Bringing Pop Culture into the Classroom

Each day as students walk through the doors of school they bring with them influences from home literacies. Children from ages 8-18 spend around 7.5 hours a day exposed to media, according to a report from Kaiser Family Foundation in 2010 (Schulten, 2010 Undoubtedly, the significant amount of time exposed to media infiltrates into classrooms everywhere. In middle schools and high schools, teachers overhear comments about last night’s television shows, constantly shout over the headphones, and witness the latest attempts to copy celebrity trends. Even in the younger years, popular culture influences the identities of children. Who has the Spiderman lunch bag? Can you sing all the words to Frozen? A Transformers t-shirt? Think about your own lives as adults. How much of it is spent watching your favorite show or surfing through a celebrity’s twitter?

Should media exposure at home and school be separated and feel like two different ‘worlds’? Many schools look at media as a negative influence on students so they it from classrooms like: music, magazines and clothing.

“Formalized educational spaces such as schools remain largely tethered to archaic notions of teaching, learning and inquiry. When new media and technologies are integrated into curricula, they are integrated within existing pedagogical frames that maintain uneven dynamics of power and authority” (Vasudevan & Hill, 2007: 5)

How can we as teachers help connect home and school for students? What are ways that we can utilize media influence as a teaching tool? Media literacy is the “ability to access, interpret, communicate, and create print, video, audio, and digital media texts” (Vasudevan & Hill, 2007: 3). Teachers can encourage media literacy skills by creating connections between media and students while building bridges across complex texts. The use of media is most often used in literacy classrooms to “facilitate traditional” learning outcomes, which according to research, is an effective way to engage students! Yet with high emphasis on student outcomes and testing, less focus is spent on the relationships between media and students. What are some ways that you incorporate popular culture into your own classrooms while still working toward standards?

Jesse Gainer (2010) states that, “…critical engagements with multiple media sources are essential for the preparation of participatory global citizenship” (p. 364). In order to be successful in today’s society, kids need exposure to the skills acquired by analyzing the media and the world around them. Media can be used to enhance teaching, but it can also be used in the classroom to prepare young adults for their futures and careers.

How can we encourage students to be media literate? When kids start to recognize that the media and literacy overlap, then they can begin to really analyze and reflect on the world around them. If they can see that concepts from everyday life translate into their interests and school, we are helping to build aware thinkers. For example, this video shows how the media and literacy are connecting by teaching literary devices through popular culture:Literacy Devices in Pop Culture

Check out the Twitter ‘feed’ below used in a classroom to synthesize positive thoughts about students’ day from the blog “What’s new in room 202?”


Here is a link of a song a teacher about the history of Galileo to the rhythm of the song Dynamite by Tao Cruz. This teacher took a popular song and turned it into a creative and interactive learning experience for students. Would you rather read about Galileo or learn a fun song about him? While students probably won’t memorize the song they are definitely more likely to focus on the topic and become more engaged! Galileo Song

Would you feel comfortable allowing students to write about video games or films? What about analyzing popular song lyrics? What do you think the reactions of your students might be if you incorporated pop culture into your classroom?

Here is a useful resource that allows kids to interact with the media, but also study its influences. Read Write Think offers a lesson plan analyzing the social perceptions created by the media: Read Write Think

Scholastic Pop Culture Reference also gives great examples of ways to engage students by incorporating pop culture into your classroom!

Happy Planning!