8 YouTube-inspired classroom video ideas

Ed Tech

Ed Tech | Wednesday, March 4, 2020

8 YouTube-inspired classroom video ideas

Students watch LOTS of YouTube videos. Certain types of YouTube videos are VERY popular. Here are some classroom video ideas based on them.


You've probably heard that YouTube is the second largest search engine in the world.

You can also probably imagine how much of a behemoth YouTube has become. Some stats:

  • 2 billion logged-in monthly users
  • 81% of 15-25 year olds in the U.S. use YouTube
  • People upload 500 hours of video every minute
  • Each visitor spends 11 minutes 24 seconds per day on YouTube on average

Our students are there, too. They have their favorite video genres.

Thankfully, those types of videos can make for great learning activities. We can play off these types of videos to create fun, engaging learning activities. Memorable learning activities. The kind that stick with students.

Lots of classroom video creation tools empower students to make these videos, like:

Making these video activities successful is less technical skill and more inspiration. A simple video that sparks the imagination can do wonders!

Here are eight types of popular YouTube videos, complete with classroom video ideas for using them:

1. Unboxing videos

YouTubers unbox all sorts of things! Smart phones. Electronics. Mystery boxes. Video games. (One YouTuber appears to open boxes of squishies. Squishy things. I dunno ... each video has millions of views.)

It may sound crazy, but ... people watch unboxing videos!

Knowing that this is a trend, ask yourself ... What could students unbox in a video -- and describe it all the while? It doesn't have to be an actual product. In fact, making your own boxes and unboxing them on a video could be fun -- and help them show what they've learned.

Classroom video ideas for this video type:

  • Who are the sender and the receiver? Historical figures or story characters could send each other a box. Someone from the past -- or the future -- could send your student a box.
  • What items you could students include in the box? They could be as simple as something printed or drawn on paper or classroom items. Students could bring items from home. 
  • How will the receiver describe -- and react to -- the items in the box? Students can play a character in the unboxing -- or play themselves. How the describe and react to the items can be part of their demonstration of understanding.

Some unboxing videos are shot from above so you only see the item, the unboxer's hands, and the top of the desk. Some are shot from the front, seeing the person unboxing and his/her reactions.

In this YouTube video by director/filmmaker Philip Bloom, he offers 10 tips for making great unboxing videos, including ...

  • Choose a nice background
  • Use natural sound -- and include sound effects (if you want to edit them in or play them at ideal times so the camera's microphone catches them)
  • Add personal touches

2. Product reviews

When you want to buy a new cell phone -- or any type of product -- where do you turn?

If you're like me, you Google search for reviews of the product. And if you want to see it in detail, you watch a product review video.

These videos get tons of views. There are product reviews for EVERYTHING!

Many product review videos have common elements ...

  • Up close and personal shots of the product
  • Details (price, specs, features, etc. ... including what it doesn't have)
  • Pros and cons
  • Comparisons to other products

Because it's a review, the video creators often insert their own opinions in the video -- what they like and don't like, what they wish was different, whether they'd buy it again or not.

Sometimes, these videos will overlay text on the video. The text will summarize the point the video creator is making in that moment. If your students aren't going to edit their videos, this can be done by writing the text out on a sheet of paper (or typing text and printing it on paper) and putting it in front of the camera.

Classroom video ideas for this video type:

  • Identify something to review. Ideas: elements on the periodic table, mathematical concepts, historical innovations, plans of literary characters.
  • Share pros and cons relate to the reviewed item.
  • Insert opinion, sharing why something could have been better or why it's really good.
  • Conclude with an overall opinion in light of everything shared.

3. Makeup tutorials

YouTube viewers go NUTS over makeup tutorials.

In 2018, YouTube had 169 billion (yes, BILLION) views for beauty-related content. That's up from 104 billion in 2017 and 59 billion in 2016. 

The bottom line: these tutorials are getting eyeballs. There's a good chance your students are watching them, too.

Makeup tutorials are pretty basic. They show -- step by step -- the entire process of creating a certain look from start to finish. 

In this video, and in lots of others like it, the video editing is pretty minimal. Some will do "jump cuts", where they eliminate small parts of the video that aren't as important to keep the video tight. If your students are editing videos, they can likely do jump cuts pretty easily, but they're not necessary.

Because these videos can be 10 or 15 minutes or longer, the best beauty vloggers work hard to keep their viewers engaged the whole time. They do this with their voice. They engage their viewers, describing what they're doing (and what they're not doing), encouraging the viewer, or just being themselves and injecting their personality in the video.

Classroom video ideas for this video type:

  • What can students demonstrate in a tutorial video? If they're learning a skill or a process, these videos can be a great fit.
  • Some tutorials lend themselves to camera videos. Others are better as screencast videos. Using a tool like Screencastify to record your screen could be a better fit if students are demonstrating on a screen.
  • Tutorial videos could be great for skills in P.E. classes, in science labs, even in coding and computer science classes.
  • To be as clear as possible, students can describe what they're doing, what they're thinking, etc. They can also show what they're working on clearly to the camera.

4. On the street interviews

Interviews have been a mainstay of media for centuries. Ask a question. Get an answer. They're a staple of journalism.

Types of on the street interviews vary, from silly to serious. Jimmy Kimmel has gotten lots of YouTube attention with his Pedestrian Question series. In the one below, he asks if people can simply name a country on a map. (And watch the end, where a kid destroys all of the adults in this contest!)

In the best on the street interview videos, an interviewer asks the questions. It could be a single question asked to lots of people. Or the interviewer starts with the same question but then probes with follow-up questions.

The video work for these kinds of videos is really simple. On the street interview videos can be shot with a simple smart phone or mobile devices. Even webcams on laptops or Chromebooks could work if someone acts as the videographer and holds it -- or if the device is set down and aimed at the subjects. (Note: having the camera at eye level is ideal for these videos.)

Classroom video ideas for this video type:

  • Decide who the interviewer will be. Will students play themselves? Will they take the role of someone they're studying? Will they play a journalist or news anchor asking people questions from a certain time period?
  • Decide who will be interviewed. Students can ask each other questions. They could ask random people questions in a safe space (i.e. setting up a table at a school function). Or the interviewees can play the part of fictional characters, typical people on the street from the past or the future, etc.
  • Decide the type of questions. Will it be one question asked to several people? Will they be deeper interviews where there are follow-up questions?
  • To make this a good demonstration of learning, students can show what they know through the types of questions they ask. They can also write responses for those being interviewed that insert details about the subject being studied.
  • Example: An on the street interview video about the black death could show how people fear contracting the disease, who they know that is infected, what they've been told (or haven't been told), etc.

5. Tour videos

Many of us would LOVE to see sights and experiences in places far from where we live.

If you can't go there, there's probably a travel blogger that has visited that spot! Even if it's still on your bucket list, you can live vicariously through that blogger through their videos until you can finally visit.

Travel bloggers take you on tours of places all over the world, and the YouTube faithful follow along!

Tour videos created by travel bloggers give you all the details you want to see in different locations. The bloggers provide facts, share how it feels, and fill you in on everything about the experience that you can't see in the video. 

Tour videos often include lots of starting and stopping (or "jump cuts", where you cut out unnecessary, slow or less engaging parts of the video).  Tours include a lot of walking and waiting. The vloggers usually leave that out, showing us the most exciting and interesting parts.

Classroom video ideas for this video type:

  • Shoot tour videos when you're on a field trip. Encourage students to emulate great travel vloggers by giving their audience interesting facts, describing their senses (smell, taste, touch), and explaining their emotions in the moment.
  • If you aren't in a location, you can always pretend to be! Stage a room or area to look like a location you want to tour, complete with props and scenery. It doesn't have to be fancy to get the idea across.
  • Green screen videos superimpose an image or video as a background. These can turn a video in an ordinary classroom into a vivid experience! Use an app like Do Ink Green Screen or a video editor with chroma key features. Options for the green background: a painted green wall, a bulletin board covered with green felt, even a green disposable table cloth!
  • Do a virtual walking tour with Google Maps Street View or Google Earth. Have students pick locations in Google Maps, dropping the yellow peg man on the street to see it up close and personal. Script out what they'll say. Then record it with a screen capture tool like Screencastify. Here's a tutorial for virtual walking tours for more details!

6. List videos

There's something that just clicks with our brains and lists. We love a good list, and we love to know exactly how many things are on those lists before we read or watch!

(Notice that this post is a list? Most of my posts on this blog are lists!)

List videos can be pretty easy to create, and they're a great way to demonstrate learning.

If your students can list them, they can create a video about them!

  • List the most important locations for a certain topic.
  • List the most influential people in a certain historical time period.
  • List the best (or worst) decisions and explain why.
  • List the equipment necessary for a certain task.

The list of lists goes on and on!

Classroom video ideas for this video type:

7. Tips and tricks

We love getting tips and tricks from people with experience. If we can avoid mistakes and get things right the first time, we love using their wisdom.

Tips and tricks videos are all over the place. Many of them follow the list format (above), but they are more in the imperative mood (commands, telling us what to do) instead of stating facts.

Creating a good tips and tricks video is based in one important concept: authenticity. The tips and tricks need to work! The best of these videos are from someone with experience. A quick way for a YouTuber to get angry comments is to give bad advice.

Being concise is key in these videos, too. Say what needs to be said, but say it as simply as possible. 

Classroom video ideas for this video type:

  • Students can create tips and tricks videos for anything they have experience with. If your class can justify students sharing about more broad topics, this could be really fun and effective. (Just because your standards don't explicitly specify a student's desired topic (i.e. BMX bike racing), it doesn't mean the video can't support other skills in the standards.)
  • Students can create tips and tricks videos for anyone they're studying. What would a certain person say to do -- or not to do -- based on what you've studied?

8. Q&A videos

We have questions. And we love it when someone has answers!

Sometimes, during Q&A sessions, the value is in the quality of the answers. Did we get useful information?

Sometimes, it's in the way the person answering phrases the answer! 

Part of the allure of Q&A sessions can be how unpredictable it is. In the video above, Stephen Colbert takes audience questions. No one has any idea what will be asked. And because he's so quick on his feet, Stephen's responses make the segment shine.

In other Q&A sessions, pre-determined questions -- more like "frequently asked questions" -- can be helpful, less from an entertainment standpoint and more from an education standpoint.

Classroom video ideas for this video type:

  • Decide whether you want questions to be spontaneous or planned ahead of time.
  • Students can act out what appears to be a spontaneous Q&A session, playing the part of someone they've studied or discussing topics they've studied. 
  • Q&A sessions can be dry or -- at worst -- painful and damaging based on the questions asked. Know your audience -- and your question answerer -- if you decide to do spontaneous Q&A.

Have you used any of these video types in class? Are there other video types that should make the list? What suggestions do you have for educators and students creating videos like these? PLEASE leave your ideas in a comment below!

Looking for even MORE video resources?

Our Tech Like A Pirate page has a whole section dedicated to bringing video creation into your classroom!

  • Links to video creation tools and apps for ALL levels
  • Ideas for using video in the classroom
  • The latest video creation resources from Ditch That Textbook!

For notifications of new Ditch That Textbook content and helpful links:

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  • Lyn says:

    Be sure to preview YouTube examples included prior to showing them in class with students. Language in the Jimmy Kimmel sample would not be appropriate for school.

    • Matt Miller says:

      Yep … if you want to show any videos, it’d be a good idea to preview them. The ones I shared in this post weren’t intended to be examples to show to students … more examples you can see so you’ll know what I’m talking about.

  • Lisa Rodriguez says:

    These are all great ideas! I think I will share this email and it’s contents with all of the teachers at our school! It might be just the thing to jumpstart new opportunities in our classrooms! I can’t wait to try some.

  • […] Many of the most popular YouTube videos fall into several genres. We can base student video projects off them for lots of learning fun!  Click here to view! […]

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