5 Accessible Ways to Incorporate Pop Culture in Your Classroom

While we’ve been spending more time at home, maybe we’ve found ourselves with opportunities to indulge in our favorite aspects of pop culture, or maybe we’re getting caught up on a guilty-pleasure show or podcast. Pop culture is all around us, especially with social media’s prevalence in our lives. If you’re consuming it, you can bet that your students are, too. It’s time to embrace pop culture as a way for students to connect with your curriculum!

There are compelling reasons to incorporate pop culture into your classes. Not only can everyone in class learn more about each other’s interests, but pop culture can also capture disinterested students. Playing music at the start of class or displaying a meme that relates to that day’s topic is a great way to hook students as soon as class begins. Using pop culture may be just the ticket to building unique assignments that allow students who may underperform to really shine.

As you consider how to incorporate pop culture into your classroom, your guiding question should always be: Does this help me effectively teach my content? We can use pop culture in conjunction with state standards to teach and reinforce students’ transferable life skills. Students are going to consume popular culture for the rest of their lives. Why not provide opportunities for students to build the skills to understand not only what they see and hear, but also the underlying meanings behind the information?

Here are five ways to build upon transferable skills by incorporating pop culture:

  • Compare, contrast, and discuss the creative liberties found in novel and film or television adaptations to determine how true the adaptation was to the text. For example, Baz Luhrmann took some creative and aesthetic liberties with his adaptations of Romeo + Juliet and The Great Gatsby!
  • Considering the role and intention behind ads shown in media can help students improve their reading comprehension skills. Does driving a Lincoln really change people’s lives? It seems like everything claims to change people’s lives today!
  • Explore the depth and meaning of messages by analyzing a friend’s (or a celebrity’s) social media posts. Chrissy Teigen posts everything from her kids, to her recipe development, to modeling. Students can consider the following questions on any post: Why did they post that? Was the intended message portrayed? What missing from the post?
  • To improve information and media literacy, critiquing news sources gives students the opportunity to assess the accuracy of what is reported. Examining what they see on cable, Twitter, and in various headlines provides ample opportunity to study point of view and bias.
  • Practice target-language translation skills by using recent songs, magazine articles, or pieces of literature. Why is this medium so popular in the country and culture of study? What makes this accessible for those learning a foreign language?

One additional tip that is really important and can go a long way toward building relationships with your students is for you to share your own point of view of pop culture, even if you’re interacting with your students virtually right now. Changing your Zoom background to feature a favorite television show or film or an iconic work of art allows you to express your own pop culture preferences and interests with your students. Other teachers have engaged with pop culture and incorporated personal expression in their Bitmojis or embraced TikTok!

Students need to see the importance of an assignment beyond the classroom. They have no shame in asking why they have to learn about a particular topic, and we have to be prepared to explain the real-world application of our content. Pop culture can help students make important text-world connections. In the end, you can assess how your students are learning and applying transferable skills while becoming a pop culture connoisseur.

We’d love to hear about how you’re incorporating pop culture in your classroom! Email the Curriculum and Academics team at discovery@worldstrides.com to share your brilliant ideas.

Article written by Randi Kessler Chapman

Randi Kessler Chapman
Randi is part of WorldStrides' own team of teachers, facilitating online learning for credit and professional development for our educator partners. Prior to joining our team, she launched her own independent business, and taught for eight years in the classroom. Today, she's passionate about increasing the accessibility of meaningful professional development to educators around the world.