Mentor Text Wednesday: The Video Essay

Mentor Texts:

Batman: Evolving the Legend by Kristian Williams (@kaptainkristian)

(Any of the videos on his YouTube channel are awesome!)

Writing Techniques:

  • Presentation
  • Analytical or Critical Writing
  • Pop Culture Writing
  • Curation of material to augment presentation



You’ve already reacted with a sigh or a fist pump. Another geeky one.

Image via YouTube

This is another one that fell right onto my screen through my customary surfing. I was taking a brain break, getting ready to work on the post I originally had planned, when this came onto my screen.

Brain break over, new mentor text found.

Kristian Williams has an awesome YouTube channel filled with pop culture video essays. Essentially, what each one does is present his essay orally, over a mellow backing track, accompanied by clips and imagery related to the subject of the essay. And they’re AWESOME!

These pieces are amazing mentor texts for dealing with pop culture.

How We Might Use These Texts:

Presentation — I sometimes joke about the fact that when we have our academic showcases, we, as English teachers, get a bit left out. Let’s be honest, the digital media, art or shops folks are making really cool things to look at. We have essays.

This mentor text, as soon as I discovered it, made me giddy with excitement. Listen to him. He is essentially reading the essay that we’d want our writers to write. But he takes it further, adding the visuals and vibe music. This is a marquee project, born of the essays which generally get stacked in piles for us to mark, and stuffed back into binders upon return to their writers. They share the mark.

They’d share these. Imagine, the whole class, “reading” everyone else’s essay! Totally possible with this project.

Also, I can picture the energy while they worked on these. So many of them could crank through the essay pretty quick if they knew that they got to create something like this. Many of them are already adept at the creation of this kind of text, and would jump at a chance to do this for a grade!

Analytical or Critical Writing — These video essays are based on analysis, or criticism, of pop culture, mainly the geeky stuff that I so adore.

However, if you look at what they’re doing, these texts are great exemplars of literary analysis essays. He’s looking at storytelling, characterization, imagery and the nature of storytelling. There is history and context. There is opinion and criticism.

The real beauty of these pieces, however, for our writers is the use, quite literally, of voice. Kristian uses his actual voice. He gets to say things out loud, and as a result, he gets to embed his opinions. How many times have you had a writer say wonderful things when discussing their topic, yet you found yourself performing a close read on their essay, looking for those insights? If they were writing an essay to be spoken aloud, would they be more likely to include that stuff?

Pop Culture Writing — I reference, and use, pop culture in my classroom quite often. I think of seeing Ernest Morrell a couple of years ago, and hearing him say that “Jay-Z could be the Shakespeare of our day.” There are tons of teachers using pop culture texts in their classrooms.

An obvious reason for doing this is that the material is what the kids are into these days. There is, though, so much happening in pop culture that is ripe for analysis and critical writing. Kristian’s essays tap into this very well. I especially like that, taken as a whole, we can show students different models of this. The Batman video, the first one I discovered, is a larger analysis of the animated series and its influence. In contrast, the X-Men video hinges more on the costumes of the heroes, touching on the larger significance that is related to costuming choices.In the Pixar video, he looks closely at one of their 22 rules of storytelling.

If we study a pop culture text in class, one of these video essays would be a fantastic response piece. When I teach storytelling, my students could share a piece that they feel exemplifies good storytelling. The material from last week’s post could be handled in a video essay, as could more formal review pieces.

Curation of material to augment presentation — I think a wonderful side benefit of assigning this piece would be the fact that it might positively disrupt the research process. Perhaps more accurately, it would add what could be a very engaging extra layer – looking for material to create the visual aspect of the piece. They’ll need to find this material, obviously to make the video, but that search may lead them to rich resources outside of the top hits on their Google search. Podcasts, YouTube videos, DVD commentary tracks, and documentaries are rich resources that they may not tap into normally.

Since not all of us get to teach writing in isolation, think of the other outcomes that we’d hit here. There is a great thinking piece inherent in making a video of any kind. This one in particular is wonderful because they would have to make decisions about the material that they would use to best present the words on their piece. Finding scenes, images or audio that correspond, as well as highlight the themes and ideas of their paper is a great critical exercise.

This discovery excites me. I already have a number of ideas about where it could fit into my courses. It’s a showcase project that will engage a lot of students, by giving them a different purpose for their writing, or by allowing them an opportunity to create a different form. I look forward to bringing this into my classroom next year.

What are some applications for the video essay that you can think of? What are some of the ways that you create showcase projects out of writing?

Leave a comment below or find me on Twitter @doodlinmunkyboy!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s