No doubt about it, YouTube has some amazing cat videos, but we have some creative English activities for students on Youtube your students will love more.
But, if we can tread the line of its algorithm-generated sidebar suggestions and avoid falling into a black hole of mindless entertainment, we can uncover some powerful tools to help get our students writing.
As a resource to enhance learning in the classroom, few free tools can match the sheer volume and diversity of the content that the world’s largest video-sharing platform offers.
Not only is YouTube the world’s most popular video-sharing platform, but it’s the 2nd most popular search engine overall, with over 3 billion searches performed per month.
And most importantly, our students love YouTube. Heck, it’s even more popular than Facebook.
So, if you’re struggling to ignite your students’ enthusiasm for yet another writing task, why not check out our 6 Writing Activities Involving YouTube list below.
Things to Consider When Using YouTube in the Classroom
But, before you or your students begin to use YouTube in the classroom, be sure you’ve thought through some of the potential safety issues that arise when using the platform with young people.
The relative importance of these safety issues will depend largely on the age of the students you’re working with. But, be sure to take all the necessary precautions and acquire all the required permissions before getting started.
Some safety issues to consider when using YouTube in the classroom include:
- Inappropriate content within videos
- Inappropriate content suggested by the algorithm
- Offensive Material in the comments section
- Privacy settings for videos posted by students.
With some thought and a little careful screening thought, YouTube can prove itself an invaluable and safe resource for use in classroom writing activities.
1. Learn to write and film a Script
Back in the day, the best a student could hope for was to see a script they had labored over being performed by a ragtag group of peers at the top of the class before the bell rang.
Often, a hurried, poorly rehearsed, and unsatisfactory affair. These days, the tech has taken us a long way from that!
If you’d told ’80s school children that one day every student would be able to record and broadcast their own movies to the world – and all from a magic box in their pocket – minds would’ve been blown!
Now, most of our students have access to a video camera of some description, whether on their cellphones, tablets, or laptops and can produce and broadcast from the palm of their hand.
Any scripts that a student writes can quickly be turned into a video and uploaded, edited, and broadcast on YouTube for the world to see – all in a matter of hours.
Of course, it may not be appropriate for the settings of these home-produced movies to be ‘Public’, but the chance to see their work on the screen can still be a powerful motivating tool for students. Even if the video will be listed as ‘Private’.
While the obvious text type to focus on with YouTube in mind might be a movie script or similar, there is plenty of scope for writing a script based on a wide variety of text types too.
For example, if you’ve been working on persuasive writing in class, the students could script and produce an advertisement that employs the persuasive techniques they’ve been working on.
The YouTube Studio even allows the students to edit their videos inside the app with the YoutTube Video Editor, so there’s no need to have a subscription to any expense editing software either.
When the students have finished writing, producing, and editing, why not schedule a time and date for the screening of all the video tasks at the end?
Don’t forget the popcorn!
2. Create a Video Essay
A recent study by the Pew Research Center revealed that 85% of young people use YouTube regularly. That’s more than even social media giants such as Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram.
It would be a mistake for us as teachers to dismiss YouTube as merely the world’s single largest repository for the meme-worthy cat videos and the like. For many of our young people, it’s their single biggest source of news and entertainment.
So important is YouTube as a medium that it has even birthed new and interesting genres never before seen, such as the video essay.
The video essay is a long-form exploration of hot topics within the culture. They’re unrestricted in many of the ways more traditional, TV-style documentaries are. They’re low budget, able to appeal to smaller, more niche audiences, and they aren’t limited in length by the demands of commercial breaks and scheduling considerations, for example.
The technological skills required to produce a basic video essay are minimal. While they often use images, clips, and other media to make their case. Most of the technology is intuitive and easy to use by design.
To get a sense of what a good video essay looks like, students could check out some great YouTube channels such as:
- Nerdwriter – explores the world of interesting ideas
- Vox – examines cultural and political issues
- Every Frame a Painting – provides in-depth film analysis.
There are a ton of sites catering to a wide range of interests. They also serve as useful tools for inspiring debate and discussion in the classroom.
The process of scripting a video essay has some similarities to that of writing a regular essay. Here’s a brief outline of the process:
The student needs first to identify the central argument they want to communicate and they’ll also need to identify the audience they want to communicate to.
They should write this down in a few clearly expressed sentences.
Then, the student will need to organize their ideas through a storyboard. The storyboard should provide a detailed outline of what the video essay will look like. This will be a great help to help the student visualize the final product.
Once the essay has been comprehensively outlined, it’ll be time to collect together the various media needed to help to make the argument.
These resources can be gathered from third party sources or produced by the student. They may take the form of still images, video clips, slides, interview audio, documents, and screenshots to name but half a dozen.
These media can then be edited together and music added as necessary. Students can use the YouTube Editor or a third-party video editor as required.
Writing/rewriting a final version of the script will be necessary. It will need to weave the various media together coherently before adding the voice-over.
Students should also be careful to reference and credit all sources appropriately in their final work version.
3. Use Video Writing Prompts with your students
Sometimes you just need a writing activity you can pull out of the hat in an instant. Something that will get the students writing quickly with the minimum of fuss.
Traditionally, these are the times we would have scrawled a writing prompt across the board in chalk and told the students to get on with it. Effective in its way perhaps, but not very inspiring.
With video writing prompts, you can have the convenience of a quick-start writing activity but with a bit more of a spark to get things going and little to no prep required.
Video writing prompts lay a little more groundwork for the students. The scene is set in a clever and interesting way with the help of dramatic music, imaginative visuals, and a theatrical voice-over.
There are several channels dedicated to providing quality writing prompts for students. One of my favorites is Video Writing Prompts by John Spencer.
4. Teach Poetry
We teach our students that the origins of poetry lie in oral tradition. We emphasize the musicality of poetry when we teach literary devices such as alliteration and assonance.
However, too often poetry remains primarily 2-dimensional words printed on the page of a textbook.
Fortunately, now it needn’t be so. Using videos from YouTube we can help our students see and, more importantly, hear the words living and breathing in the mouths of people – often the poets themselves.
When your students are writing about a poem, as well as reading it together in class, they should get a chance to hear it read. You can find readings of many classic and modern poetry on YouTube – sometimes read by the poet themselves or a very talented actor.
This gives students a strong sense of the musicality of the poem they are writing about. Things like intonation, tone, and stress are much more apparent in spoken versions of poetry than when reduced to lifeless words on a page to be read silently.
A quick search of a poem’s title will reveal if a reading is available on the platform. Several public playlists have compiled poets and poetry together. One of the best playlists I have found is Poets Reading Poetry.
If your students have been working hard on their poems, you might want to host a class poetry slam. Students can get a good feeling for reading poetry out loud by checking out the content on the appropriately named Poetry Out Loud channel.
5. Go On a Virtual Field Trip with your students
It’s great to get out and about with your class. Going on a field trip together can not only provide some valuable time to bond as a group, but it can also provide useful experiences for students to draw on when completing writing tasks, especially recounts.
Often, however, our field trips and the time scheduled to study recounts (for example) don’t coincide. Virtual field trips are a useful tool in just such circumstances.
Virtual field trips on YouTube consist of a filmed guided tour of anything from an animal sanctuary to a world capital such as Paris.
You can also find animated historical tours like ancient Rome, for example, as well as public and private facilities such as libraries, art galleries, and museums.
Virtual Field Trips playlist offers a diverse playlist of virtual field trips and is an excellent place to get started.
To write factual recounts on historical events, students could also use old newsreel footage as a useful source for their research.
A fantastic resource for this kind of footage is the British Pathé channel.
Here you’ll find everything from footage of the Titanic setting off from Belfast to the American Civil Rights marches of the 1960s.
6. Teach Narrative Writing Through Video
YouTube is chock-full of short video stories, both live-action and animated.
There are original short movies and reworkings of classic tales, such as Aesop’s fables and the Brothers Grimm fairy tales.
These can be a valuable resource to draw upon when teaching the elements of a narrative arc.
When explaining elements such as characters, setting, rising action, problem, climax, falling action, and resolution, it can be easier when the class as a whole is familiar with the very same story.
Watching a video version of the same story together ensures everyone has a fresh and identical version of the story in mind.
It ensures everyone moves through the story at the same pace, allows you to pause the tale for discussion at significant moments, and enables you to rewatch specific parts together as necessary.
One great playlist for animated versions of Aesop’s fables is Aesop’s Fables – Bedtime Stories which contains 46 different stories.
Another excellent channel with animated versions of all kinds of traditional stories is English Fairy Tales.
Videos like those found on YouTube are a great tool for increasing student engagement in the classroom.
They give you as an educator another string to your bow when students grow weary of reading from a textbook or watching yet another slide presentation.
YouTube – it’s more than just cute cats and babies!