Student Engagement with YouTube

Book Writer & Publisher: 
Clare F. Kaneko, Niigata University, Niigata University of Management

Technology resources available today provide a multimedia experience, incorporating both sound and visuals. YouTube is a well-known resource for a variety of videos on every topic imaginable. Unfortunately, the pool of videos is so vast it can be overwhelming to find the perfect one for a specific lesson or grammar point. The author’s challenge has always been finding exactly what is needed, without wasting hours searching and watching videos. One solution is to have the students do it instead.

The following is a simple way to introduce a YouTube activity into the classroom. It was used with lower level English learners in conjunction with their English textbook, and encouraged students to use YouTube to find similar conversations on a singular theme. The activity not only exposed students to a variety of different situations and accents in one session, but also often enabled students to hear different viewpoints on the same topic. 

Pre-Lesson Preparation

The first thing to do before trying out this activity is to decide if you have the necessary equipment. Students will need a device that can stream YouTube videos. Although it may look like all students have smart phones, the author still encounters flip phones occasionally in class, so it is important to ensure all students have an appropriate device. Bigger screens often make it easier to watch videos, and depending on how you design the activity, free hands may be an advantage if writing is required. Therefore, a computer lab may be the best option because it provides the benefit of students having a reliable device with the freedom to easily perform writing tasks. This activity works best if your institution’s WiFi is strong and reliable, because the students may not feel comfortable using their own data for an English class activity. The final two points regarding equipment are to ensure students have headphones, and to remind the students often in advance so that they come prepared for the lesson. After working out the equipment issues, decide the textbook topic to use with this activity. This activity does not work with all topics, but perhaps a topic that is not so interesting on paper may motivate students if taught in a different style.

Check for videos on the selected topic. Before you decide to use this activity, ensure that there are enough quality videos on YouTube to support the students. Do an initial search in both English and the students’ native language on the chosen theme. The top videos in the search are usually the students’ first viewing choice, so be sure to check the quality of these videos, and see if they fit the theme and use language that is appropriate for the students. This preview will also give you an idea of what the students will be watching, as well as give you ideas on how to structure the lesson around the available videos. Teachers should note any videos that rank high in the initial search but are of low quality to guide students away from using them. 

Once a match is found in the desired topic and the quality of the videos available, decide on how much time to spend on the activity. Teachers should remember that the total time needed must include the lesson introduction, video searching activity, and presentation/ follow up/ assessment. This lesson can easily take 90 minutes because (from the author’s experience) many of the videos are at least six minutes long. Being aware of the lesson plan keeps things on track, and by giving students a specified time to complete their activity, they are less likely to browse for unrelated content or waste time.

Finally, teachers should consider what they want the students to be able to do with the information gained, and how they are going to check or assess the students’ efforts. The last step is to prepare the lesson itself. The author has used YouTube videos in two different ways in class. The first was with a small number of students, providing ample time for pair presentations. Students viewed three different YouTube videos on the theme of giving directions. After watching the videos, the students prepared a conversation using one of the videos as an example, and presented it alongside the streaming video. The students were allowed to use notes to present so the preparation only required notetaking paper. A second, much larger class, did not have time to present. Their theme was self-introductions, and for this a worksheet was created on which students wrote down common phrases used in the three videos they viewed. It also included a question asking where and how the English in the videos differed from each other and the textbook. The worksheet ensured all students would take notes in some form that could be checked for participation.

In Class

After thorough preparation, class time can be used to assist the students with finding appropriate videos. In the author’s class, some students had trouble with search terms. By walking around the classroom, it is possible for the teacher to see what types of videos the students are watching. By giving students clear goals and a time limit, they appeared to stay on track with the activity. Students also need to be reminded of the time limit, because the world of YouTube can take them off-topic, or students may become too focused on one video. Ensure that the introduction to the activity includes the time limit and suggested viewing time of each video. If students are presenting their videos, the teacher should ensure that the videos are displayed smoothly for the whole class. Finally, it is important to assess the students’ efforts via presentations, worksheets, emails, or some other activity.


Using YouTube as a classroom assistant has many benefits. As well as exploring various viewpoints on the same topic, students also get exposure to different English accents—often those of the students’ own nationality. This helps them to recognise the language differences between their textbook and the speakers in the videos, and more authentic varieties of English. My favourite part of this activity was students’ spontaneous repetition of the English phrases they were listening to. Hopefully this gives you a new way of using YouTube in your English classes.

Editor’s Note: YouTube is but one of the many Internet resources that we can use in our language classrooms. To find out what other tools are available, be sure to join us at JALTCALL 2018 in Nagoya in June. We’ll see you there and together we can keep our classrooms Wired!