How to Use YouTube for Reading Comprehension with Special Education and ELL Students

Lindsay Gray
October 1, 2015

Do you get sick of seeing YouTube pulled up on your student’s browsers when they are supposed to be working on something else? It is one of my biggest pet peeves as an inner-city high school teacher. Children and teens probably watch an average of four hours of television a day. Most of my students would much rather watch YouTube or television than read a book. But many schools are pushing teachers to concentrate on literacy. While you can’t force a child to read, you may be able to find creative ways in which to engage them in reading. What if I told you that I could show you a way to use YouTube and television to increase literacy? It’s true!

Closed captioning can actually be used to help students with fluency, phonics and word-recognition. This could be extremely helpful if you have any ELL students or very reluctant readers. Have you ever tried to watch a television show with the closed-captioning on? It is VERY distracting and while testing this idea out, I couldn’t help but to read the closed-captioning instead of watching the television show. It almost forces the viewer to read along as the words are spoken. Most current televisions have a closed-captioning setting that can be turned on in the television or cable settings.

You can also use this tool on YouTube. If your students are going to watch music videos on YouTube anyways, at least you know they will be reading along with the music. To enable the closed captioning on YouTube, you can do one of two things:

Click the “CC” icon at the bottom of the video player. This will turn on the closed captioning feature. (some videos do not have this option, but in my research, most do). To change the language, simply hover your cursor over the “CC” icon and click a language (see red circle below).

If you have a YouTube account and want to enable the closed captioning option for all of your YouTube videos, click on your account name at the top of the page. Choose “settings,” “playback setup,” and “always show captions.” You will need to check the box to select it and then hit, “save changes” to keep your new settings.

What if you could assign your students a music video of their choice to “read/watch?” This would not only be engaging for the students, but it would be a simple way for you to create assignments without having to do much! The students would do all of the work. Not only could you do this for music videos, but you could do it for movies. If your students were reading a text and you had a few students that refused to engage in the text, you could attempt to find the film adaption on YouTube and turn on the closed-captioning.

Closed-captioning can be a great differentiation tool for special education students and for your visual learners. It will not only help keep your students engaged, but it will be something new and exciting for them. You can also challenge your students to turn on the closed-captioning on their televisions at home. There is emerging research on using closed-captioning to help improve literacy and it is looking positive. The best part of this tool is that it is very easy for you to use and can be done independently, in groups, or in whole-class instruction. Not to mention that you can embed YouTube videos in Actively Learn (see below)! Your department chair will think you are a genius!

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