How to create a writing assignment from videos

Reading is a difficult task for many people. Towards the end of the semester, it may be harder for students to concentrate, making a difficult task almost impossible. 

Writing is also a tough sell for many struggling students. So, how can you make a meaningful writing assignment that doesn’t require reading, and isn’t too taxing on limited attention spans?

The answer is using video as the “text” for a writing assignment.

In a world full of video content (and that percentage is only growing) teaching students how to watch a video with purpose is an important skill. In addition, many students watch videos passively, uncritically. Writing assignments like this arm them with real-world skills to engage with media they may otherwise consume without thought. 


Step 1- Purposely select a prompt and ‘texts’

Just like you would with any writing assignment consider what you want the students to do. Is this a position paper? Is this expository? Do you want them to draw a conclusion? Is it a problem solution paper? Are you just hoping to get them to investigate their own inner lives? 

Consider your purpose first. 

Below, is a sampler menu of all of those missions with videos selected. If you teach younger students or generally hate YouTube ads, consider using SafeTube, a service that filters that stuff out. 

Type of promptPromptSuggested Videos

Take / defend a position
Should memes be considered art? Are MEMES art?

What Are Memes and Virality? | Mashable Explains

Why do we cry? What is the function of tears?Why do we cry? (Life Noggin)

Why do we cry? (AsapScience)

Draw a conclusion
What are the effects of having a ‘growth mindset’?LearnStorm Growth Mindset: The Truth About Your Brain

Growth Mindset vs. Fixed Mindset

Problem – Solution
What are threatened species and what should the US do about them? 
Be sure to define the problem AND explain at least two possible solutions.
Is the gray wolf actually endangered?

Disappearing frogs – Kerry M. Kriger

Exploring yourself
What is your relationship to your things? How do you feel about your “stuff”?Why We Hate Cheap Things

Why are we so attached to our things? – Christian Jarrett

If you are looking for videos to use, remember your audience. I didn’t use any video over 10 minutes, this is partly due to attention span and partly due to the fact that I wanted my students to re-watch the video as many times as they needed. So, longer videos wouldn’t be optimal for the 55-minute classroom environment. 

If you’re looking to get inspired, here are some of my favorite YouTube channels with thoughtful, high-quality content. YOU PICK. You’re knowledgeable about your students and if they can handle the content. You also know your community and what would not be welcomed. Be your own compass on matters of video content you share with students.

ChannelContent Offered
TedEdHigh-quality animations that don’t go too fast and are very thorough on topics and short!
School of LifeThis is an adult-oriented channel but the ideas are universal. Again, the videos are animated and the narration is clear and calm. These videos help can help kids handle even tough life situations and experiences. Also of note, swear words are different in different places, so watch these videos first as a few have what would be considered rude words in the United States.
WellcastThis isn’t an active channel anymore (they don’t make new content), but it does still have many great videos aimed at teens that tackle all the aches and pains of growing up.
VoxIf you need anything carefully, and clearly explained, Vox probably has you covered. All their videos are well-researched and usually animated very well. Although it doesn’t contain swears, it does handle adult topics and politically complicated ones, so as always watch first.
Crash Course If you were ever curious about anything, there is probably a crash course series on it. These are great videos, but they do tend to go quickly! I used to play them at 75% speed to help students understand them. 

Step 2 – Figure out your tech situation

Some schools are more tuned-in to the new 21st-century non-paper based world than others. 

I have personally worked in places with no internet. Some places I taught have poor internet or it is only available at the media center. Decide early on what will work for you. 

If you are showing the videos to the whole class, maybe make a system for students to ask you to stop the video so they can take notes or ask a question. 

If students will be watching on their own, I’d suggest telling them to bring headphones or securing some on your own. A whole room of students all watching different videos at different time stamps, will be a nightmare. I know this from experience. 

Next, decide how you will share the URLs to the videos if students are watching on their own. I highly suggest a Google classroom, but if that’s not possible for you, emailing them to students will work as well. You may even want to put up a Google Site with an announcement area that students can easily access on school computers. 

If you are having students type their response, have instructions ready to go with your expectations including font sizes, styles, pages, or word counts, and where to save the documents or where to email (or share) them. You can make one set of these instructions for the class and not have to give them individually. 

No matter what systems you are working with, decide how you envision the students completing the assignment and turning it into you. 

For more tech-related tips read this blog.


Step 3 – Consider their note-taking situation

Students should be close reading these videos, but as noted above, they’re not used to that. 

In order to help them to maximize their viewing experience, I would suggest a note-taking method, and I would actually suggest that it is on paper. 

Keep your monocle in! I only suggest paper so they can have the video pulled up, and take notes as they go along without having to switch tabs. 

Model for your class pausing the video, or going back to rewatch sections. 

This is not how they are used to viewing media so, they will need to be walked through this process a few times until they get used to it. 


Step 4 – Show them how to cite a video

The last thing that will likely be unfamiliar to your students, is citing videos. They may be able to do it verbally, but they aren’t likely to have been asked to do it in an academic way. 

Here’s a quick and easy reference page for citing in APA and MLA with a video. 

If you’re looking for something less formal, we have citation door openers in our student literacy materials and this handy citation bookmark to help them nail this skill. 


And that’s it! 

Reading adds a complicated task to writing, which is often a difficult task itself. Taking it out of a writing assignment can give you valuable feedback on your student’s skill gaps. I found that some students got to really showcase their listening comprehension and reasoning skills using video-based writing assignments. 

Giving students practice engaging more fully with content is always a great skill to encourage. 

Let us know how this goes in your class! 

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