Quick Guide to YouTube for Teachers: Using Video in the Classroom

By Scott Sterling

Teachers have been using video in classrooms since video was invented. For some, it was a way to bring subject matter to life or provide a differing voice. For many, it was a way to add some extra planning time to the day.

Nothing has changed in that regard other than just how much video is available and how easy it is to get it. Today’s students were navigating YouTube before they could talk, so don’t think you’ll be able to avoid using it in your lessons. But there are ways to be smart about it and other video sources—as well as some truly creative lesson ideas that have the potential of revolutionizing what we think about education.

The Ground Rules

The primary rule when using any video in your classroom is to always, always, always preview the content. I myself once received a VHS with full frontal nudity from my own school’s library. I won’t go into detail, but it wasn’t the media specialist’s fault. So yes, you can be surprised by any video from any source, but especially YouTube.

When using YouTube, your best bet is frequenting channels and subsites that have been specifically developed for educational use. YouTube Edu gathers educational content and organizes it into channels that you can subscribe to based on grade level. If you have a strict filter on your school’s network, YouTube for Schools can help get around it. And Youtube.com/teachers provides more tips on how to use YouTube in class.

Other sources, like TED, Khan Academy, Coursera, etc. should be fine, but still preview. Even an off-color joke from a college professor giving a TED talk can get you into trouble with the right parent.

We shouldn’t have to say this, but video is a supplement, not a replacement. Its purpose is to provide depth and clarity to your lessons. With this in mind, always leave at least a little time at the end of your lesson to discuss what was just seen.

Cool Uses

Video as a supplement is great, but there is oh so much more you can do with it.

Bring dated topics up-to-date

A lot of the topics covered in class are sort of dated and students can struggle to see the relevance. Finding videos that show these concepts in modern times can be a game changer. For example, a lot of kids think slavery went out with the Civil War. A few videos about child slavery in current times will fix that.

YouTube as an assignment

Many students hate writing reports. Although writing is an important skill, occasionally give them a break and let them make a YouTube playlist to cover an assigned topic. They will enjoy the research a lot more and be more engaged with their learning.

Video scavenger hunt

Instead of you having to do all of the legwork, just give them a topic and have them find videos that relate, but don’t discuss, the theme. It’s hard to find videos about isosceles triangles that aren’t lectures about geometry. Saving them all into a playlist can save you work next year.

Video as homework

One of the key tricks of those who have flipped their classrooms is to assign videos of the background material lessons for homework, so the student comes in prepared to interact with their knowledge and collaborate. Even if you don’t want to be a full time flipper, give this approach an occasional try.

Post yourself

Making your own video lessons can have a lot of applications. First, you have resources in case a student is absent, especially long-term. You can also lend a personal touch to that “video as homework” idea from above. If you are serious about improving your craft, sharing videos of your lessons with your administrators can let them have input on things you might not realize without them having to do a walkthrough every day. If you’re really comfortable, share the lessons with the world and contribute your voice to the profession.