Creating Animated Explanations

Before jumping to this week’s tip of the week, I’d like to call your attention to a free webinar I’m hosting on Wednesday. It’s titled Get to Know Your Students Through Tract. You can learn more and register here.

Twelve years ago I picked up a copy of Unfolding the Napkin by Dan Roam. Since then it has influenced how I approach animation creation with students. The premise of the book is that if you can take a big concept and break it down into a series of small sketches, regardless of your artistic ability, then you really understand it.

The concept of Unfolding the Napkin is one that I’ve used with students and adults to help them create animated explanations of things like forms of energy, slope-intercept form, branches of government, and private versus public IP addresses. The concept is also employed by Common Craft in their high-quality animated explanations.

The tools that I’ve used for making animated explanations have changed a bit over the years. There are three that I currently recommend because of their ease of use and cost (free).

Make Animated GIFs

Animated GIFs are great for illustrating relatively simple concepts that you want to play back in a repeating loop. Showing the steps to solve a math problem and verb conjugation are things that I’ve seen illustrated well with animated GIFs. Brush Ninja is the tool that I recommend for making those kinds of animations. Here’s my short demo on how to use Brush Ninja.

Animated Explanations With ChatterPix

A Healthy Meal is one of my all-time favorite videos on Next Vista for Learning. The video features talking pictures of food that explain the parts of a healthy meal. What makes the video so darn cute is the voiceovers are done by Kindergarten students using the ChatterPix Kids appHere’s a quick demo of how to use ChatterPix Kids.

Slides and Screencasts

You can build an animated video by using simple clipart and the transitions options found in your favorite slideshow tool (Google Slides, PowerPoint, Keynote) then recording a screencast of those slides. PowerPoint and Keynote users can do this with the built-in recording options. Google Slides users can do this by recording a screencast with Screencastify or the new screencasting tool built into Chromebooks. Watch this short demo to learn how to make an animated explanation with slides and screencasts.

I’ll Come to Your School!

Due to the pandemic, for the last two years all of my work with schools has been remote. This year I’m back to offering in-person workshops and presentations. If you’d like me to come to your school or conference, please send me an email at or fill out the form on this page.

50 Tech Tuesday Tips!

50 Tech Tuesday Tips is an eBook that I created with busy tech coaches, tech integrators, and media specialists in mind. In it you’ll find 50 ideas and tutorials that you can use as the basis of your own short PD sessions. Get a copy today!