YouTube in the Classroom: Video Interpretations of Classic Literature

In my “Introduction to Literary Studies” course, I tried a new assignment: a Group Dramatic Performance (via Pod- or Video-cast). The guidelines were very general, allowing maximum room for creative expression on behalf of the students. Essentially, I just asked for groups of 4-5 students to independently “record a 5-8 minute performance ‘inspired by’ the assigned readings in the class this term.” Students were told they could use the text as a script, or be creative and try to communicate a point/theme that gives insight into the original text. I also tried to inspire the class by showing them adaptations of works they had read, especially an animated adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe’s “Annabel Lee” (an impressive stop motion puppet film by George Higham), and we also screened Murnau’s Nosferatu as the deadline approached (since, in my opinion, they could identify “home movie” making with the choices made by primitive cinema directors).

The results were almost entirely comedic, but some were very impressive given that I did not facilitate the productions at all with any instructional advice, cameras, microphones, or editing software! I believe we are at a point in college culture now where most students are already facile with such things as converting files to YouTube ready format and editing on a Mac, or finding a camera that will function well enough for the purpose.

Here are the videos that they managed to post to YouTube:

Students could opt out of video and do an audio recording instead. Here are the two that came in:

We’re screening and listening to these one-a-day in my class, and the walls have been echoing with laughter.
Pretty impressive work, class!

I never would have had the courage to try such an ambitious assignment if I hadn’t once visited a high school class run by Lawrence C. Connolly at Sewickely Prep Academy, who assigned student groups to all adapt a specific passage from Dante’s Inferno in their own ways. They screened their videos and I was so impressed by the outcome that I left wanting to try something similar myself some day. The lesson? Trust student bonds outside of the classroom, and leave lots of wiggle room in your guidelines when giving a creativity assignment. When students have free license they usually will not disappoint.

Here’s “Goblin Shoe Market” by Jessica Pilewski, Mike Poiarkoff, Theresa Conley, and Dianna Griffin — notable for its emulation of a silent film:

Published by

Michael Arnzen

Professor of English, Seton Hill University.

One thought on “YouTube in the Classroom: Video Interpretations of Classic Literature”

  1. Hi Michael,
    MIT university is trying to build a free resource to help kids learn SAT/ACT thru the power of user-generated images and video. We are currently running a nationwide contest, challenging kids to make fun and memorable flashcards by pairing sentences and images to a common test word. There will be a small cash prize and iTunes giveaways. Due date is May 22. More details at .
    Do you have students or colleagues who would be interested? No pressure if this is not something that interests you. I just want to give you guys the chance to participate.

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