The best Youtube Videos to Inspire and Motivate Students

YouTube offers an almost limitless number of short clips for the entertainment of young – and not so young – minds, and that’s one of its biggest problems. As with all forms of entertainment, a large amount of the content is little more than a brief, forgettable distraction, and clips that are truly inspiring or remarkable can be buried away beneath mountains of dross. It is little wonder that many schools restrict access to it on their networked computers.

There are, however, a few videos on YouTube that are well worth seeking out; clips that can make a real difference in the lives of students if used as a prompt for discussion, rather than as a momentary diversion. They can add colour and visual appeal when introducing or developing a topic, and help students to ‘tune in’ to new areas of learning. A rare few can even inspire and motivate students, and give them fresh insights into their place in a complex and uncertain world.

Some of these videos have been designed by advertising agencies which are, by their very nature, experts at motivating people. One of the best features Michael Jordan, the greatest basketball player of them all, explaining that the key to his success is failure. The quote that inspired this ad is worth pinning up above the classroom whiteboard. Also worthy of showing to students is the famous Vodafone ‘Mayfly’ advert, which may get students thinking about the value they place on their time.

For senior students – the ad is a little racy – a little gem from Canal Plus can serve as an introduction to creative writing. Its message, “Never underestimate the power of a good story,” is supported by images of a ridiculous adventure which is, nonetheless, sequentially logical.

Students are always keen to discuss their role in the world, and the following three videos can help them to do that.

“Lost Generation” is a palindromic poem that seems to bemoan the apathy and hopelessness of youth, or at least it does until each line is read in reverse. The clip featuring young people speaking the words is probably the most effective version of it on YouTube.  

It is useful to compare the positive message in “Lost Generation” with the less flattering portrayal of young people in “Teenage Affluenza”, an Australian video made to promote World Vision’s ’40 Hour Famine’. The humor is biting, and students will need to question whether they – and the adults they know – are leading lives of deprivation or privilege.

For students who need an overview of the world’s diversity, an appealing video is “Miniature Earth”, which is based on Donella Meadows “State of the Global Village”. Some of the figures have changed a little since the video was originally made, but the overall picture remains the same. In any case, students may enjoy being referred to the Global Village website, where they can find more up to date figures.

The original documentary film, “A Class Divided”, was made many years ago, but it still packs a punch. This is Jane Elliott’s infamous “Blue Eyes / Brown Eyes” experiment, in which she taught a class of third graders about discrimination through a powerful, real world role play. Elliott originally conducted the exercise on the day following Martin Luther King’s assassination (in 1968), and in the forty years since then, how much has actually changed? Students inspired by the video need to think about all forms of discrimination – not just racism – and may want to use the program to help them design anti-bullying plans for their school.

YouTube also has an extensive collection of TED Talks, and many of these are provocative and motivational. Among the most relevant for students – and teachers – are Sir Ken Robinson’s speeches on education reform. This writer and international advisor is an eloquent and entertaining speaker, with many challenging things to say about the priorities of modern education. Teachers unfettered by the very things Robinson criticizes may like to give students a chance to design their own school curriculum.

This is just a small sample of the inspirational videos that YouTube has to offer, and it’s likely that colleagues will be able to add to the list. Perhaps they are not the clips that students would choose – and they may want to suggest a few themselves – but isn’t that the point? Inspiration comes from challenging, rather than reinforcing beliefs, and by considering new ideas in creative ways. Each of the videos suggested above allows students to see the world – and their place in it – through fresh eyes.