Educators know that when they find a way to engage students by making lessons relevant to students’ real-world lives, they’ve scored a win. Bringing popular culture into the classroom is one of those winning strategies.

It seems that students are always on their smartphones or tablets, and often, educators are told to use the topics and technologies students prefer in order to make learning more meaningful. It makes sense, then, to combine things that interest students, such as music and movies, with relevant classroom lessons.

Increasingly, linking learning material to popular culture such as music, celebrity statements on current events or the way different magazines tackle topics can be an effective way to get students to speak up in class, think critically and collaborate.

“Pop culture can be that catalyst to reading and to literacy,” said Frank Baker, founder of the Media Literacy Clearinghouse, during a School Library Journal webinar on pop culture and student engagement. “All media involve writing.”

Studying film is one way students can use visual literacy and develop writing skills. In fact, the Common Core State Standards reference film–seventh grade students are asked to compare and contract a written story, drama or poem to the audio, filmed, staged or multimedia version and analyze the techniques unique to each version.

Films can be read as texts, and in doing so students “unpack” the imagery in the scripts and analyze the techniques used to convey messages and meaning, Baker said.

(Next page: What lessons might look like when they use popular culture)


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