If it wasn’t one of those, you’ve probably succumbed to one of our guilty pleasures since YouTube’s rise — watching viral videos. Once they’re published, they get shared like crazy, and there’s a decent chance you hear about them at the copy machine or in the teacher’s lounge.
If these videos are “must-share” videos, there must be something about them that hooks us in and doesn’t let us go.
If we want lessons in our classes to be memorable learning experiences, maybe there’s something in these videos that we can use to leave our students captivated. (Or at least paying attention … we’ll settle for that!)
Here are 12 viral YouTube videos and something about them that we can use to hook students into our lessons:
When Susan Boyle stepped onto the stage for “Britain’s Got Talent” in 2009, hardly anyone in the audience and none of the judges gave her much of a chance. Then she belted out a song in powerful, almost operatic fashion and caused a standing ovation. Nobody believed in her but herself until she sang that song.
Classroom application: Everyone likes an underdog. We root for the unexpected heroes. When talking about a character in history or a novel (even an unfathomable concept in science!), frame the discussion around the odds that had to be overcome. Walk students through the surprise ending.
This video cuts up scenes from the original “Mary Poppins” movie and infuses spooky music and haunting themes. Who would have expected “Mary Poppins” to be a horror movie? That concept is what caused it to be viewed millions of times.
Classroom application: Take an unexpected look at something common. Zoom in on a historic photo to one small detail. Look at an event through the eyes of someone you normally don’t.
To be a viral videos, the videos don’t have to be long! This one is all of five seconds long, but it’s been seen millions of times.
Classroom application: A little short humor or change of pace can do wonders to break up a long class. The dramatic chipmunk is the video version of a stretch break or a quick joke in the middle of class. It’s like a mental reset and squares the brain away for learning all over again. Brain breaks like this are what GoNoodle is all about.
What are these two twins babies talking about? It looks like they’re having a conversation about something. If you’ve seen this video, you probably analyzed their motions and the sound of their voices.
Classroom application: Secret codes, languages and messages are intriguing, and figuring them out is half the fun — even if we don’t know the true answer. Pose questions like, “What do you think this person was thinking?” or “What are they talking about?” Even better, let students take pictures and videos (maybe the twin babies video!) and write words that relate to your content.
Once you see the Nyan Cat video, you either love it or you hate it. (My guess is you probably hate it.) I mean, it’s a video of a Pop Tart with a cat head soaring through space with a rainbow trailing behind it. What’s not to love? (Or hate?) (Fun fact: “nyan” is a take off “nya,” the Japanese version of “meow.”)
Classroom application: Play it to torment students? No, not really. Nyan Cat reminds me that sometimes, something goes over wildly with students that just doesn’t appeal to us. The point isn’t to make it appeal to us, though; if it doesn’t connect with students, what good is it? Ask students what’s hot right now or just listen to them. See if it will fit in class.
Blendtec’s YouTube channel is full of dozens of videos where its powerful blenders chop up unexpected items. They’ve tried to blend a lot of stuff: an iPad, glow sticks, markers, golf balls, even diamonds (kind of). Lots of their videos have millions of YouTube views. Something’s going right here.
Classroom application: These videos are a blending (sorry, couldn’t resist!) of science and curiosity. More importantly, they take a fascinating question — will it blend? — and work through answering it. Whenever we latch on to a question that’s really compelling, that we really want the answer to, students are hooked.
This video was closing in on 1 billion views on YouTube when I wrote this post. For some reason, a boy puts his finger in his brother Charlie’s mouth and — you guessed it — Charlie bites him. It went crazy and is one of the most watched videos on YouTube ever.
Classroom application: What made this video so viral was the uncensored, unscripted reactions. It was real life with no filters. We can let students experience real life as it happened with firsthand video, primary documents and news photos. They get a similar emotional connection as if they experienced it themselves.
Nope, this one isn’t about me! This one’s about a fascinating year of travel by Matt Harding. He filmed short clips of himself doing his signature jig in 36 spots around the world. They’re spliced together in this video.
Classroom application: Part of what’s fun about this video is that it connects us with our own prior knowledge. I knew something about many of the places in this video and was able to make a connection when I saw them. Any time we can connect what we do in the classroom to what students already know eliminates barriers to learning.
Believe it or not, “Gangnam Style” is THE most watched video on YouTube ever (as of this post) and was YouTube’s first to have one million views. It’s a Korean music video about the lifestyle in the Gangnam District of Seoul.
Classroom application: If you watch this video, you’ll see that it had to have taken a LOT of time to put together. It’s filmed in many seemingly haphazard locations. It employs stunts like a wind fan that blows debris and an explosion. Students do lots of quick, forgettable activities every day. There’s power in letting them envision a project they’ll be proud of and letting them complete it to its polished glory.
When Kony 2012 hit YouTube, within days I had several students asking me if I had seen it and telling me I had to watch it. (And, of course, they wanted me to show the whole thing in class.) It’s a short film intended to expose the heinous acts of African war criminal and fugitive Joseph Kony. It never did lead to Kony’s arrest, but it did bring about awareness.
Classroom application: The Kony 2012 video rallied people around a common goal — stopping Kony’s forced recruitment of child soliders, among other actions. Students — and people in general — can feel a strong emotional connection to a cause and act to support it when confronted with the vivid reality. One way to get students involved in worthwhile causes is to experience or tell others about the issues at hand.
The actor’s motivational speech might not be so motivational (“Make your dreams come true. Just do it!”). What it has done, though, is spawn a huge movement of remix videos that place LaBeouf in interesting and humorous places.
Classroom application: Remixing is a powerful medium. Let students start with something — an image, a video, a story, a single sentence — and then make it their own. Have them incorporate elements of the content you’re studying at the time and you may be surprised at what they create.
This is the apex of project-based learning. Students at A. Maceo Smith New Tech High School, a PBL school in Dallas, Texas, created this video in one take. It’s set to the Bruno Mars/Mark Ronson song “Uptown Funk,” and apparently it made Bruno Mars cry when he saw it.
Classroom application: Projects! Brainstorming, problem solving, critical thinking, teamwork, communication skills … what’s not to love?[reminder]What other ideas did these viral videos spark? What’s another video that could be added to this list with take-aways for the education world?[/reminder]
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