Ten Fun Ways to Use YouTube Videos in an Online Literature Class

I have always enjoyed watching YouTube videos and when I noticed that some of the videos dealt with serious literary topics and had re-enactments of Shakespeare plays, I began to wonder if I could incorporate them into my literature classes. Instead of students just reading a text version of Othello, why not have them also watch a live performance of Othello to get them more motivated to learn literature?

I started exploring YouTube and found many different kinds of videos that I could use to supplement my online literature classes. Student feedback has been very positive as they love hearing about the author’s take on why they wrote their latest work. I’ve also found that students are now more interested in literature since it has become more fun and entertaining through the use of multimedia.

Here are ten ways literature instructors can use YouTube in class. However, regardless of the discipline you teach you’ll likely find that YouTube has similarly appropriate resources for you.

1. Poems that are read aloud by the poet.
In one video, Langston Hughes reads aloud his poem “The Negro Speaks of Rivers.” Listening to the poet’s voice helps students understand his motivations for writing the poem. While Hughes reads his poem, one can hear in his voice the pain that racism causes. Hearing this pain enables students to understand a more personal dimension of the poem. In the discussion forum, the online teacher can then ask students what they thought about the poet and how listening to the reading changed their understanding of the poem. (Negro Speaks of Rivers)

2. Live performances of Shakespeare’s plays.
YouTube has Shakespeare performances of Othello, Hamlet and The Merchant of Venice as well as other Shakespeare plays. Students can watch different remakes of these Shakespeare plays and compare and contrast which performance they like best. Students can also stage their own renditions of Shakespeare and post their own video. YouTube has many renditions of Hamlet from throughout the 20th century. It is interesting to see how different actors interpret the same lines “To be or not to be.” Each actor has his own way to express these lines and it is fun for students to compare/contrast these performances in an online discussion forum. (Animated Tales of Hamlet)

3. Literary analysis of famous works.
YouTube has literary analysis of many great works such as Robert Frost’s Mending Wall. The teacher can ask students if they agree or disagree with the literary analysis, and why. (Literary Analysis of the Mending Wall by Robert Frost)

4. Rare author interviews and biographies.
In a rare interview, John Steinbeck talks about why he wrote the Grapes of Wrath. YouTube videos enable students to hear and see the author, and better understand the motivations behind their literary works. It is fun to ask students what they learned about these authors from these videos and students can then discuss how listening to these interviews changed their interpretations of the literary piece. (Steinbeck video)

5. Student performances of literary pieces.
Students can compare how other students have re-enacted a play they’re reading in class. Students are encouraged to then recreate their own re-enactments of this play for greater appreciation of the play. It is fun for students to embed these student videos in their discussion forums and to discuss what they like or dislike about the performance.

6. Literary pieces performed in its native tongue.
When teaching Dante’s Inferno, I found a YouTube video of Dante’s Inferno in its original language, Italian. Listening in Italian helps the students get an idea of how the poem sounds in its native language. (La Divina Commedia)

7. Musical selections of many historical literary periods.
If, for example, you’re teaching the Harlem Renaissance, you’ll find many videos featuring the music of the Harlem Renaissance. When students listen to the music, they can try to imagine sitting in a jazz club listening to a band of that period. (Harlem Renaissance)

8. Radio productions of great American plays.
Students can read a play like the Glass Menagerie and then listen to the radio productions and compare/contrast with what they have read. Listening to these old radio productions also helps students understand how older generations entertained themselves before the invention of the television. (World Performance of Glass Menagerie)

9. Full length movies in 10 minute intervals of your favorite literary pieces.

If your students are reading Hamlet, they can watch a full length movie of Hamlet in ten minute intervals on YouTube or they can watch parts of movies. (Hamlet, To be or not to be). You can have students compare/contrast the movie adaptation with the original text.

10. Audio book readings of a literary novel.
YouTube has chapter by chapter readings of your favorite novels such as The Grapes of Wrath. Students can listen to the entire novel in ten minute intervals. Listening to a novel provides another dimension of entertainment and appreciation for the student. (Meet Ray Bradbury)

Yvonne Ho is a full time Associate English Composition/Literature French Professor at American Public University System (APUS)

This Post Has 13 Comments

  1. jmcaninch68

    I am glad Prof. Ho has discovered You Tube; some of us have been using this resource in our teaching for many years.

  2. Lynda Williams

    Speaking as a lit lover and author who has earned her living as a technologist and instructor of applied computing most of my life, I know it doesn't have to be either or — be a reading geek or a computer geek. So I'm glad to see the emphasis is on getting students interested in literature through multi-media experiences and not replacing reading, entirely. Reading is still my greatest joy. But I like seeing variations on my favorite stories played out in other media, as well. For my own ten-novel series (The Okal Rel Saga) I purposefully welcome interpretations by pros and fans alike in other media. For me, the story plays in all media. I think of it as a "post – the message is the media" idea. 🙂

  3. R. J. Moore

    I was on the ground floor of the development of personal computer technology. In the late 1980’s my mother-in-law asked me why most people should care about computers and I remember having a hard time answering her. Sure I could program my PC to solve the equations of Quantum Mechanics and (crudely at the time) visualize the results, but I had no illusions that non-physicists (and not even all of them) would care.
    I’ve always enjoyed literature and reading too. Professor Ho’s article is just another reminder to me of how fast this technology has evolved and been ingeniously applied in ways that I never imagined by society, indeed the world at large, that seem so obvious now. Her article focuses on how just one web application, YouTube, can be effectively used to enhance the learning process for literature (and have fun at the same time.) However, since the advancement of this technology never stands still, I am quite sure this must be just the beginning. So I would challenge the author and reader to give this topic some more thought and come up with applications to the effective teaching of literature that go well beyond YouTube.

  4. Marae Bailey

    On our campus, we use YouTube for critical thinking. When students watch Plato's "Allegory of the Cave" for the first time, it usually blows their minds, opening up many new discussions. A good animated version can be found at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d2afuTvUzBQ&fe….

  5. Yvonne Ho

    Before I started teaching online in 2006, I only spent time on a computer simply to type up papers for school or to answer email from my AOL account. After teaching online for the last 6 years, I have seen the use of computer technology rise as more and more young people take to computers like fish to water. I remember a time before computers and most of my educational years took place before the invention of the computer I am glad to see that I can use websites like Youtube not just to entertain the young mind but more importantly to educate the young mind. Now my next new toy is not just using videos for teaching, but also making videos for teaching so stay tuned for more articles from yours truly 🙂

  6. drcyborgl

    Really great suggestions! I find that #6 is particularly helpful when teaching ancient world literature. There's nothing like hearing Sappho or Dante read in their native tongue, and listening to Old and Middle English is really the only way for students to understand their differences from modern English.

  7. Yvonne Ho

    I am currently teaching World Literature and students love watching the different versions of the Odyssey and they can then compare all the different remakes of the Odyssey movie on Youtube and compare/contrast the movie with what they read.

  8. Catherine Linobo

    Great post!

    I'm a new College Instructor teaching World Literature and these suggestions gave me new ideas in teaching the subject —in a fun and interactive way.


Comments are closed.