Teaching teens and looking for ideas about how to quickly and easily engage them during content-heavy lessons? Find out why the Crash Course YouTube videos are an excellent idea to help.

Picture this…

It’s 4 pm and you were supposed to pick up your kids from daycare half an hour ago, but you still have to figure out how to introduce The Odyssey to your class tomorrow in the last period.

Your stomach sinks because you need to be somewhere else. Now.

Do you hate planning for those content-heavy unit-introduction lessons? I know I did, at least until I found Crash Course on YouTube.

I hated trying to create a multitude of ways to get through content – take notes, read a textbook, draw a diagram, and give an explanation. It was time-consuming to plan and often my strategies weren’t engaging my students.

Now, I LOVE introducing a new topic of study with CrashCourse YouTube videos because they are short and funny, cover loads of content, and give a good overview of big topics.

What is Crash Course?

Crash Course is an educational publishing company that produces short videos. Hank and John Green (the YA novelist), also known as the Vlog brothers, started CrashCourse as a YouTube channel and began releasing videos in 2012.

The YouTube channel began as part of a YouTube experiment to create original content. By 2013, Subbable (a company created by the brothers) crowd-funded the channel (which then continued under Patreon when it bought Subbable).

In 2014, Crash Course joined forces with PBS Studios and added more hosts and content. In 2018, Complexly (John and Hank Green’s online audio and video production company) began co-producing some of the content.


Why use CrashCourse YouTube videos?

The brothers state that they want to “make learning fun”, and their videos reflect this.

The videos are fast, funny, and full of animations. Each video is only 10-15 minutes long – too short to become boring. But long enough to give students a solid start on literature texts (and other complex or content-heavy topics).

The clips start broadly and then narrow in on the details, which is perfect for introducing a time period, literary text, concept, or idea.

One of the best things about CrashCourse videos is that they are FREE. And we are teachers (on a teacher’s salary, enough said).

So whenever I am teaching literature to students, I love to start by throwing on a Crash Course Literature video to give students context. Usually, I stop the video to avoid spoilers, but sometimes I forget (oops!).

Not only are Crash Course YouTube videos great for teaching literature, they are amazing for a whole host of topics you might have to teach.

The videos cover just about anything you might EVER have to teach. And they’re awesome if you get stuck subbing for a class you know NOTHING about or the regular teacher has left NOTHING TO DO!

What topics do CrashCourse YouTube videos cover?

Crash Course Literature videos cover so many texts you might use when teaching literature, including classic American texts such as The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,The Great Gatsby, Catcher in the Rye, To Kill a Mockingbird, Slaughterhouse-Five and many more. 


Crash Course American literature worksheet bundle – covers classics such as Catcher in the Rye, The Great Gatsby, To Kill a Mockingbird, and more …

Crash Course YouTube videos also cover British classics such as Frankenstein, Hamlet, Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare’s sonnets, Nineteen Eighty-Four, and Lord of the Flies among others. 


Teaching English literature using the British literature bundle including classics such as Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare’s sonnets, Nineteen Eighty-Four, Pride and Prejudice, and more …

They even cover lesser-studied texts such as The Parable of the Sower, To the Lighthouse, The Handmaid’s Tale, and Their Eyes Were Watching God.

Crash Course Study Skills cover important study skills such as how to take notes, manage reading, improve memory, plan and organize, focus and concentrate, avoid procrastination, study for exams, reduce test anxiety, write papers and essays, and why exercise is important for studying.

CrashCourse Study Skills Worksheet

Crash Course Study Skills worksheets

The Navigating Digital Information series covers important topics such as how to fact check, how to use lateral reading, how to identify trustworthy sources, how to evaluate evidence such as photos, infographics, videos, and websites, how and why we should exercise click restraint, and how to use Wikipedia effectively.


Crash Course Geography includes topics such as what is geography, maps, scale, physical geography, how the earth moves, the atmosphere, air temperature, wind, oceans, clouds, rain, cyclones, volcanoes, plate tectonics, and many more topics.


What subjects do Crash Course YouTube videos cover?

The Crash Course YouTube channels cover so many subjects and topics, we can’t put an exhaustive list here, or it would take up the rest of your day reading this post. But subjects they cover include

  • In the sciences, there are a multitude of videos covering topics in biology, ecology, chemistry, anatomy and physiology, astronomy, history of science, engineering, statistics, and physics
  • Subjects covered in the arts include theatre and drama, film criticism, film production, and film history
  • In computing topics such as artificial intelligence, computer science, and games are covered
  • Business education includes topics such as business entrepreneurship, soft skills, intellectual property, and economics
  • In the humanities, there are videos covering topics in subjects such as psychology, media literacy, sociology, philosophy, and intellectual property

The best part of Crash Course YouTube videos…?

You don’t feel bad watching these videos in class because they are excellent AND educational.

And self-confessed nerds with wildly successful professional lives (#rolemodels) created them. What’s not to like?

Even better, they are so versatile you can use them in a variety of different ways.

How else can you use Crash Course YouTube videos?

My favorite way to use the Crash Course YouTube videos is as an introduction to a new unit of work. They take that whole giving-context-and-background-information task and change it from a Herculean effort into a quick fifteen-minute video.

Usually, I get students to either take notes or use a worksheet that scaffolds the note-taking process. Then I get students to pre-view the note-taking sheet (if they’re using one) and play the video.

Often, I’ll pause the video now and again to give students a chance to ‘catch up’ on their notes (John Green talks so.darn.fast!) or to give more background information (that is assumed that students will know in the video) – particularly with younger students.

Other easy ways to use the Crash Course YouTube channels are to

  • Leave it as a lesson for a substitute teacher, along with a worksheet and other follow-up activities
  • Use it to give quick context on a time period for a literature study
  • Throw it on when you have been given a supervision lesson and the regular teacher hasn’t left enough work
  • Set it for homework or use it as the content for a flipped classroom lesson
  • Put it on and complete some of your administrivia (mark attendance, check homework, respond to that email) while your students get up to speed, then use it as a starting point for the rest of the lesson
  • Use it as a reward for good whole-class behavior – free choice of Crash Course videos if we finish x, y, and z.
  • Put a Crash Course YouTube video as an option on a choice board as an activity for students to use to cover required content
  • Use it as a model for students to create their own Crash Course-style video about a topic they’ve learned in class

You can sigh with relief now…

You have a plan: Crash Course YouTube video and a worksheet or notes. You can pack up your desk and go and get your kids.

Whether you’re teaching literature, have a random life skills or study hall lesson on your timetable, or you’ve picked up a geography class with no geography training whatsoever, Crash Course has your back.

And next time you are planning for a content-heavy lesson, you now know about CrashCourse, an excellent, free, go-to for just about any topic.

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Last updated: 25 September 2023