The Power of Video in Digital Argument

Literacy Instruction in the Era of Fake News

Photo By: Tim Gouw

By Kristen Hawley Turner and Troy Hicks

“I can’t wait to have my students make videos!”

Perhaps you have heard a colleague make a statement such as this, demonstrating their willingness to embrace a new technology and push themselves to try something different. Of course, we love enthusiasm for incorporating technology into literacy instruction. However, integrating technology must not be about the technology itself. In other words, it’s not about making videos; rather, it’s about having students create arguments — or narrative stories, or informational pieces — that are presented as videos.

In Argument in the Real World: Teaching Adolescents to Read and Write Digital Texts we draw a distinction between the medium (video) and the genre, or mode, represented in that medium. Our inquiry cube suggests that students need to understand both the technical aspects of making a video as well as how they present claims, use evidence, and unpack the underlying assumptions that allow the evidence to support the claim.

Adapted from T. Hicks, K.H. Turner, and J. Stratton. 2013 “Reimagining a Writer’s Process Through Digital Storytelling.” LEARNing Landscapes 6 (2): 167–183.

Given recent focus on “fake news,” we think it’s important for students to be able to (1) deconstruct the arguments presented in video, and (2) compose effective video arguments that contribute to a productive conversation — rather than carelessly consume or, unconsciously spread misinformation or propaganda.

We present here some activities to work toward these goals. Building on the idea of reading closely, we can transfer many of the same skills from alphabetic texts — ones that rely on words and images — into video-based texts that critique or emulate certain forms of media. As noted in a previous post from Heinemann, Kylene Beers’ and Bob Probst’s Reading Nonfiction offers a number of tools for analyzing written texts in this manner. Helping students understand the signposts in non-fiction texts, specifically the news media, is critical. Turning to work with digital video is the logical next step.

Working with Video-based Arguments to Address the Issue of Fake News

Before we begin, we want to help students understand why “fake news” is an issue and why understanding the ways that arguments are constructed in video is important.

  1. First, you might offer a mini-lesson that differentiates between “fake” news — that is outright false — and alternate versions of one story (each ostensibly bringing an objective perspective). The challenge in our modern news environment is separating the news stories from the opinion pieces in the first place, and there are some strategies to help students accomplish this goal.
  2. Second, you might examine the myth of objectivity so that students understand that even “neutral” news sources will employ different experts and eyewitnesses as sources, as well as a variety of words and images to build their arguments. Often opinion pieces are presented alongside the proven (or at least probable) facts surrounding a story, and it’s important for students to begin to separate out the kinds of evidence, facts and opinions.
  3. Finally, have students deconstruct a video-based argument. We break this activity into several steps that you might include in instruction.

Of note here, you do not need fancy video editing software. The YouTube Editor allows users to remix existing videos — their own or from other sources — and requires no additional downloads or installation. Some news outlets share clips via YouTube, and students can use the Youtube video editor to remix them, incorporating their analysis of the segment.

For this example, we will use a recent opinion piece from one media source that has been proven by the Pew Research Center to be relatively trusted by most people: CNN and one of their lead anchors, Jake Tapper.

Step 1: Identify a Compelling News Story and Break it into Chunks in the YouTube Editor

  • Look for news videos using the search function in the YouTube editor with the “Remix Creative Commons Videos.”
  • Once students find a video, ask them to hover the cursor over the title bar of the video, and the entire title will show as a pop-up.
  • Then, in a separate tab, students must search for the name of that video on the regular YouTube site.
  • As they view the clip, ask them to consider the claims that are being made and the evidence being presented and to note the timestamp (e.g., 1:15 to 1:43) where significant moments occur. They can use these question prompts to document their thinking: What is the claim, implicit or explicit, in this segment? What is evidence is being presented (expert opinion, statistics, images, facts provided by sources)? What is the warrant, implicit or explicit, being made for this evidence?
  • Once they have viewed the video and have this rough timeline/explanation of the ways in which the argument is constructed, have them return to the YouTube Video Editor.
  • Depending on how long the video is and how many segments they plan to use, students will need to drag multiple “copies” of the video into the timeline. Create one version of the video for each segment that will be analyzed. Each of the full segments can then be edited using the clipping tool to get the appropriate number of smaller segments.

Step 2: Analyze and Critique Uses of Sources, as well as Specific Language and Images in Google Slides

  • Using Google Slides, students can analyze the different segments. With the two-column layout, students can transcribe a sentence or two from the newscast and, in quotes, place that in the left-hand column. In the right-hand column, students can then write their analysis, pointing out some of the elements from the inquiry cube above.
  • Again, focus on the argument itself, not just rhetorical flourishes: What is the claim, implicit or explicit, in this segment? What is evidence is being presented (expert opinion, statistics, images, facts provided by sources)?What is the warrant, implicit or explicit, being made for this evidence?
  • Once all the slides are completed, students can export the slides as JPEG images to their Google Drive or hard drive.

Step 3: Create an Analysis of the Argument by Inserting JPEG Images of Individual Google Slides in the YouTube Editor

  • Return to the YouTube Editor, select the camera icon, and import the images. Once the images are imported, students can then drag the appropriate slides into the timeline in between the segments of the news clips to show their analysis. They might also add transitions and titles to signpost both their analysis and the video segments.
  • Finally, students can publish and share their videos.

This example of a critical media analysis of CNN’s coverage of Donald Trump’s pick for the EPA chief, Scott Pruitt, was created from the original video from CNN (also, available on YouTube).

To view the edited critical media analysis of CNNs coverage, please click here.

Overall, this close reading and analysis of an argument presented in the news media opens up a number of opportunities for students to practice digital literacy skills related to video editing, engage in substantive research through fact-checking, and activate their dispositions for critical media literacy. Rather than “making videos,” students will be deconstructing — and creating — arguments!


This is the second post by Kristen Hawley Turner and Troy Hicks for Heinemann on the subject of digital and critical literacy in the classroom. You can read their first post Seriously? Seriously. The Importance of Teaching Reading and Writing in Social Media, here.

Their work is also featured in the post How Teachers can Disrupt Fake News.


Dr. Kristen Hawley Turner is an associate professor of English education and contemporary literacies at Fordham University in New York City. A former high school teacher, she is a Teacher Consultant for the National Writing Project and the director of the Fordham Digital Literacies Collaborative.

Dr. Troy Hicks (@hickstro) is a professor of Literacy and Technology at Central Michigan University and focuses his work on the teaching of writing, literacy and technology, and teacher education and professional development. A former middle school teacher, he collaborates with K–12 colleagues and explores how they implement newer literacies in their classrooms. Hicks directs CMU’s Chippewa River Writing Project, a site of the National Writing Project, and he frequently conducts professional development workshops related to writing and technology. Hicks is author or co-author of several Heinemann titles. You can read more from him on his website here.


Kristen Hawley Turner and Troy Hicks are the authors of the recently published Argument in the Real World (Heinemann, 2016). To learn more about how their book can be used to disrupt Fake News, click here.

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