Great Big Story: Teacher Spotlight

Although National Teacher Appreciation Week has ended, we‘re still celebrating the educators who incorporate Great Big Story into their course curriculums and lesson plans. Whether it’s through in-class assignments, dialogue starters, or topic transitions, these Q&A’s offer context for any teacher at any grade level looking to utilize video in fun and interesting ways.

Today, we’ll meet Allison, a 5th-8th grade Language Arts and 8th grade homeroom/advisory teacher from Baltimore, Maryland.

When and where did you first come across Great Big Story?

My sister-in-law showed me the Great Big Story video about how lobster used to be prison food, which I found to be an interesting tidbit. Then, my brother showed me a video about a man who was able to climb one of the tallest mountains in the world with no limbs. I remember commenting to my brother right after watching that video that it was so inspiring and would be great to show my students. That’s when I first decided to incorporate the videos into my Advisory time with my kids.

What videos have you used (or do you plan to use) in your lesson plans?

The first video that I ever showed my students was “The Gnomist” because it was such a sad and sweet story and sparked great discussion about relatable topics to middle school students, such as parents getting divorced and other forms of loss. The students loved the video and started asking me during future Advisory times if I could show them more Great Big Story videos. Advisory is a half hour block during the middle of the morning each day at our school, in which the students can get to know one teacher really well and vice versa, so that they can feel comfortable talking about issues important to them at their stage in life, so “The Gnomist” was a perfect video to use in that space and time.

I continued to show the students other inspirational videos with the purpose of getting them to think about who they want to be and how they want to live. I was especially inspired by the series on the unsung heroes, such as “How a Biker Club Helped Stop Bullying,” “The Lunch Club Making High School More Inclusive,” and “The Homeless Man Who Inspired a Town to Help Him.”

I also used videos that were related to our curriculum outside of Advisory. Our school is a theme-based school in which we study one topic in depth across grade levels each trimester, varying the approach developmentally. The main focus of this study is in a class titled Theme Studies, but other subject areas try to incorporate the theme as well. For example, I try to pick literature in my Language Arts classes related to the theme. So, at the beginning of this school year, when we were studying the indigenous peoples of North America, I found a few Great Big Story videos that enriched the students’ learning of that topic. These included “The Chef Bringing Native American Food to Your Table,” “Reclaiming Native American Art,” and “Ancient Ink Reborn: Revitalizing Traditional Inuit Tattooing:”

I also had fun showing the students the videos that told us about the history behind a certain topic, such as “Who Put the Hole in the Donut?” and “Sweet Dreams are Made of This: Doughnuts and the American Dream.” We ate donuts while watching. This was during Advisory because sometimes it’s fun to just have a break and learn something interesting while doing so.

What was it about these videos that inspired you to use them in the classroom?

I was initially inspired to use these videos in my Advisory classroom because of the moving stories about people overcoming challenges to accomplish something great, like in the video “No Limbs Needed for this Badass Mountaineer.” It was just the kind of video that I was looking for to inspire my students and get them to think about how to conquer their own challenges and set goals.

I initially thought that I would only use the stories that had inspiring messages, like the one about the mountain climber mentioned above, but then I realized that the short nature of the videos make them ideal for quick introductions to any sort of topic. Because most of the videos are less than five minutes, they are easy to incorporate in the classroom in order to expand on a topic that we are already studying. These videos enrich the curriculum because they tell us something not covered in a textbook in a very interesting way, like when we learned about the chef who is revitalizing Native American cuisine to bring it to a wider range of people.

How are students interacting with the material? For example, are videos used to launch discussions about certain topics? Are they used as part of homework or in-class assignments?

So far, I have only used the videos to spark discussions in the half hour Advisory block that I have each day with my students, but I could see how they could be used for homework or in-class assignments. I think I might start using them to introduce topics outside of Advisory. For example, I noticed the video “How Falconry Shaped the English Language”, which would be great for introducing my Shakespeare unit in Language Arts next year. I like to do a lesson on how much of Shakespeare’s invented phrases influenced our modern idioms, and the falcon video would help the students think about the history behind other idioms.

What role do you see educational videos (like ones from Great Big Story) playing in course curriculums of the future? Are there specific age ranges where you think Great Big Story works best for educational purposes?

There are so many possibilities for how Great Big Story videos could play a role in future curriculums because so many topics are covered on this website. I love using these videos in the middle school classroom, but I think they work for a wide variety of age ranges.

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