You’re Not a Regular Teacher, You’re a Cool Teacher: Incorporating Pop Culture into the Classroom
Earlier this year, a college student shared an 11-minute presentation about the economic struggles in Wakanda — the fictional African country featured in Black Panther — for a professor who was none the wiser. The professor was quickly brought in on the joke and the presentation wasn’t for an actual assignment, so no harm was done. But as a teacher, you don’t want to find yourself caught off guard and out of the loop with your students and what’s trending with them. In fact, you can put this information to work for you.
So it’s time to practice your orange justice (it’s a dance from the video game Fortnite), get to know your bae (someone you love before anyone else), and avoid being basic (it means boring or ordinary, and it’s a bad thing), because incorporating pop culture into the classroom can benefit you in several ways.
Start a Conversation
For elementary teachers, keeping up with the latest in pop culture might be enough to create engagement and conversation between you and your students. Being able to talk to them about the NFL season, the latest Taylor Swift single, or a wildly popular video game can start a conversation that produces a deeper connection with students and offers insights into their likes/dislikes or goals.
If you teach older students, making mentions of pop culture in the classroom can be the initial spark that captures attention and prompts participation from an otherwise reluctant student. Creating a relationship with your students, one in which they feel that they can relate to you, can also make it easier for them to approach you when they need a trustworthy adult to talk with.
Create Lesson Plans that are Relatable
Weaving elements of trending pop culture into your lesson plans and assignments is a surefire way to make an impact with your students. When you can create a lesson that relates to their everyday lives, you’re likely to see more engagement and retention. Here are a few ideas for school assignments related to pop culture that can inspire your lesson plans in different content areas.
English Language Arts —
- Have students create their own graphic novel pages to retell part of a text.
- Ask students to compare/contrast a written story to the modern movie adaptation or explain how a piece of modern fiction draws its themes from classic literature. (Bonus points — this comes right from the Common Core Standards!)
- Infuse pop culture into your writing prompts. For example: Are video games and social media amusing or addicting?
History/Social Studies —
- Task student with creating a social media account for a historical figure or create a social feed to illustrate how a historical event would play out on Twitter or Instagram.
- Incorporate podcasts into your lessons. This Day in History Class and Stuff You Missed in History Class offer short stories to play at the start of each class.
- Share articles from satire news sites such as The Onion to illustrate how far “fake news” can go and help students sharpen their critical thinking skills.
Beyond the benefits of using pop culture to immerse your students in the language, sharing clips of television shows and movies can help model good or poor social skills for your students.
Modernize Your Room Decor
You can also incorporate pop culture into your classroom by using it as inspiration for decorating. If you’ve been relying on the same themes for bulletin board or classroom door decor, turn to current pop culture for fresh ideas.
Cover your walls with humorous or uplifting quotes from popular songs, TV shows, or movies. Here are a few examples to get you started, but you should include your favorite as well.
- Don’t forget to be awesome. (YA author John Green)
- May the odds be ever in your favor. (Effie Trinket, The Hunger Games)
- Do or do not. There is no try. (Yoda, Star Wars)
- I solemnly swear I am up to no good. (Harry Potter, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban)
- Everything will be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end. (John Lennon)
- When given the choice between being right and being kind, choose kind. (Mr. Browne, Wonder)
- I am big enough to admit I am often inspired by myself. (Leslie Knope, Parks and Recreation)
Share classroom moments on a bulletin board with an Instagram-inspired layout and add new images to your “feed” throughout the year. You could also create a Twitter-inspired bulletin board and ask your students to “tweet” a quote that describes them or a goal for the year. Remember, they need to be 280 characters or less (hashtags included!).
For even more ideas, Pop Culture Classroom is a terrific resource for educating your students through pop culture.