How To Get Your Lessons To ‘Go Viral’ With Students

tedWhile on a flight I passed the time by watching some TED talks. Teachers always seem to fill time with something education related. There was one in particular by Kevin Allocca, Why Videos Go Viral. His thesis finds three reasons why some videos on YouTube become a movement. Tastemakers, Participation, & Unexpectedness. Tastemakers are those whom people listen to; these individuals are placed in a status of ‘in the know’. In terms of Twitter, they are the ones with large numbers of followers or it is the topic trending highest.

In today’s culture, Participation is what keeps attention, people want to feel engaged, and they want to be able to interact. Case in point, to drum up hype for new movies, many are creating a viral marketing campaign. Something for fans to get involved in and increase the anticipation for the movie’s release. Finally, Unexpectedness grabs attention, right?

Which reminds me of a funny commercial I saw a few years back:

An elderly couple is driving down a back country road . The passenger discovers a steering wheel, for whatever reason, next to her. She picks it up and acts as if she is driving. As they approach a vehicle in the lane next to them, she decides to act as if she is going to run him off the road. Even though I have seen this clip more than a dozen times, the unexpectedness of that scene gets me.

How does this apply to education? Simple, the lessons that are remembered by students happen because of those three reasons outlined by Kevin Allocca: tastemakers, participation, and unexpectedness.


Teachers and even students can be the tastemakers – they posses certain information and are considered ‘in the know’. Those whom the students place up on a pedestal are the ones they listen to most. I remember more lessons from eighth grade than any other educational level to date, because Sister Irene, my Catholic schoolteacher, was a tastemaker for me. She knew something about everything and had that art of storytelling to keep us enthralled by what she had to say.


Participation Student participation or engagement is a must. Now in a time with interactive technologies and mobile devices competing for student attention, those educators that can harness them will keep the students involved in their learning. Which is going to be remembered, the lecture of a unit’s worth of information or the interactive lesson on iPads where the teacher was able to have students draw out their responses?


The unexpectedness element that grabs attention forces the brain to create more synapses (trying to sound scientific). Back during under grad, when learning how to write a lesson plan, this was called the anticipatory set, the time at the beginning of a lesson where the teacher grabs the attention of their students. Remember back to the science lesson that started with a mini eruption or the literature class where the teacher became Hamlet. These unexpected moments create a memory. So to have our lessons go ‘viral’ with our students remember: be the tastemaker, initiate participation, and be unexpected.