Showing Videos in RSE

I was chatting with my Facebook group colleague Alice about showing videos in RSE and here’s a summary of our thoughts on this. As you can see, we’re not huge fans of this approach, but we do have some top tips at the end.

It’s passive rather than active

Watching a video is a very passive activity which is not great for RSE. It’s easy to stop paying attention to a video, particularly if it is a whole lesson, because we can go into relaxation mode and switch off. We want students to be switched on and thinking critically about the messages we receive about relationships, sex, sexuality, and gender.

Makes it about us not them

The action of putting a video on can send out a lot of indirect messages to students if we’re not careful. ‘What I have to say is the most important thing here.’ ‘Listen to the message of this video and learn it.’ ‘I’m more interested in what this video has to say than what you have to say.’ Whatever our motivations for showing a video, the message it can send out is that it’s more about what we think is important to say in RSE rather than what students have to say and think.

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Consent issues

It’s very hard to opt out of watching a video, so we need to be super careful about making everyone watch a video. Just as watching a film in a cinema can be a tricky experience for many watching a video can be very tricky for your students. If a film features trauma, violence, threats, abuse, shocking scenes, or sex then this can be upsetting. Also you don’t know what your students will find difficult: I find it really difficult to watch a film with needles in and will go to the BBFC insights page online to check, otherwise I will pass out.

So this means that with any video you show, you need to give advance warning so that students can opt out of seeing it. It’s also best practice to tell parents too. Then if students are opting out (or want to opt out) you might want to think about whether there is a better RSE resource that can include everyone.

It’s important to think about the process of RSE as much as the content. If we show a video that is all about consent, but then don’t give students the option to not watch the video, or even further, traumatise students as a result, then what are they really learning about consent?

Top tips for teaching about consent


The difficulty with videos with people in them is that you can only be as diverse as those people who are in them.

So I know everyone loves Screwball (meh) and yes it has a black character and a white character, and yes it’s not entirely about penis in vagina sex (which can exclude a lot of people), but it doesn’t say a lot about the different oppressions that people of colour face, or anything on disability, or LGBTQ folk, or asexual folk, or intersex folk…. I’m not having a go at Screwball here (I think it’s funny and has a nice tone and the actors were great) I’m just pointing out the limitations of showing one story line in one film. If we spend most of our lessons showing videos like this, then it’s on us if we’re just teaching about the heterosexual experience.

Tips for inclusive RSE teaching

The region of the characters can make a difference too. One of my favourite videos, back in the day, was the Weird and Wonderful World of Billy Ballgreedy by FPA. Everyone had quite thick Northern Irish accents, which is probably great for its intended audience, but did nothing for the lads I was working with in Derby. Which is a shame because I thought it was great.

For this reason, when I make video for BISH (which are not for showing in classrooms, they’re for young people to watch in their own time) I use images and animations so that I can try to make them as diverse and inclusive as possible. It’s hard to do, so they are not very long, and they are also not very good!

Creates more work

Putting a video on is not the RSE equivalent of putting Peppa Pig on when we are trying to have a five minutes sit down babysitting our niece (ahem). We need to watch the video to make sure that we don’t run into the consent issues above, but also to check that it’s making the point we’re wanting it to make. I’m not a huge fan of instilling ‘key messages’ into young people, but what are the key messages of the video you’re showing? Do they need unpacking? How are you going to do that? Also it’s good to critique who is making the video, why it’s being made, and what might be some of the underlying assumptions of the video. Videos are rarely values neutral and they rarely give students the opportunity to consider their own values and to build on them.

It’s a faff

For a start it can be hard to find the video you want. Maybe it’s gone off iplayer, or YouTube has taken it down, or it now has a load of adverts on it, or it’s really expensive, or you don’t have a licence to show it in school, or it takes ages to buffer, or it’s really low resolution. That time might better be spent finding some more interactive and inclusive RSE resources.

Resources and materials for teaching RSE

Also, it’s a faff making the videos work in the classroom. Turning the lights off, closing the curtains, making sure everyone can see. Also we need to make sure it’s loud enough and has audio descriptions, or subtitles for those that need them.

5/10 minute clip

This might sound like we’re fun sponges! We occasionally use video clips ourselves. Using shorter clips can help avoid some of the above problems – also it’s less work to watch the video. Use the clips as an injection of humour, or something to help you shift from one topic to another, or to introduce something really powerful like a Hollie McNish poem.

Make it interactive

Instead of watching a video passively you could make it more interactive by stopping the video at key points. Ask them about a character in the film, what might they feeling, what might they be thinking, what previous life experiences have got them to this point, what’s their biography, how is this likely to play out, what should they do, what can their friends do.

You could put students in small teams and have them follow a character, making it more creative by asking them to draw outlines of their character and write words or draw images around them.

You could put all this in a worksheet and ask students to be filling this in as they go. You could also do a simple observation quiz to keep them engaged.

Developing videos with students

This can be a lot of fun and really useful too, particularly if the video is about local services. You could arrange a visit to a local sexual health service to show everyone how to get there and what to expect. I’ve done that myself (though I had to do the editing) and in your schools you will have technology and students to be able to turn it into a cross-curricula project. They could also film themselves doing talking heads, interviews, point of view shots. They could edit a bunch of vox pops of different young people’s views on a topic. Perhaps you could get students to do my talk for a minute activity which I have in my Consent Teaching pack, for example.

Students could bring in their own video clips

One way of showing videos, but still making it about the students not us, is to ask students to bring in videos or clips to show everyone. Obviously you would have to either trust your students a lot to not bring in anything inappropriate (the group agreement is your friend here), or you would have to vet everything. Some students asked me to play them a video from the inbetweeners once when I was teaching them about sexual scripts, which was absolutely perfect.

If you’re looking for some great activities and ideas for delivering RSE that are also FREE, why not check out

© Justin Hancock, 2019