YouTeach: Incorporating YouTube Videos into Lesson Plans

The internet and related tools are fantastic, cost-effective, widely accessible and utterly adaptable ways to provide comprehensive sexuality and sexual health information….”  –  Description of keynote address by Heather Corinna, Founder of Scarleteen

The World Wide Web holds the future of sex education. As of last year, fully 95% of teens are online throughout the day,  and 25% are online primarily via their smart phones. While teens are more skeptical of sexual health information from internet sources than information from traditional school sex education sources, young people are not immune to the seductive convenience of online content. That is not to underestimate the role of a skilled sex educator, but sex educators need to address, reference, and incorporate online material in order to stay relevant and influential. For better or worse, our lessons plans for teens need to keep pace with a changing world.

To accomplish this, I recommend including YouTube videos.

YouTube? Why YouTube?

Woman in a suit in front of a chalkboard that says "youtube" on it

You may believe that YouTube does not have a place in the classroom: that is it too distracting, the videos are unprofessional, and students get enough media bombardment elsewhere. You may be uncomfortable with taking the focus off of your own content, or be afraid that you will spend the rest of the class commenting on/defending/answering questions about the video instead of the class content. These are all valid concerns, and YouTube-ing may not fit your teaching style or your student population. However, if you are curious about incorporating YouTube videos into your lesson plan, here are a few reasons why it could be a good choice for you:

  • It’s free. While you can order quality videos on a variety of sexuality-related topics from professional companies – Sex Smart FilmsComstock Films – for a small fee, these charges add up. We as sex educators have to be realistic: is it worth the money to get exactly the right video clip for one lesson plan? It’s your call, but always have a no-cost back-up plan, especially if your institution will not put up the cash for sex-related video content.
  • It’s convenient. YouTube is by far the most freely available and accessible resource for English-language sex education videos in the world. Google video searches conducted on March 9th, 2014 for “sex education video” and “high school sex education video” generated YouTube clips above other results.
  • It’s vast. You can pretty much find anything you want on YouTube. You can not only find a clip relevant to your chosen topic, you can find a clip that matches the tone of your lesson plan and the demographic of your students, if you are willing to put in the time to search and to be creative. For example, if you are crafting a lesson plan about consent, you could incorporate a light-hearted Public Service Announcement, a triggering Public Service Announcement, a play-acted scene, or a news clip, as some examples. The possibilities are endless. I recommend using videos created by other sex educators with a series of videos.  This is a great opportunity to introduce your students to another reliable resource.
  • It’s flexible. You can edit YouTube videos to show only what you want to show. Whether you want to delete inappropriate content or just want to save time, you can quickly and easily edit a YouTube video with YouTube EditorTubeChopSplicd, and any number of other editing options.
  • It’s what they use anyway!  YouTube’s accessibility and user-friendly set-up makes it the 3rd most used site in the world. Given these statistics, it is worth considering that your students will conduct a YouTube search on the topic of your lesson plan. Of course, there are many other comprehensive online resources : ScarletTeenAdvocates for Youth, etc. While these resources are valuable and worth incorporating into your lesson plans, I would argue that it is sensible to use a resource your students already know and understand. This way, they can easily search for the videos you use in class whenever they want.

Since we can assume that teens view YouTube content, and are savvy enough to search for sex-related videos, sex educators have ability to guide them toward useful, accurate, and age-appropriate material. This way, teens have some foundational material to use to compare against inaccurate and inappropriate YouTube content. If and when your students watch other videos with misguided or problematic information, they can either dismiss it, or it starts a conversation.  Either is better than taking sexuality-related YouTube videos at face-value.

Okay, I see why. Now, how?

Incorporating YouTube into a Sex Ed lesson plan can be a tricky business. Here are a few best practices:

  • Prepare. Find the video you want to show ahead of time.  Be sure the video is directly related to the content of your lesson. Try not show a video or section of a video much longer than 2.7 minutes, and this is the average length of time spent watching a single internet video.
  • Safe-guard. If you copy the URL into your presentation, be sure to also look under the sub-heading “embed” and UNCHECK the box next to “Show suggested videos when the video finishes.” YouTube might suggest videos that are not appropriate for teenage students, and you do not want those popping up on the large screen.
  • Double-check. Make sure the classroom has a working internet connection so you can stream videos online. There are ways to download and play videos offline from the computer, but this is arguably an illegal practice. Double-check if the content is copyrighted or if the owner has given permission to viewers to download videos. If you are worried about Google hunting you down for piracy, have an non-YouTube back-up plan ready just in case.

In order to remain relatable and fresh, lesson plans should incorporate the same online resources that students use. However, educators have a responsibility to teach students which videos to view and why. Avoiding online content may be detrimental to students who have been raised in an increasingly technological world, while including and directly addressing online content enhances students ability to seek out reliable internet resources on their own.



Brewis, M. (2013, January 14). Is it illegal to download youtube videos? Tech Advisor. 

Corinna, H. (2013). 9:15-10:15 Keynote: Don’t fear the router: How the internet can save sex ed. In National Sex Ed Conference. 

Jones, R.K., & Biddlecom, A.E. (2011). Is the internet filling the sexual health information gap for teens? An exploratory study [Abstract]. Journal of Health Communication, 16(2), 112-23. doi: 10.1080/10810730.2010.535112

Kosner, A.W. (2013, January 26). Watch out Facebook, with Google+ at #2 and Youtube at #3, Google, Inc. could catch upForbes

Madden, M., Lenhart, A., Duggan, M., Cortesi, S., & Gasser, U. (2013). Teens and technology 2013: Main findingsPew Research Internet Project. 

Weinreich, H., Obendorf, H., Herder, E., & Mayer, M. (2008). Not quite the average: An empirical study of web useACM Transactions on the Web, 2(1).

10 responses to “YouTeach: Incorporating YouTube Videos into Lesson Plans

  1. First of all, I agree that youtube can be a great tool for the classroom. I personally feel as though shorter video formats are more effective for most age groups (which you reaffirmed for me in your 2.7 minute suggestion). I remember when teachers would devote entire 40-minute classes to videos in high school; I rarely paid any attention. A couple minutes of video, on the other hand, is a great way to include visual learners and break up different activities without having folks stare at a screen for too long (because it’s true most of us are bombarded by media as it is).

    Also, this was surprisingly helpful for me! I’m a total curmudgeon about technology. I still have a flip-phone, and I’m not looking to change that any time soon. Despite that, I still think it’s useful (in moderation); plus, I don’t have a choice but to embrace it to some extent if I ever want to feel even remotely relevant in 2014. I totally wouldn’t have thought of the little things, such as your blurb on safe-guarding. As a quite literal curmudgeon, I never would have sought out that information on my own, and I’m constantly amazed at the things internet/technology can do. Thanks Kira!

  2. What a great piece about utilizing youtube within the classroom. Since initiating 626, I have become much more aware of the imact technology makes on education. I have utilized youtube with my students and it has been met with positive response. I fear that using a youtube demonstration could be viewed by students as lazy or a cop out, so it was a refreshing relief to see your post. Do you have any thoughts on the 2.7 minute time limit? It seems a little too short. Are they recommending stopping the video at 2.7 minutes regardless or is this just a suggested time frame give or take?

    • Great questions! The 2.7 minutes is a suggested time frame based on the average number of minutes a person spends watching an online video. Of course, students are capable of viewing and paying attention to longer videos. I decided to include it because I think it is a good challenge for us as educators to use short, focussed, relevant segments of videos that get straight to the point we want to make. Videos under 2.7 minutes – according to the research – are also more likely to hold their attention from start to finish.

  3. Kira,
    This is a great post. I have used youtube in the classroom, but I try not to let it be too long since I work with kindergarteners. We have been able to find videos for everything: caterpillars to butterflies, snakes hatching, etc. I definitely feel that the age group of the learners is a big characteristic teachers should take into account when choosing videos to watch..

  4. I blog quite often and I genuinely appreciate your content.
    This article has really peaked my interest. I’m going to take a note of your blog and keep
    checking for new details about once per week. I subscribed to your RSS feed as well.

  5. This is a great topic, thank you for covering it! Lately, I find myself trying to figure out the best ways in which to incorporate YouTube videos into lessons. I believe many students, young and old, turn to short videos hosted online for information regarding sexuality. YouTube, as well as comparable websites, is a medium educators need to become familiar with in order to keep up with how their students’ get information. I still harbor some reservations with implementing these videos into lessons however. While I may spend a great deal of time picking out a video that is reliable and accurate, I know that students will be tempted to continue watching the suggested videos that display after the first video finishes. These suggested videos may not contain information that is accurate and could misinform the student. I highly appreciate your recommendation to uncheck the box for “show suggested videos when the video finishes”, this may alleviate some of my concern about potential misinformation.

    Most of all, I appreciate your stance that educators guide students towards material that will be the most beneficial for them. It can be easy for an educator to give students a few search words or channel recommendations, but is this really education? I believe it is far more appropriate for educators to teach students how to decipher what content is right for them and how to access that content. Teaching students to tease apart fact from fiction/myth/propaganda when viewing online videos is a skill that extends outside of the classroom and is something I see an increasing need for among all ages.

  6. Damiene, that is exactly my take-away point from this article as well- teaching students how to decipher resources. As we have heard so many times, the information is at their fingertips, it is our job to facilitate it appropriately. As educators will still need to be able to breakdown and explain the content to our students, but in this tech-focused day, we have an additional job- we have to learn to teach students how to assess whether or not the information they are finding is accurate. In short, we are teaching critical thinking skills as they relate to technology. Critical analysis of resources involves questioning the perspective, assessing the logic, and assuming potential bias; these are all skills that require abstract thought. My question is, if individuals don’t develop the ability to use think abstractly until around 11-15 years of age (Piaget’s Formal Operational stage), what do we do in the meantime?

  7. Pingback: Safe Sex Is A Myth / Sex Education Video | Herpes Survival Kit·

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