How to Get a Lot from a Little YouTube

Before essential questions and objectives were required, I used to write the daily agenda on the board.  My students celebrated every time they walked through the door and saw the word video followed by a title—which was pretty often.  It didn’t take them long, though, before they were on to me—“How long does this one last, miss?”  “Will you ever show us a video that’s more than five minutes long?”

With my intensive reading students, I found videos to be a tremendous teaching tool.  The Himalayan setting of Into Thin Air is completely foreign to these Florida kids.  A short video about life at base camp gave them a visual to help them better understand Krakauer’s truly complex text.


Many studies show the impact of reading on early education.  The number of words a childhood reader owns compared to those of a non-reader is staggering.  It’s not just about words, though, it’s about the people, places, and ideas associated with those words that really put our struggling high school readers at a deficit.

I participated in state FCAT committees for many years, and in the process of selecting texts to be included on future statewide assessments, we looked for texts that did not give some students an advantage based on background knowledge.  In a state as diverse as Florida, that was tough—the farm kids in the middle of the state led a completely different life than my beachside kids.  For example, we didn’t want to use an article about fishing because it would give students who fished an advantage over those who didn’t.  It was an impossible task.  Looking back at the released tests (the FCAT officially ended with the class of 2016), every article could provide an advantage to a student who has read widely.  As Dr. Seuss says, the more you read, the more places you go.

This same advantage carries over to the classroom—every classroom.  Teachers can help compensate for this deficit, and build some background knowledge for those who don’t have it, with that same tool I used years ago—short videos—and the options are nearly endless now.  Teachers can find a video about almost anything and share it in less than five minutes, improving their students’ comprehension of the text/lesson dramatically.

The easiest source of video is YouTube—a quick Google search and ten minutes of screening mediocre videos will result in something that will serve your purpose.  Remember, you’re not looking for a babysitter to cover the whole period or a guest lecturer; you’re just using the video to introduce the topic.

Still, we can dress up our YouTube selection and make it a little more appropriate for class with a few simple steps:

Choose a Video with Subtitles.  By clicking on the settings gear in the bottom right of the screen, you can check whether or not subtitles are available and turn them on. Subtitles help everyone in class, but especially your ELL students. Seeing and hearing the words in English will help them build the background knowledge they need to better understand the topic when you get to teaching about it.

Only Show What You Really Need.  Choose your starting and stopping points wisely. Limiting the video will keep everyone engaged the entire time and allow you to focus on the parts of the video that are truly relevant to your lesson.

Eliminate Distractions. Have you used ViewPure yet? This free website eliminates the ads, related videos, and comments from the YouTube page, allowing you to show your video against a plain white background.  All you have to do is to copy and paste the YouTube URL into the Purify bar on ViewPure and you’re good to go. If you’d like to set the start and stop times of your video, just click the little settings gear in the Purify bar and you’ll have the option to enter the exact starting and stopping times, so your students only see the section you have chosen for them to see.

Once you’ve clicked “Purify,” your new video will show on the white background.  (Double check that your subtitles are still on by clicking the settings bar here, too.) You can show this video in class or paste the newly created Viewpure link on a class webpage so those who were absent (or want a second look) can see exactly the same video.

A video alone won’t level the playing field, but with a couple of quick fixes, you can turn that YouTube video into something that will make a big difference for many of your students—and that’s a step in the right direction!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *