Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Just Push Play - Using YouTube to Engage Students in the Composition Classroom

I'm a sucker for a good visual.

And an even bigger sucker for a good music video.

In fact, as hard as this is to admit, I am old enough to remember the days where MTV was not its own channel yet and actually played music.

Weird, I know.

So my music video love started in the early 80s along with my love for all things Miss Piggy.
I have since parted ways with Miss Piggy over the years (because of her dreadful treatment of Kermit), but I have never lost sight of music videos.

Thankfully, YouTube is on the scene now and if I want to see a video....all I have to do is search it out.

Within seconds I have music video bliss.

Then it probably is not a surprise to many people that know me, and now you, that I use YouTube to play music videos in some of my composition courses.

This lesson plan isn't completely self-serving although I do love getting the chance to share my favorite bands and appear cool.  Using YouTube clips to teach certain facets of composition in the classroom actually works (and that's what matters).

My favorite time to use a video is when I'm teaching students how to begin quoting.

 The EIU Writing Center has a wonderful handout that I incorporate into this lesson, which can be found here.  This particular handout is a great tool that explains the differences in summarizing, paraphrasing, and direct quoting.  It also has a wonderful list of verbs for signal phrases that provide many different options for writers who want to write something other than "According to..."

Sometimes the whole notion of quoting can make people nervous.  Figuring out how to properly format a quote and then choosing the right quote to use can be tough.  The first time I taught this lesson without the videos, the students seemed not only bored but also a bit perplexed.  If there are two things I don't like in this world, they are bored and perplexed students.

This sent me on a mission on how to teach quoting in an informative and exciting way.

Fate shined down upon me one day as I quested for some seriously good quoting lesson plan ideas, and I happened a cross a YouTube clip of my favorite 90s song "Flagpole Sitta" by Harvey Danger.  Bells and Whistles went off, and I knew exactly what to do.

I had my students take the quoting worksheet home to review (fingers crossed) because the next class period they would be required to use some of the listed signal verbs in a quoting exercise...and they would have to use a different signal word each time.

When my students arrived for class the next period I could hardly contain my excitement.  I knew this lesson was going to be fun! And was really hoping that it was a learning experience too (really hoping).

At the beginning of the class I gleefully told the students what we would be doing (and they all seemed kind of excited or at least pretended to) and we all watched the Harvey Danger YouTube clip.  Can you believe none of them had heard the song before?


Anyway my favorite students, as I referred to all 13 of them, at first seemed a little shocked by my sudden foray into in-class music videos. Some laughed, some were rocking out, some grimaced--and they were all engaged.

When the clip was over I wrote a quote on the board that said: "Harvey Danger's 90s classic makes me want to sell my children and dance all night!"

Which of course made everyone snicker (because they had heard my mom horror stories).

I then asked the students to write one paragraph about this video/song and include my quote using one of the verb signal words from the handout sheet I had given them.

When that was done, I asked for volunteers to read their paragraphs out loud - with the requirement being that their signal word had to be different than the word used by the previous student (who had read aloud).

What followed were some pretty rad paragraphs.

I had also found a review of the song/video, from back in the day, which was only about two paragraphs in length.  I asked the students to then incorporate a quote from this review, which was a scathing one, into another paragraph about the song.  This time the students had to use a different signal word, and also use my previous quote as well...which was a nice quote...where as the reviewer's quote was a tad bit on the mean side.

This gave the students an opportunity to use quotes with two differing opinions. And again we read them out loud, and some of them were seriously excellent paragraphs (like Rolling Stone magazine excellent).

I asked the students if they thought they had more of a handle on quoting, and they said "yes!"

So of course we did the exercise one more time (with a different song because there is a limit to how many times I can listen to "Flagpole Sitta"), but this time I made them write an in-text citation in MLA style at the end of each quote, which gave me a nice lead in for the in-text citation/works cited lesson I had coming up in the next class period.

This was by far one of my and my students' favorite class periods.

Music instantly generates a response in people. It doesn't really matter if the person likes the song or not because it's the interest and engagement that matters.

Today's world, which is ripe with portable audio/visual treats (iPhone/Tablet), has given birth to people that expect entertainment -- because we are now all almost constantly entertained.  And when not entertained, we quickly get bored.

By using YouTube, I was able to teach my students a valuable lesson by teaching them in their own language -- technological entertainment.

I'm sure there are other ways that YouTube can be useful in a class lesson as well, especially if you incorporate journal or free writing exercises into your lesson plans.


True the use of technology in the writing classroom is not a new idea, and I certainly am not the first person to have included YouTube in a composition lesson plan, but perhaps I'm the first person to use it as bribery.

I have to admit that I evoked a bit of the mom in me and channeled the "I'll let you have a soda if you quit fighting with your sister" mentality.  Only this assignment goes something like, "I'll let you watch YouTube in class if you write me an intelligent paragraph that properly quotes sources."

Using YouTube also allowed me to engage students in an aspect of performance by linking my lesson to music videos. It is true that people often remember words to songs they have heard only a couple of times more than grammar rules they have heard all of their lives (guilty!).  By linking a lesson to music, I, hopefully, made my quoting exercise more memorable for the students - and more fun as well. Mom style bribery or not.


  1. That's a smart plan, to make the example engaging. I'm gonna try it.

  2. It is a really fun assignment, Dr. Kory. PLUS, you get to listen to music and appear "human" for a bit.