Saturday, October 1, 2016

Improving Reading Skills with YouTube Closed Captions

Closed captions, or video subtitles, are an easy, free, and engaging way to help improve student reading abilities. Many times we may only think of closed captioning as an assistive technology tool for people with hearing impairments. However, much research has shown that using closed captions when viewing videos provides reading benefits to all students, regardless of hearing abilities or literacy levels.

Personally I have been using closed captions for every video I watch for over twenty years. It all began when I had my first child, and wanted to watch TV or movies at night without waking her up. It became such a habit that I continue to turn on subtitles to this day for everything I watch. Over time I have realized how much it helps me to pick up dialog I may have missed due to distractions, poor audio, or a noisy house.

The same thing is true, and even more so, for our students who are still learning to read or working to improve their reading skills. In this blog post we will take a look at what the research says about the benefits of closed captioning for students, as well as learn how to find and use closed captioned videos on YouTube.

Benefits of Closed Captions

As mentioned earlier, closed captioning is not just helpful for students with hearing impairments. Being able to see the text, and read along, while watching a video has educational benefits for all students. A great amount of research has been done on this, as documented in articles found at Reading Rockets, Zane Education, and EdWeek.

When showing a video to students in class, or having students watch videos on their own devices, having the closed captioning on has been shown to provide the following benefits:

  • Improved comprehension
  • Improved word recognition
  • Improved vocabulary acquisition
  • Improved spelling
  • Improved reading speed
  • Improved decoding skills
  • Increased engagement and motivation
  • Provides extra exposure to text for students who do not read much
  • Helpful when people are not speaking clearly
  • Helpful when people are speaking with an accent or unfamiliar dialect
  • Helpful with new, unfamiliar, or technical terms
  • Helpful in a classroom with distractions or noise
  • Helpful with words that sound similar or a homophones
  • Higher scores on follow-up tests of reading comprehension

Finding Closed Captioned Videos on YouTube

YouTube provides a vast array of educational videos for every subject area and grade level. Thankfully many of these videos are already closed captioned. When looking for videos on YouTube, you will see the “CC” icon next to any video that has subtitles.

Better yet, when you are running a search for video on YouTube you can filter the results to show only videos that are closed captioned.

When using YouTube on a PC, Mac, or Chromebook:

  • Type a search term in the YouTube search bar as normal, and press enter.
  • When you get the results, click the “Filters” button located just below the search box.
  • From the filter menu, click on “Subtitles/CC”.
  • Now your search results will be filtered down to only show videos that are closed captioned.

When using the mobile version of YouTube:

  • Click the search button to run a search as normal.
  • Then click the filter button in the top right corner.
  • From the filter menu, choose “Closed Captions (CC)” and click “Search”.
  • Now your search results will be filtered down to only show videos that are closed captioned.

Using Closed Captions in YouTube

Whenever you play a YouTube video that has closed captions, you can turn the captioning on and off as follows:

When using YouTube on a PC, Mac, or Chromebook:

  • Click on the “CC” button on the YouTube video toolbar at the bottom of the video. Each time you click the button, you will toggle closed captioning on or off.
  • Alternately you can use keyboard shortcuts. Simply press the “c” key on your keyboard while the video is playing to turn captioning on or off.

When using the mobile version of YouTube:

  • Touch the “three dots” button in the top right corner of the video.
  • Choose “Captions” from the pop-up menu.
  • Click “English” (or other available language) to enable the captions.

Setting Options for Closed Captions in YouTube

By default the closed captioning in a YouTube video will be medium-sized white text in a sans serif font on a black background. If for any reason this is difficult for students to see, there are actually many settings you can tweak for the subtitles. Here’s how:

  • First, click on the gear button on the YouTube video toolbar at the bottom of the video.
  • This will open the “Settings” menu.
  • From the menu click “Subtitles/CC” and then click “Options” in the top right.
  • You will now be able to change several options for the closed captioning including:
    • Font family
    • Font color
    • Font size
    • Background color
    • Background opacity
    • Window color
    • Window opacity
    • Character edge style
    • Font opacity
    • Reset (to change all the settings back to default)


So the next time you are showing a YouTube video to your class, consider turning on closed captioning for videos that have subtitles. Or when you are having students watch YouTube videos on their computers, Chromebooks, or mobile devices, be sure to teach them how to enable captions and encourage them to do so. Closed captions are a free and easy way to provide students with more exposure to text, help increase engagement, and improve reading skills for students of all levels.

Post by Eric Curts. Connect with Eric on Twitter at and on Google+ at


  1. It's very useful information... I shared this link with my friends everyone like it.

  2. For the most part the closed caption rendering of dialogue on youtube videos bears little relation to the utterances on the sound track. It seems to only recognise English spoken in certain north American accents.

    1. Elizabeth, it is possible what you have experienced is what YouTube calls "auto-generated" captions. Since those are computer generated they certainly may not be accurate. What I am referring to are videos that have actually had the captioning added by a real person, and the video has the "CC" icon in its listing, and can be found by using the "Subtitles/CC" filter when searching. Many of the videos that are captioned by a person will actually have multiple language tracks to choose from for the captions. A good example would be the Khan Academy videos which have captioning for over 30 languages.

  3. Eric, this is great. This is a wonderful enhancement to viewing video in a second language as well, for all the same reasons, but primarily for word connection between sound and spelling in vocabulary acquisition. Thanks for the post!

  4. What a great find for my first graders! Thanks Eric!
    Do you have any advice on how to safely share Youtube videos on Google Classroom to avoid adds and other unwanted videos?

    1. Karol, you can use a site such as ViewPure to get a new link for any YouTube video which will not have any ads, comments, suggested videos, and such. You could then put that link in the Classroom announcement or assignment. I did a post on that earlier with all the details here: