In July 2012, Psy released his single Gangnam Style in Korea, and the music video went viral in August 2012, very quickly becoming the most liked video on YouTube, and reaching a phenomenal billion views by December 2012. The song could be heard playing in clubs all over the world, from Germany, to Egypt, to Singapore. Parodies of the song and versions like ‘Eton Style’, ‘Minecraft Style’ and ‘Farmer Style’ started to garner tens of thousands of hits of their own.
On Feb 2 2013, a video uploaded by several teenagers onto Youtube started a viral trend, creating a wave of copycat videos. By Feb 10 2013, there were 4000 Harlem Shake videos being uploaded per day and by Feb 15, 40 000 Harlem Shake videos had been uploaded onto YouTube. Even the English teachers at the recent IATEFL conference gathered together to create their own TEFL version of the Harlem Shake meme.
On Sunday, May 12 2013, astronaut Chris Hadfield posted his cover version of David Bowie’s Space Oddity recorded 230 miles above the earth. By Tuesday May 14, it had been all over the news around the world and Hadfield’s videoclip had amassed 5 million views. Prior to the music video, Hadfield already had a global following and regularly posted educational videos on his internet channel on Youtube regarding the space travel but by May 18, Hadfield’s Twitter following had grown to over an impressive 977,000.
On May 13 2013, an anti-Abercrombie & Fitch video #Fitch the Homeless received more than 4.5 million views in just 3 days, and its creator has since appeared on several talk shows sparked a variety of reactions, including angry blogposts and newspaper articles.
The power of the Internet and its impact on popular culture is undeniable.
Without doubt, these trends are invariably part of our students’ lives. Time is voluntarily spent surfing the Internet and watching the hottest videos, whether out of curiosity, or out of a need to keep up with social conversations in the canteen or by the water cooler.
It would seem only logical to use what occupies our students in their day-to-day lives as topics for language practice, as opposed to artificially imposing topics like ‘My favourite holiday’, ‘The weather’ or ‘The future’ just because they are in the course book.
Adapting to ‘new music experiences’, the editorial director of Billboard magazine announced in February 2013 that it would change its criteria in determining its Hot 100 Singles chart and begin incorporating Youtube streams into its data.
How much are we changing our criteria in determining the content of what we teach? Do we incorporate internet trends into our lessons? Are we perhaps waiting for those trends to appear in the materials that we use?
Along with the immeasurable impact of the Internet is the phenomenal speed at which trends and memes catch on. This means that those slow to react might miss the boat very quickly. After all, anyone trying to upload Harlem Shake videos now would be seen as uncool and absolutely not newsworthy.
Of course, one option is to wait for someone to write a lesson plan and post it on the internet so that the rest of us might benefit from it.But why wait?
Here are my three guidelines, followed by some suggestions that could perhaps help you create your own lessons from any of the most current internet sensations.
1. Get students talking
- Ask students what they might already know about the topic, or the video. Have students who have seen or heard about the video to tell those who haven’t.
- Spilt the class into two groups. Play the video to one group and get them to describe it to the 2nd group. Get the 2nd group to draw what they imagine the scenes from the video to be like.
- Play the video and get them to react to the video by talking/whispering to each other while the video is playing.
- Have students ask each other questions and interview each other on their reactions to the video.
Here are some teens reacting to the video Gangnam Style when it first appeared on the internet. Consider using the format and questions as a template for other videos (including Psy’s new single!)
- Have students write a newspaper report about the video.
- Have students research the statistics behind the popularity and spread of the video. Students can create an infographic or write a report based on the stats they gather.
Alternatively, use an infographic that is already available on the Internet and have students describe and discuss what they see.
Here’s an example of an infographic created based on statistics surrounding the Harlem Shake.
2. Use public reaction
- Get students to discuss and debate the different viewpoints towards the video.
A video like the rather controversial Anti-Abercrombie & Fitch clip seems to naturally raise the question ‘Is the #FitchTheHomeless campaign awesome or offensive?’
While one blogger asks the question ‘What does #FitchTheHomeless solve?’, another offers 6 reasons why the #FitchTheHomeless campaign is problematic.
- Get students to guess what they think how a certain group of the public might react to the video.
Have students role play their reactions as different members of the public. Video your students doing so, if possible.
Here is an example of some older Americans reacting to the video Gangnam Style.Have students create a survey about the video, which they could then carry out, either in school, or in the streets.
- Alternatively, get students to show the video clip to friends or family, and interview them after they’ve watched it. Students with smart phones can video the reactions of their friends and family members.
- Stage an imaginary TV talk show or press conference based on the hype of this video, and have students play different roles.
3. Exploit related videos
- Have students find similar videos as homework and bring in their favourite. These similar videos could be parodies, or versions of a meme like Harlem Shake.
- What else has the uploader posted?
Chris Hadfield’s Space Oddity might be a fun way to kick start a discussion about space travel, but a couple more clicks on his YouTube account would lead you to a whole range of fantastic videos about Zero Gravity and life in space. Videos that answers questions like ‘Can you cry in space?’, ‘Why is it important to exercise in space?’ and ‘How is your eyesight affected in space?’
- Is there any follow-up to the video? Interviews?
Here's an example of an interview published in The Telegraph shortly after Chris Hadfield’s Space Oddity music video went viral.
- Have students make their own related videos.
The large amounts of information on the Internet may prove to be a bit overwhelming at times, but perhaps the natural selection process of the way videos go viral is a true demonstration of democracy where the general public chooses what to dedicate their time and attention to.
Surely, it would then make sense to naturally select these videos as fodder for the language classroom?
So, the next time a new internet sensation hits the web, will you be ready to adapt it for the language classroom?
About English Teaching professional’s regular blogger:
Chia Suan Chong is a General English and Business English teacher and teacher trainer, with a degree in Communication Studies (Broadcast and Electronic Media) and an MA in Applied Linguistics and English Language Teaching from King’s College London.
A self-confessed conference addict, she spends a lot of her time tweeting (@chiasuan/@ETprofessional), Skyping, and writing. You can find out more about her on her blogsite: http://chiasuanchong.com