As we enter the fall school year, teachers are being tasked with the daunting responsibility of getting students engaged in new, virtual, and creative ways. You may be teaching in your actual classroom, a virtual classroom, or even both at the same time. It has proven to be such a challenge to keep our students enthusiastic about learning – especially when they are learning through a screen. Thankfully, there are many resources at our fingertips that are ready to be used to our advantage.
With the switch to digital learning, teachers are relying more and more on YouTube for creative content. I’ve compiled my list of my 8 favorite YouTube channels for teaching Middle School History. These channels can help to supplement your instruction, make digital learning more easily accessible for our learners, and most importantly – save you time.
The best videos to share in your classroom have great illustrations, animations, and speak in a language that’s plain, “real talk.” There’s nothing duller for a student then listening to a concept that’s brand new to them in a strictly professional tone. Let me tell you, if you hit your students with a brand new video on the American Revolution that’s 45 minutes long, and the narrator sounds like they’re running for governor, you’re going to lose them. Instead, try incorporating videos with language that the students can relate to, are roughly 5 to 15 minutes in length, and that included tons of visuals to keep kids engaged.
Of course kids love videos, but there are also several perks to using YouTube videos yourself, as the teacher in charge of lesson planning. The channels I’m going to share with you can be used for both World History and U.S. History. It’s very simple to embed the video link into Google Slides, Google Classroom, Seesaw, or whatever platform you may be using during virtual learning. They’re also just a great way to transition during a lesson. Videos can serve as an attention grabber, lesson wrap-up, or even just a way to break from an activity and move into a different way to present the information.
In case your school has video restrictions with YouTube, download the videos you want at home and save them to your Google Drive, then you’ll have them saved for future reference and are readily available! Always conduct best practice by previewing the video before downloading and presenting to students, no matter what channel it may come from!
Here are some of my favorite channels I’d love to share with you:
The videos from Oversimplified are ones that really utilize the “real talk” language I previously mentioned. I will warn you that most videos include some minor profanities and humor, so be sure to preview if this is something that isn’t advised in your school. The characters in each Oversimplified video are all animated and the added humor really keeps the kids listening, engaged, and makes the content easy to understand.
I would highly recommend using Oversimplified if you’re needing content related to world wars and revolutions. WW1, WW2, Civil War, and Cold War are all addressed, as well as the Russian Revolution, American Revolution, and French Revolution. Most videos are on the upwards side of 15-20 minutes, but the concepts are addressed in two different parts so it’s easy to take one part of the video and plan for instruction one day, then use the second part for a different day!
If you’re looking for extra content on WW2, I would highly recommend checking out this video, part 1 of WW2. It does a great job of explaining the viewpoints of Hitler and Mussolini and it also explains the treaties and relationships among countries.
Ted-Ed videos are also animated and contain a very wide variety of topics, many including Science and English Language Arts. However, my favorite section of Ted-Ed videos is “A Day in the Life…” I think these short, five minute videos are excellent tools to use to get students talking. For example, A Day in the Life of a Roman Soldier talks about how Roman soldiers prepared for battles and their responsibilities at such a young age. Ted-ed is also excellent at profiling the lives of underrepresented or marginalized people – like this video about Sojourner Truth, or this one about Ida B. Wells. Ted-Ed even has a whole series on “ugly history.”
The best part about Ted-Ed? Visit ed.ted.com to get customizable lessons that correlate with the videos of your choice, along with discussion, multiple choice, and open ended questions. There are also several extra resources that are suggested if you’re looking to take the lesson even further, specifically books or other videos.
3. Crash Course
Crash Course has several videos in multiple subject areas, but includes a wide range of social studies topics such as Economics, U.S. History, and World History. Crash Course is well known for covering a large amount of content in a short time period. I encourage students pause or slow down the video as needed.
I really like this Economics video talking about supply and demand. It does a great job of explaining what a market is, showing a detailed supply and demand graph and how a shortage or surplus occurs, as well as how we achieve equilibrium. The information provided is high quality and engaging. Just remember to answer questions and hold open discussion along the way to keep students on the right path of understanding.
Extra Credits is awesome for all things World History. It does engage the topics of politics, sci-fi, and mythology, but is super helpful by putting videos in chronological order and categorizing the History content by pre-history to 1699 CE and 1700 CE to the present. Some of the videos include animated characters, while others have a real person as a narrator.
At this point in time, I especially like to revisit the videos associated to the 1918 flu pandemic. This video is part 1 of 6 on the pandemic starting in 1918 and ending in 1920. I think it would be great for students to discuss similarities and differences between this pandemic and the coronavirus pandemic. There are obviously a lot of negative consequences that have occurred because of the current pandemic, but get your students thinking about what positive outcomes could come from this experience in the long term.
I feel like Simple History uses a good balance between animated characters and images and real historical graphics. There are several topics that include multiple videos such as the Industrial Age, Colonial America, Ancient Greece, Rome, and Egypt, as well as the Middle Ages. I am particularly impressed with the extensive amount of content on the Vietnam War, which includes over 20 videos!
I think this video related to the Vietnam War, The Media, is especially engaging for kids because it’s so much of what we experience on a day-to-day basis. It would be easy to hold an open discussion on your students’ perception of our media in the modern day. How does the media encourage civic discourse? Does it also sometimes help fuel the fire of issues around the world?
I love a good debate in my classroom. The Infographics Show has a series of videos regarding military comparisons. This specific section of videos would be awesome to use as a debate topic in the classroom, or could easily be used as an opinion piece during digital learning for students to watch and then provide reasoning for their decision.
This video talks about if China and Russia’s militaries were to join and take on the United States and India’s militaries, who would win? It would be interesting to see the students make their decisions and work to persuade towards one side another! There are also sections related to mysteries, challenges, and even survival stories I think your students would be fascinated with! Some are a little repulsive, but interesting nonetheless!
If I taught World History, I would immerse myself in the videos provided by Vox. There are sections dedicated to missing History that provide engaging overviews to topics like the massacre of Black Wall Street and the “re-education” of Native American children. Other channels cover current world events from an economic, political, and social framework. Try this video about the conflict in Kashmir, or this brief video that breaks down the recent collapse of Venezuela.
Many of these videos are geared more towards a high school audience. However, if a middle school teachers provided some framing and context, they could certainly be utilized with younger students also.
While many videos on the History Channel are veering off into “Alien” territory, this YouTube channel provides great Historical content! They have a great selection of videos that cover historical topics in middle school friendly language. Check out this one about the Tea Act or this one about the French and Indian War.
If you also visit history.com, to gain more information on various concepts. You can gain access to “The History Vault” that’s filled with tons of documentaries and series related to World History for just $4.99 a month. It’s totally worth checking it out.
Starting the school year with tremendous uncertainty has made it stressful for all of us in the educational field. I hope these YouTube channels can make your life a bit easier when it comes to planning and keeping your students engaged in your classroom.