Pop Culture

Pop Culture

Students are inundated with pop culture and social media. Honestly, we all are to a degree. At times it seems that being TikTok famous is all they care about. So, how do we engage our students or even just get their attention in class? One way is to use pop culture.

The first step is to remember we were students once, and we had fads that we followed. I’ll share a little story and picture from my middle school days.

In eighth grade we had a breakdancing class. Yes, I was (kind of still am) a good dancer. My middle school would take a student survey over areas that we were interested in. Each quarter teachers would volunteer to teach a class connected to our interest. I took a writing class, an art class, but my favorite was the breakdancing class.

Me as the puppet master.

Our final project was a routine. In the newspaper photo above, we are doing a dance routine based on puppets breaking free from the puppet master. Breakdancing was big, even in Wyoming.

Every generation will have a pop culture fad, something that teenagers will care about.

The second step is to be aware of those fads. By no means do you need to be an expert. As a current example, I don’t use TikTok. I do let my students use it, and I have been in a few TikTok videos. It is a bridge between me and the student. I would rather have a student walk into class excited to share with me a TikTok video then to think they have to hide their interest from me.

By being aware of pop culture, it allows us to expand our tool box. This is step three. I have shared before a number of different ways students are allowed to complete assignments. This post won’t be that specific, and I know that other educational experts will create resources on how to use the latest trend in the classroom, even with the activities aligned to the standards. My stance has always been to use whatever tool works best for you and your classroom. If you don’t want them using TikTok to make a video, students can use FlipGrid, or just record on their phone.

But it is not just the tools. Pop culture is music, movies, and social concerns. These are “tools” also. This morning I used Tim McGraw’s song, “Where The Green Grass Grows,” as a connection to William Wordsworth’s poem “The World is Too Much With Us.” (Share in the comments if you get the connection.) It was a good class period.

In another class we are watching the movie, Megamind, as a part of the classification and definition essay unit. The students see how the superhero and villain are defined. Not just in text form, but also in visual terms. A side theme we discuss is the idea of Fate, which is an important part of the movie.

Using pop culture adds to our tool box. That is helpful. But I already hinted at why using pop culture is important. It builds a bridge between us and the students. That bridge is one of the ways to help students get to deeper levels of learning and appreciation for the content of our lessons.

Next time you listen to a song and think; That connects to my lesson next week. Cue that song on YouTube to start class. Then let me know how it went…


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Fill the Cup

Fill the Cup

A creative way to get students to review material is to ask them to “fill the cup.”


The idea is simple, have students write something on a piece of paper and place it in the cup. How you use the idea is up to you, but I will share a recent lesson where I used the idea.

As a review for the book, Night, I used Fill the Cup. Using Canva, I made slips of paper for five parts that I wanted the students to review: Plot, Interesting Moment, Theme of Family, Theme of Faith, and Theme of Night. Below is the sheet I made, then I cut out the slips for the students before class.

Slips of paper

Using the book and reading logs, the students filled out each slip. I made the rule that once they had identified information for a slip of paper, that chapter could not be used again for the other examples. I gave them 15 minutes to complete this step.

Once they completed each example, they placed the slips of paper into the correlating cup. I taped up their answers on my whiteboard. Before class I had each chapter listed on the board. Then as a class we reviewed what students had shared on the slips of paper.


There are so many ways to customize the idea. You can randomly draw out a slip of paper to discuss. Have students organize the examples in different ways. This idea can be used for all subjects and grade levels.

Share how you used the idea in class in the comments.

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Research Lesson Series: Part 5

Students will focus on research when they are assigned a research essay or presentation. Their work is focused. They have a topic to search. In some ways the students will do a good job filtering through information, finding new sources, and strengthen their skills in a traditional lesson. But then you ask them to do a quick search for something in a different setting…

Throughout the year I try to integrate small search activities that connect to the goals of the lesson. This enables the students to practice their research skills, while allowing me to develop creative and fun assignments.


I like using images for different creative assignments. From typography projects to finding photos for a setting in a story, there are so many ways to ask students to search or use images for your lessons. I wrote a series on photographs in the classroom that covers some specific ideas. But one of the best aspects of researching images is reinforcing copyright issues. Having students search with certain filters, making sure to credit the owner of the image and even producing images to share reinforces the importance of copyright. This can be done in any class.


Book and movie reviews are underappreciated in the classroom. For almost all literature I have students search reviews of the book or author. This is done for different reasons, but I always try to ask them to reference the review or reviewer, to use credible sites, and to write their response to the review. It’s always fun to talk with the students as they read reviews, especially if the reviewer has the opposite opinion of the student.

Social Media

#research #school #keywords. Social media is a tricky world regarding research. But I think it is an important area for students to investigate and analyze. Many students have a presence on social media, but they usually don’t see it as an area to find information. A hashtagged word or phrase can produce useful information, especially when students are involved in a lesson that deals with current events. If I use a social media search for a lesson, I ask the students to reflect on the quality of the results. At times, students don’t find anything useful, that’s OK because they went through the process of analyzing the results.

Research Questions

Like having a Google Jockey during a lecture, I have posed questions for students to answer during a traditional lecture. I place the question on a slide, with a timer, and then let them search during the time. I have had them record their answers on paper, on a shared Google doc, or just discuss what they found during class. I don’t use this often. It takes time to create powerful questions while also dealing with what to do with the answers. But when I do, the class discussion becomes dynamic, especially if students find different answers.

I hope this series generated some new ideas for you. Please feel free to contact me with any questions or comments. Would love to hear how you are teaching research skills.


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Research Lesson Series: Part 4

Evaluating information is a critical skill, not just for school but for everyday life. And we have to be able to evaluate quickly as our feeds get flooded as soon as something (real or fake) starts trending.

There are lots of systems to use to help students through the process of evaluating resources. I happen to like the C.A.R.S. process, developed by Robert Harris. You can access a condensed version of the information from Andy Spinks’ site.

C. A. R. S. stands for Credibility, Accuracy, Reasonableness, and Support.

Again, there are lots of systems, so you can find one you like. The ideas will work with any criteria you use.

One of my favorite assignments is called “Follow the Link”. I find an interesting article with links inside the body of the writing. A recent article I used was, “Our obsession with taking photos is changing how we remember the past.” Next, I created a worksheet that asks the students to follow each link, evaluate it quickly with the C.A.R.S. criteria, and to analyze why the author linked to that source. This article ended up being a great learning lesson. First, Giuliana Mazzoni, the author, links to a variety of sources. The students get to evaluate a range of resources. Second, one of the links is now broken. An important learning moment regarding research hurdles.

It took a little work to find an article and produce the worksheet, but well worth the time.

I ask the students to evaluate sources on different levels. Sometimes the students just have to give a plus or a minus sign for a section. Other times, students are asked to evaluate a source by going through a range of questions and providing information. For example, the students might have to find the contact information for the author, even if it is not right on the page. They may have to search for the author beyond the resource.

In a way, I hope that the C.A.R.S. criteria becomes second nature for the students. That the students can at least quickly evaluate information for class and everyday life.

Next post I will share some assignments I use to keep students researching even when we are studying other subjects.


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Student Poem: #4

I Wake up

I wake up,

In a place I never thought,

With people I never knew,

Taking a shower in a house,

Where the waters never hot.

I wake up.


I get dressed,

Wearing clothes I’ve worn,

Like three days before,

Because I barely got my own,

So when I go to school, I’m a bore.

I get dressed.


I go to school,

Driving a broken vehicle,

Hoping it’ll start when I’m done,

Walking down halls not talking to people,

Ain’t real friends to no one.

I go to school.


I go to work,

Work long hours and late night,

Trying to keep a job I don’t like,

Ain’t going down without a fight.

I go to work.


I go to bed,

I lay in the dark,

With thoughts going through my head,

Like I’m here but my bodies dead,

Till I drift off and wake again,

Going through a process that’ll never end.

I wake up.

By George J.

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Student Poem: #3

Lone Goose

Foggy mornings we took off,

We flew through the dark haze,

We would call to one another,

Trying to stay close.


There one cried,

We all look below,

Into the reflection of ourselves,

Finally, water.


It was as clear as crystals,

We made our turn,

Hearing other geese sitting on the icy waters,

We called back.


Trying to lower ourselves,

We flipped and turned,

Getting to lower altitude we got closer,

Circle after circle.


With cupped wings,

We started to drop,

Lower and lower,

Finally, we saw the other geese.


They were filled with darkness,

So still they sat on that crystal water,

We called and called,



Bang, Bang, Bang,

My ears were ringing,

My friends plummeted down,

I uncupped and soared high and far.


Far, far away I flew,

No friends,

Just me, myself, and I,

On this long road home.

By Sydney S.

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Student Poem: #2


Why do they brainwash us from the beginning

Why do we go to school for 13 years when in end we don’t learn anything

Why are we expected to be involved in every sport possible

Why are we expected to be in every organization

Why are we expected to fill every hour of our day, but still be mentally stable

Why is it that I am judged by my grades when they don’t really show who I am

Why am I expected to act like I am 30 when I am only 17

Why when I act 17 do I get punished

Why when I act 30 I am scolded at

Why am I “uptight” when I am just trying to succeed

Why when I speak, it seems like no one can hear me

Why do my wants not matter

Why is so much expected of me

Why do people think I am capable of so much

Why am I everyone’s mom

Why do I have to be so responsible

Why can’t I just have fun

Why can I not just be a normal 17-year-old

Why do you think you can walk all over me

Why do you not respect me

Why can I not just be done

Why do you not see she is not good

Why are you so blind

Why do people think that “throwing shade” is okay

Why are you able to interrupt me every time I start talking

Why do you treat me differently

Why I am not the same

Why are we gonna die someday

Why is everyone so mean to each other

Please explain to me, why

 By Bonnie K.


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Student Poem #1

I thought it would be fun to take a break to share some of the poems my students recently wrote. Even though they didn’t look forward to writing their own poems at the end of the poetic unit, I think you will agree that they did an awesome job.

Student Poem

I spend all day

Working in the dust

And in the clay

Knowing I could lose it all

With the wind of one mighty gust

I don’t have time to play

Because there is bills that I can’t pay

There is grease upon my hands

That I use to work the land

When the big wheels roll

With the smoke black as coal

I help to feed

The world that’s my creed

When the sun beats down

And if the rain won’t fall

There’s no one to call

Cause the people need fed

So I grow the grain

With no help from the rain

My boots may be dirty

And my jeans are pretty worn

But I’m not asking for pity

From you in the city

For this is the life for me

Despite the aching back

And the lack of cash

I can’t imagine any other way

To spend my every day

It may lack the charm

But I do love the farm

By Jordan A.

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Research Lesson Series: Part 3

In this post I will share how I use a film to teach researching skills. I hope the post generates some ideas for you.

I like movies. I think movies and other forms of media are powerful learning tools, even for research.  Over the years I have used films, that are based on a true story, to strengthen research skills. That aspect, based on a true story, gives you a focus for the research. What was the true story?

My favorite movie to use is the film, Searching For Bobby Fischer. The film is based on the book by the same name. The book is written by Fred Waitzkin, the father of Josh Waitzkin (a chess prodigy in the 1990s). The book is about Josh’s start into the world of chess, but more about what it is like to be a dad of a prodigy.

I have used the films, Remember the Titans, Peaceful Warrior, and the documentary, The Rivals to help with researching.  But many times these films have a different lesson focus than research.

Searching for Bobby Fischer is a great film to use if researching is a major part of the lesson for a number of reasons.

First, the students like the film. They become interested in what happened to Josh and the other characters. Part of the research is to discover what happened to the characters after the movie. Here is where the film becomes even cooler to use, not all the characters are real. Without giving away everything, a few characters are based off of real people but in the movie the characters are fictional! So, students have to dig to find out who the characters were based off of in real life. Cool, right?

Second, the film is based from the book by the same name, as mentioned above. When students start to discover what the true story is, you have a book to help them with some of the more difficult and unique parts of the story. Many times, I read from the book because I don’t have enough copies for every student. I don’t mind reading to them though. The book provides answers that are difficult to find.

The third reason I like using the film is because many of the online sources reference the movie, from Wikipedia to Josh’s official site. The movie’s success helps tie the story and the people together. In a way, the students know they are dealing with solid sources because of the movie connection.

The process of finding information is an important step in research, but it is not the only step. Movies also allow you to have students think about why the movie changes the story. This analysis is not the same as evaluating a source for bias, but it still fosters critical thinking. The book also helps in this area. There are major changes to moments in the movie that the book allows you to discuss the differences.

A movie that is based on a true story can be a creative way to reinforce research skills. Share with me how you teach research in the comment section.

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Research Lesson Series: Part 2

Even with options, students will still use Google for research. Especially for everyday searches. For the second post in the series I want to share a few advance options in Google that will help students search in a more efficient manner, plus share a few fun options.

Create an Alert

The first option I share with students is how to create an alert for their topics. Using a keyword for their topic we do a Google search. I ask them to change to the “news” tab, then scroll to the bottom to locate the “Create alert” button.

We follow that button to the option section.

I share the basics with them, but discuss how creating an alert can allow Google to do some of the research for them. The students still have to curate the results, but they can have the technology do some of the work for them. Side note: Google Scholar also has this option.

Image Options

Some of the fun options can be found in the image tools.

I enjoy the reactions of my students when I show them the color and type search tools.




I allow them a few minutes to see how the results change. I do take the opportunity to discuss the “Usage rights” options, but I have a more in depth unit about copyright.

Video Search

There are some useful tools for searching videos, but the one I highlight for my students is the source option.

As you can see for my keyword, vikings, the sources match the best sites to find videos for my topic. This option expands the students’ choices for videos. YouTube is not the only site for videos.

Advanced Search Options

We finish the lesson by looking at the “Advanced Search” page.

I walk through all the options with them. At times changing the settings and analyzing the results. For example, adding a domain like “.edu” for their keyword. Students admit that the results are geared toward their subject when we change settings.

I emphasize that changing their search habits will result in better resources, but will also reduce wasted time trying to find solid information with a general Google search. The hardest part is getting them to change their habit.


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