CommonLit Archive Action! 5 Ways Videos Can Energize Your Lessons

How to use videos before, during, and after readings

When I first started teaching, I worked really hard to create lessons that taught students a clear skill. However, I quickly realized that even though my students were learning, they were bored.

So I tried a new approach when I began a new unit on persuasion; I showed students 3 commercials, with each one depicting appeals with either ethos, pathos, or logos. My students were enthralled and for the rest of the year, they were able to clearly remember those three devices.

You can use the “Related Media” that the CommonLit team has hand-picked for each lesson to maximize student learning and engagement. Let’s look at 5 different ways this media can beef up your lesson:

Please note, you will need to create a free teacher account to view the website’s related media.


1) Hook Students with Engaging Content

Starting a lesson with a hook is a great way to engage students and it comes from the lesson planning strategies of Madeline Hunter’s “anticipatory sets.” Essentially, she argues that students will be more engaged if you introduce them to a relatable idea you’ll be revisiting throughout the lesson.

From my experience, this is so true! As a teacher, this was my chance to blow students away and grab their attention during the first 5 minutes of class.

For example, let’s say my students are about to read the biography of Lin-Manuel Miranda. Instead of telling students he can rap, I can show them this video of his freestyle rap game:

Once I have my students’ attention with a video like this, they will be much more enthusiastic about reading a rigorous text.

2) Build Prior Knowledge

The learning theory of constructivism tells us that students learn best by building on knowledge they already have. Instead of reading a passage cold, students should be eased into the experience by identifying what they already know.

Media is a great way to build up the background knowledge students need before reading by providing context on:

  • Historical Events
  • Scientific Facts
  • Biographies
  • Social Movements

For example, if I’m teaching “Andrew Jackson’s Speech to Congress on ‘Indian Removal’” I would show the short yet informative video “History vs. Andrew Jackson” to provide historical background. This will help build their knowledge about Jackson and provide context for their reading.

During Reading

3) Support Reading with Audio or Video

I typically used close-reading strategies to teach a rigorous text. This meant we read it multiple times during a single lesson. It was helpful to use video or audio to support the first read-through of the text.

It is helpful to have dramatic readings or performances to help students hear the written word, particularly for pieces like:

  • Speeches
  • Poetry
  • Plays

Tabatha, a middle school reading teacher from South Carolina, had her students read “RFK’s Speech Following the Death of MLK.” She used the Related Media section from CommonLit so students could listen to the video as they read it for the first time. Tabatha recalls being able to hear a pin drop as her students listened intently to the speech.


4) Provide Connections

Making text-to-media connections is invaluable for student comprehension. It is also a skill needed for most state tests. Assign a rigorous writing assignment that asks students to find parallels between the text and the Related Media.

Each Related Media pairing from CommonLit includes questions you can use to prompt discussions or develop writing assignments:

Related Media content for “Funeral” by Ralph Fletcher

This screenshot shows the Related Media for the text “Funeral” by Ralph Fletcher. The text is an autobiographical tale from Fletcher’s childhood. Using the prompt made by CommonLit’s staff, students can compare that text about friendship to the famous Bill Withers song, “Lean on Me.” Doing cross-text analysis like this will give you an opportunity to prepare your students for their state test, while still having fun with media.

5) Deepen Understanding with Extension and Enrichment

When I first started teaching I was surprised by how challenging it was to differentiate for gifted learners. I soon found they kept me on my toes because they needed so much more than a single text to stay engaged. Providing extension or enrichment activities will push those students and help you differentiate for them.

One of the best ways to deepen student understanding after a reading is to provide in-depth media like:

  • Crash Course Videos
  • Khan Academy Videos
  • Detailed Author Interviews or Biographies

Show a video like “Capitalism and Socialism: Crash Course World” to enrich the lesson following “The Rise and Fall of Karl Marx.”

Or, show “Khan Academy: Medieval and Byzantine Art” to add more dimension to a lesson using The Byzantine Empire.

Next Steps

It is difficult to find videos that are free, high-quality, appropriate, and relevant. This is why CommonLit carefully pairs videos with every text on the site so you don’t have to.

For more ideas on how to incorporate CommonLit into your classroom, join us at one of our upcoming webinars!