Teaching the Enlightenment: My first lesson with Prezi Video

The study of history gets a bad rap. Students envision timelines of events long-past and people long-gone, to be memorized and forgotten. These notions of history education are what drive me to transform my own classroom. I teach 8th grade U.S. history, and I like focusing on the doing of history: building, creating, and analyzing. Embracing hands-on history does not mean I prioritize fun over content, though. In fact, it’s more important than ever that students understand and are confident in our core content.

My students study the Age of Enlightenment and Enlightenment philosophy’s role in shaping America. The mere mention of the 1700s elicits yawns from students, but during our Enlightenment unit, we write advice columns and create mix-tapes from the perspectives of philosophers, scour founding documents for evidence of Enlightenment philosophies, and host salons. We learn a ton, and have a blast. Getting to this point of active, engaged history requires a solid foundation. 

When it was time to teach the key beliefs of Locke, Voltaire, Montesquieu, and Rousseau, I didn’t want to drone on at the front of the classroom while students stared at me, glassy-eyed. I decided instead to take a new approach: using Prezi Video to deliver this important content. 

With Prezi Video, I could design a succinct, visually stimulating lesson that was developmentally appropriate for my middle school students. As an added bonus, having the content knowledge delivered through video freed me up to monitor student progress and meet with kids one-on-one and in small groups. 

I wanted to keep my entire video under ten minutes, which forced me to focus on the most essential content. I created four color-coded “topics,” one for each philosopher, and within those topics I made a bulleted list of each person’s key beliefs. I also added an image of each philosopher, because it’s a lot easier to remember details about a person when you have a face to put with the philosophy. I designed a simple graphic organizer to accompany the video.

By using Prezi Video, I could elaborate and share snippets of information that I wouldn’t write out in a traditional slideshow, such as mnemonic devices for remembering each Enlightenment thinker’s beliefs. The combination of video and voice also served as built-in reading support for my students. Even better, kids could pause, rewind, and skip forward as needed. Many revisited the video before our unit assessment, too! I’m already brainstorming other ways to use this new form of video for my students.

Grab their attention by making your presentation more interactive

As I reflect back on this lesson and think about how I will approach this next time, here are the four things I would consider:

  1. What traditional, lecture-style content might be best “flipped” with Prezi Video.
  2. Short & sweet is good. I will try to keep my next one under 6 minutes.
  3. Lean on Prezi Video’s awesome templates as a foundation, and then start to DIY.
  4. Ask students for their feedback. Their honesty will help you to create better content.

Prezi Editor’s note: In addition to Rachael’s great tips, here is a video that shows you how to get started with Prezi Video.

About the author:

Rachael Streitman teaches 8th grade U.S. History in Northeast Ohio and has been a social studies educator for almost a decade. She is passionate about student engagement, equity in education, and making learning fun. When she’s not in the classroom, you can find her wrangling three small kids with one hand, with a coffee in the other.

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