Guest Contributor: Audrey A. Wick, Blinn College (Texas)

Instructors have a passion for their subject. Unfortunately, not every college classroom is filled with students brimming with that same level of passion. One job of an instructor, then, is to help foster enthusiasm with students, so they can feel invested and engaged in course material. Pop culture pedagogy is one way to achieve that.

Using timely examples, making contemporary connections, and showcasing real-life case studies can bridge gaps of understanding. Additionally, instructors who have a digital component in their class—like the MindTap platform—have even more opportunities for pop culture pedagogy.

Regardless of how you teach, here are some quick tips for making the most of your inclusions.

Use timely examples

If you know of one, use it. If not, ask your students to take the lead. After teaching a concept—like literary allusion—set your students loose to find examples. They can search YouTube for film or music video clips, or they can scan Amazon for book examples. Then, they can post their images and a brief explanation on a discussion forum or whitespace, or you can collect them through Google Docs or email to collate into a slideshow.

Make contemporary connections

When teaching a rhetorical style or a genre, look for an opportunity to bridge to something contemporary. For instance, students may be familiar with bookstore labeling of “young adult” and “new adult” genres, so help them understand which classic authors may fall into these categories. Or when teaching Shakespeare, share contemporary retellings. For Romeo and Juliet, students may connect with the animated Disney film Gnomeo and Juliet, the novel Unmasking Juliet, or the musical West Side Story.

Showcase real-life case studies

In course content, use studies to help students better grasp the real-life importance of an issue. For instance, in teaching the concept of plagiarism, discuss music lyrics or speeches under suspicion. Most famously—and recently—is Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” hit and the 2015 $7.3 million settlement to the family of Marvin Gaye for plagiarizing the tune. Melania Trump’s 2016 Republican Convention speech that echoed First Lady Michelle Obama’s selfsame convention speech eight years earlier is another one students can understand.

With a little brainstorming, a bit of research, and a desire to connect with students, pop culture can be an exciting addition to any pedagogy. And our newest English Digital by Design product, MindTap Reading and Composing with Multimedia, can help you get started. Learn more about it in our paper, “Reading and Composing with Multimedia.”

What is your favorite way to include pop culture in pedagogy? Share your quick tips, favorite lesson, or best practices below.


Audrey WickAudrey A. Wick is a full-time English professor at Blinn College, a two-year college with four campuses in central Texas. She serves as a Faculty Partner for Cengage Learning.