6 Ways to Use School Appropriate GIFs in Your Teaching (plus Tools to Create Them)

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Over the last few years animated GIFs resurged into the visual scene of the virtual world playing prominent roles in the communication structure of  the social web. And as is the case with educational memes, Animated GIFs gained in popularity among teachers, educators, and students becoming important tools in the learning/teaching process. 

If you have not already tried them out in your instruction you may want to consider tapping into their (hidden) educational potential. The purpose of this post is to share with you some of the ways animated GIFs can be used in education together with applications and tools that can help you create them.

                                                                        via GIPHY      


Why animated GIFs in education?

Animated GIFs are short video clips that capture "brief moments from a movie, television show, sporting event, or other recorded media and may include humorous captions or graphics" (Aleman & Porter, 2016, p. 65). They are "typically a few seconds long, soundless and play in loop" (The New York Times). 

These animated snippets are a great way to enhance communication within and outside class, boost students comprehension by simplifying complex concepts, and help students further develop emotional and social skills. According to Mike Isaac, GIFs are “a way to relay complex feelings and thoughts in ways beyond words and even photographs making them hugely popular with young audiences who never leave home without their smartphones”. Also, for those learners who learn best through visual means, animated GIFs are good alternative to textual input. 

Ways to use animated Gifs with you students

Here are some suggestions on how to leverage the communicative power of animated GIFs in your instruction:

1- Use Animated GIFs in Storytelling 
Students can record clips, or use snippets from TV shows or movies and add  captions to comprise and narrate digital stories.

2- Teaching vocabulary
Animated GIFs can be used to teach vocabulary. You can either create your own explanatory GIFs or search the web for school appropriate GIFs that best explain the vocabulary item to share with students. In Using GIFs for Learning, Meredith Akers walks you through the process of using animated GIFs in vocabulary teaching.

3- Writing/discussion prompts
Animated GIFs can be used as prompts to engage students in writing projects. For instance, you can create animated teaching GIFs to serve as prompts for discussion/writing assignments and upload them to Google Classroom or share them into a Google Doc, or Slide. 

4- Sharing Feedback
You can record feedback in animated clips to share with students. Visually animated feedback can be useful particularly for those who prefer visual means of learning.

5- Step by step tutorials
You can also use animated GIFs to share with students step-by step tutorials and explainers. Screen recording tools (see examples below) are especially helpful here. You can record your screen as you demonstrate your explanation and share the final product as animated GIFs with your students.

6- Use GIFs across school subjects
Teachers across different subjects and academic disciplines have been experimenting with animated school appropriate GIFs in their classroom. Check out these resources to learn more:

                                                                             via GIPHY

Tools to create animated GIFs
There are several sites where you can search for pre-made animated GIFs to use with your students including Giphy, Imgur, and Tenor, However, as these sites feature content that might be considered in-appropriate for kids, you need to exercise prudence when you use them with your students in class. A good alternative is to create your own animated GIFs. Below is a collection of tools for creating school GIFs.

I- Screen recording tools
Screencastify and Snagit are two examples of tools you can use to create animated GIFs out of your screen captures. The process is simple and easy: create a short recording of your screen and download or export is as animated GIFs. 

II- GIF Creation tools

Ezgif is a GIF maker which comes with editing features that enable you to crop, trim, reverse, cut, resize, add text, and apply effects to GIFs.

Tall Tweets is a creator studio that allows you to easily convert your Google Slides presentation into animated GIFs and videos.

Makeagif allows you to create animated GIFs from pictures, YouTube videos, Facebook videos. You can also use it to convert videos you created on third party applications or recordings you made through your webcam into animated GIFs. 

GIF Brewery (available as a MAC app) lets your create animated GIFs from video files. You can import videos or record screencasts, resize and edit them the way you want, and save them as animated GIFs to your computer or share them with others through iMessage or Mail.


Jiang, Jialun "Aaron", Fiesler, Casey, & Brubaker, Jed R. (2018). “The Perfect One”: Understanding Communication Practices and Challenges with Animated GIFs. Proceedings of the ACM on Human-Computer Interaction, Vol. 2, No. CSCW, Article 80.

Karla J. Aleman & Toccara D. Porter (2016) 10-Second Demos: Boiling Asynchronous Online Instruction Down to the Essentials with GIF Graphics, Journal of Library & Information Services in Distance Learning, 10:3-4, 64-78, DOI: 10.1080/1533290X.2016.1193414

Mike Isaac. (Aug. 2015). For Mobile Messaging, GIFs Prove to Be Worth at Least a Thousand Words. The New York Times.  https://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/04/technology/gifs-go-beyond-emoji-to-express-thoughts-without-words.html