“Going Viral”

I had been looking forward to this lesson all weekend. When I strolled into class one Tuesday afternoon, I didn’t waste any time getting started. “What does it mean to ‘go viral’?” I asked while writing the day’s topic on the board: “Viral ideas”

“To be like a virus,” was the first response.

“Okay, in what way?,” I challenged back pushing for more.

“Maybe to be dangerous,” came the reply.

“Hmmm, not quite what I’m looking for…how do viruses spread?” I quickly realized that might come across as a science question when I was really just looking for a simple adverb. “Let me rephrase that. At what pace or speed do viruses spread?”

“Fast!” “Quickly!” a few students belted out in unison.

“Bingo.” So let me ask again, “What does it mean to ‘go viral’?” I smiled as the exact answer I was looking for came back to me: “To spread quickly.”

“Good. Going viral means becoming popular by circulating quickly from person to person, especially through the internet.” I then asked the class to brainstorm things that have gone viral, and was really pleased with their responses. Here’s what they came up with:

  • Harlem Shake – a bizarre dance that became popular incredibly quickly; hundreds of versions can be found on Youtube as sports teams, police squads, classrooms, and groups of friends rushed to make their own; this is one of my favorites
  • Je Suis Charlie – following the terrorist attacks in Paris, “Je Suis Charlie” became a global call for the protection of free speech; demonstrations occurred all around the world, and the message spread quickly through social media
  • ALS Ice bucket challenge – one of the most successful awareness-raising campaigns I’ve ever seen; a few months ago, my twitter and facebook newsfeeds were dominated by friends participating in the ice bucket challenge; here’s Bill Gates doing it, just because
  • Gangham Style – another viral dance started by Korean pop star Psy
  • Selfies – Do I need to explain this one? Everyone is taking selfies these days…
  • Craze around movies/book like Hunger Games or 50 Shades of Gray
  • “Vlogging” – video blogs

We watched videos of a few more things that “went viral.” You’ve likely seen some of them:

“What I’m curious to hear, class, is what do these four videos have in common?

“They are funny!”

“I don’t think they all were necessarily funny. What else?”

“They all have lots of views….?”

“True, and why do they have lots of views?”

“People can relate to them.”

“Точно така! (Exactly!)”

I went on to explain that videos or ideas often go viral because they either tell a story that people can relate to, or they evoke emotion. We read an interesting article from “bigthink” about Why Ideas Go Viral, and reviewed key vocabulary (deep-seated, immersive, interruptive, interpersonal, revolutionizing, and saturated). I decided to let an expert explain the concept further…

With a couple minutes left in class, I asked: “What are the main ideas you will walk away with after this lesson?”

I was excited with the list they came up with:

  1. Storytelling is important for spreading ideas
  2. It’s important to tell a story that others can relate to
  3. Things that evoke emotion or make us feel something are more likely to go viral
  4. Action before words (bias towards action) – this one wasn’t quite related to the lesson, but I think it’s an important message, so I’m including it here

With just a few minutes left in class, I played the music video for Same Love by Macklemore. I think this video does an exceptional job telling a story to rally support behind a cause. It seemed to resonate with my students as they started singing along, and even stayed a few minutes after the bell to finish watching. My hope is that these ideas stick with my students. They might need them soon… 🙂 I’d love to see some comments about your favorite viral videos, ideas, games, etc.! Links are welcome!

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