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Don’t Forget Chekhov’s Gun

She can barely breathe. She just watched an entire squad of marines relentlessly slaughtered by unstoppable aliens. Now, unarmed, she discovers that the fourteen foot queen of the alien brood, has hitched a ride home on her space shuttle. How can she possibly defeat her?


aliens 10.gif

Well luckily there was a power loader in the shuttle bay and our hero, Ripley, just happens to know how to use a power loader as an improvised weapon.

Wait a minute. That’s terrible writing. There’s no way this warrant officer just randomly knows how to use a power loader so skillfully. I mean she would have to have at least a class two certification to do that. 

aliens 3.gif

Oh… that’s right. Earlier in the movie Ripley was trying to show her worth by using her skills with a power loader to help load the ship. It seemed like just a throw-away gag scene to lighten the mood, but maybe it was more than just fun and games.

It’s like the director, James Cameron, knew that power loader was going to come in handy later in the film. That’s pretty cool. They should come up with a name for a plot device where some random object comes up again in an important way… oh they did?

“Remove everything that has no relevance to the story. If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it’s not going to be fired, it shouldn’t be hanging there.” –Anton Chekhov

What if we treated everything we did in class like a Chekhov’s gun? What if when we taught a student a skill they used it as part of a bigger task only…

They didn’t even know they were going to use it for learning? They just thought it was fun?

That’s what we did in class the other day, with Giphy.

I checked out one of our department’s Chrome book carts, brought it to my room and put the following in a discussion post in our Canvas LMS.

Hi everyone, 

Here is your task for today.

You are going to add at least a paragraph of text to your about.me page on your blog, for some ideas of what you can add you can look at

After adding the text we are going to +1 your about me page with an animated GIF created by YOU using the site Giphy .

Here’s how.

  1. Find a short (5 seconds on less) clip on a YouTube video or Vimeo video that you want to turn into a GIF.
  2. Grab the URL of that YT video and put it into the Giphy Maker.
  3. Insert some text, choose the font you want and the placement you want.
  4. Create the GIF
  5. Click advanced and look for the download link
  6. Login to your WordPress blog and go to your About Me page and click edit
  7. Then insert image via URL and add the Giphy link.
  8. Click update and see if it worked.
  9. When you are done please post GIF in the discussion below.

So they did. Here are some of the GIFs.


Possible Tiger Mom? 

report card

Looks like a theme here. #grades


I believe this kid 100%


This is so true. Post-test rockstars during passing period.


I’m dying here


There’s always the one kid who messes with you.

We had a blast and all of my kids became GIF making power users. One student, while walking out of class, came up to me and said “Hey Mr. T. this is the best thing I’ve learned all year.”

Another student came up to me two days later and told me how she used Giphy in her physiology class to create a presentation. There was a short section of a YouTube video she wanted to put in a Google Slide, but she didn’t want the whole video so she just used Giphy and captured the part she wanted, turned it into a GIF and then inserted it into her slide.

My 10th grade honors students just created a visual analysis presentation on  A Tale Of Two Cities using the S.C.O.U.T. system and many of them made custom GIFs to use in their persuasive arguments on the purpose of the novel. What else could you do with custom animated GIFs?

  • You could use your student made films and video journalism segments to try and create a viral meme linked back to your school.
  • Create GIFs to use on your school Twitter or Instagram
  • Make GIF memes for famous historical figures or military weapons
  • Transform GIFs by inserting funny sayings in a foreign language
  • Create a slideshow character analysis by creating custom GIFs over funny YouTube clips and then overlay quotes or lines from the novel or play.
  • Have every student create a funny GIF illustrating a math formula or a scientific theory. Then use them in your presentations next year.

Sometimes we get too caught up in explaining or justifying to students why they need to learn something. What if we just taught them something fun and then later they found themselves up against a big task, something that looks way difficult, but they just happened to have the experience, the knowledge of using a certain tool that would keep them from wanting to quit?



-That would be pretty cool. 

PS- Thanks to James Cameron and the entire cast of the movie Aliens for making one of my favorite films of all time. Man did we quote that film in college.





  1. The GIFs at the end of this post killed me. But of course, I was hooked at the beginning with the Aliens reference. There is often a lot of chatter around “it’s not the tech it’s the learning.” And while I believe this is true. Sometimes, it is about the tech. Introduce students to a new tool just for the sake of introducing them to a new cool tool and you never know where THEY are going to take it. I had this same thing happen after I showed my class Kahoot. I don’t necessarily like the multiple choice / competitive aspect of it, but I knew the kids would, so I showed them the tool and we played with it a bit. Immediately, several students used it in other projects they were working on. Authentic, choice-based, self-driven. And is it wrong that I still quote Aliens? “Yeah, but it’s a dry heat.”

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