How to Use YouTube Video Essays in the Classroom

An interesting look at how you can use YouTube video essays in the classroom.

13-year old YouTube has won over the world's kids, teens and young adults as the most popular online video platform.  In fact, Google reports that as many as 93% millennials turn to YouTube to learn how to do something.

From vlog commentaries to news videos to music videos, YouTube has, over the years, evolved into a vast business with over a billion users. The video-sharing platform also keeps experimenting with its technology and content which is why it has managed to retain and grow its popularity as it matures.

One of the most relevant types of YouTube Videos teachers can use in classrooms are Video Essays - essays which are read aloud and make use of a stream of images, video clips, and audio to make them gripping and exciting. For example, a class of Criminal Psychology can come alive with this YouTube Video Essay:

How do Video Essays differ from generic YouTube Videos?

Most YouTube videos rely on their shock value to gain popularity. They might include ultra-fast racy-style editing or cartoonish gesturing that might turn up looking frivolous and silly. Video Essays, on the other hand, are much like a well-written essay with a structured persuasive approach and involves in-depth analytical approach.


They have an introduction, a body divided into suitable sections, and a conclusion that present a thesis in a very interesting and engaging manner.

Tony Zhou has published an excellent video on what makes video essays truly great.

What makes YouTube Video Essays content ‘good’ for Education?

Video Essays are easy to make. Anyone with a compelling idea can use a smartphone (or a video camera if you want to go all the way), a good video editing software, and a microphone to come up with insightful content. 

The possibilities are endless. Here's a video essay on 'Folk and Popular Culture' and here’s an essay film on the ‘Cell Structure’ suitable for middle school and high school students.

Video essays are a good way to introduce ideas in class that are sometimes nearly impossible in traditional mediums. Criticizing and examining video essays in class can be a good tool to give 'voice' to your students and encourage them to explore new ideas, develop critical thinking abilities, and improve their communication skills - verbal, written, and digital.

How to Use YouTube Video Essays to Make Your Class Fun and Engaging?

These days, teachers are grappling with the issue of shorter attention spans in their students. It is so easy to get distracted by the buzzing of your smartphones and so difficult to ignore it. Students, who listen to lectures while texting at the same time, are hardly able to 'learn' anything in class.

YouTube video essays are a great way to boost student engagement in your class. Here are some tips on how to achieve the feat:

  • Find the Right Content: Exploring middle-class and high-school topics through video essays is already quite popular but do some browsing and you’ll be able to find some really deep and well-researched video essays for college students too.


Video Essays use multi-media format to explore and research topics in a subjective, objective or poetic manner. They present an argument and provide supporting evidence to support it. The juxtaposition of images and the use of sounds, visuals, and texts make them powerful tools in helping your students understand a concept or a topic or a process easily.

  • Provide Lesson Hooks: Most video essays are 2 to 10 minutes long – which means that you can easily incorporate them as part of your lecture and grab the attention of your students once again.

If you are handling a topic like ‘Human Reproduction System’ or ‘How Gravitational Force Works’, you can just play relevant videos in class and see your students’ faces light up with an instant understanding of the concept quite easily.

You can also use the videos as conversation starters in class. As you discuss the video content in class, students learn to think critically, develop analytical skills, and get a chance to express their opinions and ideas.


You may also discuss the format of the video, the quality of the visuals and audio used in it, storyboarding, video editing, camerawork and other things that go into producing a good video. These are the skills that all students need to learn to keep up with the changing trends in academics as well as in workplaces.

  • Active Learning: YouTube video essays are interesting but they often present complex arguments. You can invite students to watch videos again and again – and use them to outline their theses, support their arguments, and present a well-researched paper.

YouTube Video Essays are a great source of assignment help. They offer interesting insights and present research studies in an easy-to-understand manner. You may quiz students on what they liked most about the video and encourage them to come up with more points to enrich the topic being discussed in class.

  • Research and Assignments: Using Video Essays as an anchor to the student assignments is a great way to make them take an actual interest in it. Ask them to prove or disprove the argument shown in the video or present a balanced report on it.

Ask them to find more videos related to the topic and compare them to the video essay shown in the class.

  • Polishing Video Essay Making skills: US universities and colleges are now asking for college application video essays in addition to the traditional application essay. Preparing such a video requires you to prepare a proper script, use the right kind of visuals to go with what you want to say, and in the end, edit it to make sure that your video and audio is clear and appropriately highlights that you are a good fit for the school and the course you are applying to.

In classrooms, you can encourage students to hone their video essay making skills and perhaps, learn a few digital skills too – to give them an edge over their peers in the real world.

  • Time to Teach about Copyright: Intellectual Property and Copyright are the two concepts that you can introduce to your students in the class – while you are discussing video essays with them. Tell them about the laws related to them and ask them to add their own commentary to the topic – without violating these laws.

Tell them about how violating copyrights amounts to plagiarism and cheating in the virtual world.

  • Student Assessment: Homework, assignments, and tests where students can show off what they have learned through videos – might be a great way of assessing students.

Ed: To learn more about the author, please visit Nishant's Experts Exchange Profile page.


Comments (1)

Really interesting information!

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