Supercharge Your Classroom with GIFs

text: Supercharge your classroom with GIFs - Animate your particulate diagrams

I love using particulate models to teach chemistry! During this pandemic, I found a way to leverage technology to supercharge my particulate models with GIFs! As I became more comfortable with creating GIFs, I have used them to help visualize and animate 3-D shapes, directions, and digital stickers in addition to my particulate models.


What is a GIF?

GIF (pronounced "gif" or "jiff") stands for Graphical Interchange Format. It was created in the 1980s to animate images using small file sizes. Essentially GIFs are short flipbooks of images played on repeat. These 2-4 second short videos autoplay without sound on a continuous loop. GIFs are very popular on social media and when sending texts. I am sure many of us have used GIFs to express feelings and quote popular media in a memorable, attention-grabbing way. The group chat between my friends and I can often be exclusively GIFs.

How to make your own GIF

First, there are many ways to find and make GIFs. You can find pre-made GIFs on Giphy, Google (under “Type”, “animated images”), Tenor, and Imgur. You can make your own custom GIFs. If you are able to make short Youtube videos, you can use websites like Giphy, Tenor, ezgif, or Canva

Personally, I use to make my GIFs. I have a Screencastify account through my school, but a free account will work too. With Screencastify, I record my screen or webcam for a few seconds to capture short videos of moving particulate models, where to click on the screen, or spinning 3-D models of VSEPR shapes. In the left menu in Screencastify's Video Editor I select “Download” and then “animated GIF.” Once the GIF is downloaded I can insert it into any digital item for my students like I would an image. I have inserted my GIFs through the “insert image” option into Word, Powerpoint, Classkick, Google Docs, Google Forms, Google Slides, Desmos, etc.

Watch my GIF YouTube Tutorial:

Video 1: GIF in Google Slides, Melissa Hemling's YouTube Channel, 2/27/2021.


How to use a GIF

You can use a GIF anywhere you can insert an image. The possibilities are endless. Use them anywhere you want to grab your student’s attention or help explain something better. I use GIFs to make animated personalized digital stickers. For example, I record a quick 2 sec GIF of me cheering or pointing to a “Check Sig Figs!” sign that I can insert onto my student’s digital work for fun feedback. I use GIFs to animate particulate models or 3-D VSEPR shapes on digital worksheets or card sorts. I also use GIFs to show students where to click when using an online simulation. I have also seen people use GIFs to animate data. 

See it in action 

Previously, my particulate model images were static as with my paper gas law card sort from my previous ChemEd X Card Sort Hacks blog post (figure 1).  

Figure 1: Gas Law Paper Card Sort 


Now that I know how to make GIFs, I recorded short animations of gas molecules moving under different conditions. I inserted those GIFs into my card sort (figure 2). There were a lot of cards to sort for 4 different gas laws so I made the first slide with all the “cards” including GIF particulate models. Students then copied and pasted the cards onto the appropriate graphs to show connections between different representations of the gas law: graphical, mathematical, particulate, and descriptive. The last slides contain answer keys for students to use to self-check. Check out the digital version of the Gas Laws Card Sort using GIFs here: Gas Laws Card Sort w/ GIFs


Figure 2: Digital Gas Law Card Sort with GIFs


GIFs have allowed me to provide better visuals on worksheets. If it is hard to describe or draw, animated GIFs have come to my and my student’s rescue! 

How have you used GIFs in your classroom? Join the conversation by commenting below! 


Modeling in 9–12 builds on K–8 and progresses to using, synthesizing, and developing models to predict and show relationships among variables between systems and their components in the natural and designed worlds.


Modeling in 9–12 builds on K–8 and progresses to using, synthesizing, and developing models to predict and show relationships among variables between systems and their components in the natural and designed worlds. Use a model to predict the relationships between systems or between components of a system.

Assessment Boundary:
Join the conversation.

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Comments 2

Joyce Overly | Fri, 03/19/2021 - 10:04

I get how to make a GIF from a snippet of a video, but how did you create the GIFs of the moving particles for your card sort activity?

Melissa Hemling's picture
Melissa Hemling | Fri, 03/19/2021 - 11:58

Great question Joyce!  I used Screencastify to record my computer screen that had moving particles on it (as shown in the Youtube video in the blog post).  I recorded the gas simulation on the Simbucket website (link), but the PhET simulations (link) or CK12 simulations (link) are good too! Once I screen-recorded the particle motion that I wanted, I downloaded it as a gif and inserted it as an image into my card sort.

There are websites that can take a series of stationary images and create a gif "flipbook" with them. I have not explored that yet. Recording an already existing animation seemed the easiest route for me. But if I run into a situation where I can't find the particle motion I want, I might explore that option.

I hope that clears things up!