talk during the filming and give directions and think out loud.  The audio in these videos would eventually be muted.  Many groups tried to be very quiet out of instinct!

Below is what it would have sounded like if you were in the hallway filming with the kids.  You’ll see, the the above images and videos make the reality much more peaceful!


Day Five-write the scripts

I am still going to go with it was a good idea to write the script after the images.  Doing the images first allowed them to visualize what they were going to write about, better understand it, and allowed the scripts to flow better and sound more like narration rather than essays.  Scripts are absolutely necessary.  No one could come up the next day without one.  Even the kids who knew the story by heart had to have a script.  Simple reasons why…we had enough time the next day to have each group come in and do one take.  They would be sitting down and watching their video for the first time, it would be 5-7 times faster than when they originally did it, they would have to be able to on the fly go faster or slower to keep up with the video, and simply no ones brain can do all that processing and keep up.  One single ummm would be enough to throw off the entire thing.  There was no issue writing the scripts because they essentially just took their supporting details under each step and made them into sentences.  While the students were writing the scripts I spent the day processing the videos.  We don’t have very good computers.  The 2gb of RAM is not enough to process a twenty minute video quickly.  In my head these were going to be two minute videos, but I forgot that the original file would be around 10-30 minutes long.  That is how long it to ok the kids to film their videos in real time.  The videos were shot at 720p, which resulted in a huge huge file.  Too big to put into movie maker and have the kids watch and narrate at the same time.  The file was so large that if we tried to watch it at 5x speed it would freeze.  So while they wrote the scripts, I placed each video into moviemaker, sped it up 5X, and then rendered it into another file.

Here is how to make the video speed up in Movie Maker(if you have an Apple click here):

Each video could take 15++ minutes.  I started at 6am and finished at 3:30pm.  To give you an idea…using a simple school laptop with 2GB of  Ram, each minute of video would take one minute to get loaded into the video editing software, and then to save it as a movie would take almost 2 mins per minute of video.  Again…cruddy laptop.  Almost every laptop in the world has more than 2 GB of Ram and would do this  process faster.  One idea next time is to take lower quality video, or do larger groups so there would be fewer videos.  If you have better computers, this probably wont be that big of an issue. Also keep in mind that you might need a universal card reader to get the videos off of your camera or cell phones. 

universal reader

Day six-record the narration

When the kids came in to record the narration they knew that they would have a 5 minute block of time.  So they could make a mistake at the beginning, and re-do, but other wise it was probably a one shot deal.  So is our schedule in school and the reality is that I knew that there would be people in our community who would not approve of us doing this  and spending multiple days on scripts would not be a good thing.  If you have time and support for big projects, I think three days would be a perfect amount of time.  One day for practice, and two days to record groups with enough time for multiple takes.

Because we were short on time, and quality computers I had a crazy set-up.


I had two computers hooked up.  I would have two videos set-up when the class walked in.  One group would be recording using one, then I would switch to the other.  While the second group was recording I would save the first movie that was narrated and then load up another video on that computer.   It is very important to remember that you need to mute the volume in the original video so that their narration is the only audio.  So looking at the picture above, the kids are recording their narration on computer #2, and up on the screen #6 is their video playing at 5X speed.  I used a very simple microphone #5 that I threw into the middle of the table.  While they are doing this computer #1 is saving the narration from the last group, and then I will load up a video for the next group on #1.

So how to switch between the two computers?  I had a microphone #3 and speakers #4 hooked into the computer the girls are recording into, and as soon as they were done I would flip the microphone and speakers to computer #1.


To get the video up on screen I had to take the cable that ran to the projector #1 and simply switch it to the computer being used to record.  Since my desktop computer obviously does not have a monitor directly connected to it, after you disconnect #1 from it you would have to reconnect the monitor #3 to where #1 was so that you can see what is happening on the desktop while kids are recording using the laptop.  Easier than I made it sound! The recordings went smoothly, some kids came back during lunches to either re-do it, or to do it again because they simple kept making mistakes the first time.

Here is a video of a group recording at lunch so the set-up is a bit different.

We added music just messing around to one and what we found was interesting.  I think the music is necessary because the kids simply are not great script writers yet and the music makes it more interesting.  It also helps fill in the dead air when they got stuck or had nothing to say.  Because they did not see the videos before narrating they had no way of knowing how long each step would be, and I only had time to make each video 5X faster than normal, so if we had time we could have messed with the speed, or even changed the speed throughout the video, but again we had 5 minutes per group.  The music also helped block out the background sounds of feet shuffling, sniffles, and doors opening and closing.  We just threw a bunch of songs into a folder and just slapped on into each video.  Again if we spent more time I think choosing the right music and matching it to the action would have been awesome.

We have 17 videos finished, and will do the rest after break.  They are all “finished,” we just have to pop the music into most of them and upload.  Here is a playlist with the completed videos.

Things I wish I did…

  • Had more rags available
  • More cleaner
  • No more than 8 groups per class
  • Have the kids be more complex in their drawings, and draw slower.  There is no rush while filming the drawing.
  • Have kids write key words on board that match key words in script to make it easier to glance up and see where they are
  • Fix cameras on tripods,  music stands, anything
  • Better directions for camera people
  • Have each video end with a zoom out so that entire board could be seen
  • I didn’t have enough time to go over anyone’s drawing or scripts in any detail…which is why you hear almost every kid say things like “Haiti.”  Modern name, not historically accurate.
  • Wish added one more day, we never got to really add just a bit more to the research and writing about the implications of the purchase
  • Keep in mind, this was our first time, so I kept it simple, maybe next time each video focuses on one aspect of the Purchase, like the Constitutionality of the purchase

This is an activity for any class, not just social studies.  Also, pretty much any obstacle you can think of can be overcome.  Even if you paired your kids up and each pair did one step and one did only one video per class.

We also talked at the end about how no professional would have worked under the constraints we did. You can read about how one professional did her film by clicking —-> here.  My kids did an incredible job considering the time and supplies they had.  Imagine if they had a chance to practice their drawings twice!  Narrate once, check for sound, and then do it again…I could go on and on.  It’s just if you can give more time to this than I did please do.  I think the final products would be awesome.  Remember that what you read about happened during 45 minute periods, so after the teacher yapped for about ten minutes they had about 35 minutes of work time each period.  This was also done with incredibly mixed classed.  My kids are super, but we are from average town America.  If we could do it, so can you and your kids.

Quick common core connection at the end here…one of the things that could be positive about the common core standards is that they want kids to behave like professionals.  Do the things, read the things, create the things that real professional artists, historians, scientists, and authors do.  I just also hope that they give us the same amount of time that real professionals spend on their tasks.  I can only dream of being in a place where we could have spent a week researching, a week preparing, and a week recording…along with decent equipment.

So if you made it this far, you have got to try this.  Come back and leave some advice in the comments.  I feel like I need to do this for at least three more years before I have a good handle on it!

As one professional artist has said, “…you may be onto something about this being the only kind of video that you want to make…this approach is engaging, approachable, whimsical, human, AND gets the point across.”

 The folks who made the RSA videos

A pro’s reflection on making one

Another pro’s reflection

And a history of the “meme”

I have a little policy in class…never have the kids do something I have not done.  I have written about it before —->HERE.  I was unable to do a video with the kids…this is so much more difficult than it seems and I was needed during each class.  I did mine after they did theirs, and after writing all of the above.  I must say after doing mine that I cannot understand how it was possible for the kids to do what they did in 6 class periods.  Seriously…I attempted to try and follow somewhat the same rules.  Doodle out pictures, one take for filming, no editing of video, one take for narration.  I finally felt so guilt while filming that on my 10th take I just kept going despite mistakes…it took me at least 2 hours to film and you can see how many mistakes and little things that I needed to fix.  I probably spent an hour narrating, and even after multiple takes, you can still hear problems.  How they filmed in 30 minutes, and did on average one take for narration I will never know.  I was impressed by what they did last week, today I am amazed.  Now after doing this myself, I can really put myself in their shoes and will make many changes for next year.  Two simple  things…have them make two-three doodles for each fact, have a second day of dress rehearsal and write the script during it and then record on next day.

Good luck!

My attempt is below.  Notice the green lines around the outside of the video.  What was in the viewfinder was not in the final video.  In the viewfinder the green lines were not visible…another lesson learned.  I also realized that just like the kids I made simple spelling errors under pressure…did I really spell Napoleon wrong!  and simple historical mistakes just like them.  I was wondering why so many kids wrote and said Haiti…it was SaintDomingue (modern day Haiti)…even though I had planned on writing Saint-Dominque I still wrote Haiti!


And of course…a look behind the scenes.  I have to erase in between pictures because
I had no camera person and needed to stay in a fixed position.

*edit 5/21/2014*

Below is a video some kids just produced for class.  We did not do RSA style videos as a full class this year, but I showed them this post and offered it as one way to present.  At the end of the video they have a series of “behind the scenes” images and video.


If making RSA style videos intrigues you, also consider trying Common Craft style videos!

Also find other assessments that don’t “suck” on this post:  15 Assessments that Don’t Suck.

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