Supporting Learning with Live Webcams

During the pandemic, something I discovered about myself was that I absolutely adore live webcams. Whether it was laughing at baby kittens play with each other, watching the sunset in Croatia while eating lunch, or experiencing heavy snowstorms in other parts of the country, live webcams, especially those on YouTube, really helped me to pass the time and stay engaged in the world around me when I needed to stay inside. This was especially helpful for me during the pandemic because I am largely extroverted and I absolutely love to travel. Especially during the winter, I enjoyed watching ski resorts, snow falling in mountains, and also people riding the waves on tropical beaches. Now that vaccination rates are going up and life is returning to normal, I’m beginning to consider how these live webcams can be integrated into library engagement and collaboration. There are so many possibilities!

Live Webcam Basics

One of the first things I learned about live webcams is that there are a LOT of them. Whether it is animals, city skylines, underwater ocean views, or anything else your mind can imagine, there are probably webcams for that! Also, to get the most results, I searched YouTube and included the words live stream, webcam, and live cam–everyone calls it something different. While many are on YouTube, there are some great websites that provide live webcams too, including many aquariums and zoos. Some webcams have the ability to rewind and go back in time, and others keep you in real time. Occasionally, not much is happening; the animals may be off camera or it’s just a sunny day in the mountains. Other times, you might see fish swimming, volcanoes exploding, and bison drinking from the watering hole. You have to be prepared for everything and nothing to be happening!

Like anything else, be sure to preview the live webcam before showing to students so you know what to expect. For live webcams on YouTube, ads might play beforehand or in some of the most popular live streams, a chat box can be seen on the right side. To just see the livestream, be sure you click the far-right icon at the bottom of the video to make it full screen. This helps students to focus on the webcam you are showing! 

Supporting Learning with Live Webcams

Regardless of your school’s age range, there are lots of possibilities for incorporating live webcams into student learning. For example, if students are learning about how to ask questions or you are using the Question Formulation Technique (QFT) to start an inquiry project, consider using a relevant livestream to have students practice asking questions. In a similar way, you could use the See/Think/Wonder learning structure–or the I Notice/I Wonder structure–to practice making observations that lead to being curious about something they notice in the live webcam. 

Here are some other ideas:

  • For older students, consider using live webcams to support creative writing skills, whether you have a dedicated class at your school or your English teachers are doing a creative writing assignment. Invite students to write a description about the scene they are observing using literary techniques or formats they are learning in class. As an alternative, students can pick a person or animal in the live webcam and use them as a character in a story they are creating or for perspective writing; how might that person’s or animal’s experience be different from another person’s or animal’s experience in the live webcam scene?
  • For students studying another language, consider collaborating with their teacher to locate a live webcam from a country that speaks the language they are studying; it may help students understand more about the culture when viewing in real time. After watching the livestream, students may want to extend their knowledge by viewing the landmarks they see on a Google Map, learning more about the country’s geography, or deepening their research of the country.
  • Live webcams can also support background knowledge or give a new experience to students before an activity or book club. Using live webcams helps provide students with access to experiences that are unfamiliar to them, including falling snow, breezy beaches, lush tropical scenes, serene mountains, exploding volcanoes, and more. Students may not know how flamingos, sharks, bears, or penguins live, but live webcams can bring that learning to them. Many students may not have the ability to enjoy these locations or animals on their own or with their families, but as librarians, we have the ability through YouTube and other reputable websites to support their learning and understanding of the world around them.

Finally, there are lots of webcams that are great to stream in your library to calm students or engage individually, including fish swimming in aquariums, waves washing up on a beach, or wood crackling in a fireplace. These can create an ambience in your library that can help students feel cozy and productive in your space.

I encourage you to spend some time this summer exploring webcams for yourself–just to enjoy. You might start exploring my recommendations list, or on YouTube, simply search “live animal webcams” or search for a place you like to visit (i.e., California live webcams). You never know what might inspire you–or your students!

Featured image, Travel the World Clipart, from Jithu at

Author: Rachel Grover

Rachel Grover is a middle school librarian in Fairfax County, Virginia, and a member of the board of directors for the Virginia Association of School Librarians. She has published articles on ways to make school libraries accessible for Knowledge Quest and on genrefying the library collection for School Library Connection. She also has developed workshops for beginning librarians for School Library Connection. Rachel was an elementary school teacher for two years before beginning life as a middle-school English teacher in 2009. In 2014, she joined Libraryland, finding a dream job she didn’t even know was her dream! When she is not working, she loves reading, tinkering with technology, traveling, taking photographs, and sleeping in. Her passions include genrefication, makerspaces, technology, collaboration with teachers across the curriculum, and making school libraries equitable and accessible for all learners.

Categories: Blog Topics, Community/Teacher Collaboration, Student Engagement/ Teaching Models

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