Incorporating pop culture into the language learning classroom is a great idea on several different accounts. It naturally grabs students’ attention, allows the language to be experienced in real and authentic ways, teaches slang and colloquial English, and, of course, is tons of fun!
It can be pretty difficult for teachers to find resources surrounding pop culture to bring into their classroom, or even know what to discuss. No fear! We at GIFLE have compiled some of our favorite pop culture resources for classroom use.
General and Miscellaneous Resources
The general resources listed here can be used for all different sorts of pop culture, from pop culture in fashion to celebrity news.
Pop Culture Happy Hour is an NPR podcast that covers a variety of different topics. It’s a great way to get students listening – or even to curate some ideas of your own about what to bring into the classroom!
There doesn’t seem to be much rhyme or reason to what’s included in the New Yorker culture section. It includes everything from trending pop culture to television shows to modern news. At the top of the page, the sections are divided into things like “books” and “food” though, so if you’re looking for something a bit more specific it’s easy enough to sort through.
The OG source of all things pop culture! Buzzfeed became famous in the early – mid 2000s for its listicles and quizzes surrounding pop culture, and while many would say it’s been dethroned as the absolute queen, her rule still stands. Students will love the easy-to-read articles and fun pop culture quizzes they can find on this site.
Vice is primarily known for being a news site, but it also has plenty of pop culture content to use in the language classroom! Simply go to the menu and you can select from “games,” “entertainment” and more. They also have a ton of videos that you can consider using in the classroom.
This one is perhaps the odd one out in the “general resources” list. Modern Gurlz is a YouTube channel that centers largely around fashion and fashion in pop culture, and how the two influence each other. The presenter speaks slowly and uses simple language, so it’s great for language learners.
Honestly, when it comes to using music in the classroom, your students are probably the best resource that you have. It’s likely that they already listen to at least some music in English, even if it is just the most recent tracks by BTS. When asking your students for music, make sure to vet it properly for both language and whatever’s in the music video. It will save you – and your students – a lot of embarrassment in the long run!
Popheads is a subreddit that discusses all things pop – new music, artists, and even some celebrity gossip. It’s a great tool to get your students reading, and possibly even discussing music with others. Be warned though, this is Reddit so the discussions can get a little crazy!
AJayII is a Youtuber who does in-depth analyses on songs and albums, and gives her thoughts and immediate reactions. She’s one of the most popular music reviewers on YouTube, and it’s not hard to see why! She has a friendly, easy-to-understand persona that will engage students and get them listening – and reading the comments in the videos to see what other people thought.
PopCrush doesn’t feature music and music reviews so much as it spotlights trending artists. It offers interviews with popular singers and bands, gives short form news stories on topics such as how Corona is affecting the entertainment industry, and even has some more listicle-y videos about celebrities who can’t swim. The majority of PopCrush videos are under ten minutes, with a lot of them even being under five minutes, making them the perfect length of time for classroom use.
It’s pretty easy to find out what television shows are trending now. You can simply open up Netflix and see what’s on the first page, or even ask your students! Here are some resources for looking at more in-depth analyses of television and movies.
Pop Culture Detective describes itself on Youtube as “Video essays exploring the intersections of politics, masculinity, and entertainment,” and we think that’s a pretty good summary! These videos can get quite in depth but they’re excellent for having students think critically about television and film. Bonus: some of the videos have Korean subtitles!
The Take looks at popular movies and TV shows and analyzes tropes, stereotypes, and offers guides for how to think about entertainment and even Hollywood in general. They have videos on almost everything you can think of, from tall girls dating shorter boys (and why that’s a newsworthy story in Hollywood) to discussing the different ways Corona was displayed on screen.
Lindsey Ellis retired from YouTube last year, but her legacy as a super-smart film critic remains. She discusses movies and other pop culture phenomena in hilarious, insightful ways.
Pop Culture Cooking Channels
To those of you who don’t think that food is a part of pop culture, think again! Restaurants and different foods can trend on Instagram just as quickly as anything else. (Remember when rainbow bagels went viral back in 2016 and then promply disappeared off the face of the earth? We do.) Cooking channels are some of the most popular content on both YouTube and Netflix, so in our opinion it’s worth looking into!
Binging with Babish is great for pop culture in a couple ways. First, of course, it’s one of the most popular cooking channels on Youtube. Secondly, Babish focuses on making food from movies and TV shows. Most of his episodes open with a short videoclip of where the food from today is coming from, ranging from Harry Potter to the Avengers.
Maangchi has been described as the Julia Child of Korean cooking, and it isn’t hard to see why. She has one of the most popular cooking channels on YouTube where she teaches people how to make Korean food. Originally from Yeosu, Maangchi’s food often has a distinctive Jeollanam flair. If you’re teaching students like I am, a simple conversation starter might be asking the class how her version of a dish differs from what they’re used to.
The You Suck at Cooking YouTube channel is a pop culture phenomenon all on its own. Part cooking, part comedy, and part music video, this channel really defines being categorized. The anonymous chef makes simple recipes and often uses his own way of speaking to explain them (for example, referring to the “oven” as “un-doe”) and puns (such as putting a corn husk on his pet dog’s head for “corndog”). This is a great resource for higher-level students to get used to more casual English. His videos are generally pretty short – around five minutes – and very creative, which can help inspire your students when speaking.
Goodreads is similar to a social media site, but for books! Users can rate books, write reviews, follow their friends, and, of course, discuss books and authors. It’s also a great source for students to keep track of what they’ve read, and to decide what they’re interested in reading next.
Reddit, of course, has a lot of robust threads on different books to check out! Be warned, the in-site search function doesn’t work all that well, so it’s generally best to search for individual books using a search engine.
This is a fun YouTube channel! The host, Dom, discusses different books, their movie adaptations, how they differ, and his opinion on the book versus the movie. Since, let’s face it, a lot of students will probably just try to watch the movie rather than fully reading the book (who wasn’t guilty of this in high school?) this is a great resource to use to help them see the differences and what they missed out on.
Video Game Resources
I’ll be honest, I don’t play videogames myself. Nobody in the office, I think, could call themselves a true gamer. GIFLE is a research institute though, so we don’t let the lack of firsthand knowledge get to us; instead, we call in the experts! So, to write this section I contacted the true professionals over at at Player Unknown Battlegrounds (also known as PUBG) in Seoul to get the latest intel on where to find information and the hottest games.
Skill Up’s YouTube “About” description simply reads “how bout them video games?” which does surprisingly well to sum up the channel. The presenter reviews and talks about tons of different games and shares his thoughts about them. He uses a lot of clips from actual gameplay, which is sure to engage students.
This is the last Reddit recommendation, I promise! Reddit is a great way to, you guessed it, read up on the latest games and get people’s [unfiltered] thoughts and opinions about them, as well as to catch their hype surrounding the games.
E3 Recap is a resource that collects announcements for all sorts of new and upcoming games and consolidates them into one convenient page. On the homepage, it shows the information about when the game is coming out, along with a game trailer from YouTube. At the top, there’s a filter so students can look up different games even according to what platform the game will be released on (from Nintendo to VR). Students who are interested in gaming will love getting to know what new releases are in store.
IGN is an entertainment and game website that dates all the way back to 1996. It has just about all the information about video games you’d want on it, and chances are, your students are already probably at least passingly familiar with it.
There you have it, our best resources for finding and using pop culture in the EFL classroom. Did we miss anything big? If you have any other resources to use, please share them in the comments below.
EUEEC (Using English in the English Classroom for Elementary) is a methodology program for elementary school teachers within Gyeonggi Province in South Korea. During this program, we’ll go over basic skills to use in the elementary school classroom; talk about how to flesh out an elementary school textbook chapter into a robust, engaging lesson; and, of course, give our participants some fun, practical activities they can easily implement into the classroom.
We’ve got a few rounds of EUEEC this year (the first was actually back in January!) but the next one will take place from October 11th.
Autumn’s module is all about quick, fun formative assessments that teachers can use to figure out their students understanding in the classroom. She’ll go over formative assessment techniques, how to get feedback to students quickly, and, of course, have a lot of discussion time to get real practical ideas and tips from teachers actually in the classroom.
Betsey’s module will look at Critical Multicultural Education, how it differs from traditional Multicultural Education and the transformative teaching practices that are embedder in the pedagogy. Trainees will also look at why Multicultural Education is needed in the Korean Elementary and EFL classrooms and the challenges associated with Multicultural Education teaching. Trainees will be asked to reflect and share about their own teaching practices and prepare an Action Plan for future goals related to Multicultural Education in their own classroom.
In Eric’s EUEEC session, trainees will learn all about teaching Western culture in their classrooms. They will learn the benefits, pitfalls, and methods, as well as a variety of activities they can use in their schools.
In the Classroom English Module taught by Chris, trainees will identify Classroom English, discuss strategies on how to teach it and choose expressions that are suitable for each grade. We’ll also look at some examples and trainees can create their own table for reference and use for the future
In this module Kristina introduces different ways to motivate and get students to actively participate in speaking and task-based learning the classroom. It looks at taking regular learning exercises and making them into engaging and challenging activities that even your lowest level student will participate in. Some of these will show immediate results, but others will develop new skills and language over time with active use.
The other rounds of EUEEC will take place in November, and December, so if you can’t make it to the October training, we hope to see you later in the year. As always, you can find more information and sign up on our Korean site.
If you’ve learned a language yourself, you know what a struggle learning vocabulary is. Although it makes up the core of a language, it can take hours upon hours of using flashcard apps like Anki or Memrise to feel like you’re making the tiniest bit of progress. These apps have a second problem, too – they’re largely for disciplined, older learners and definitely aren’t what kids think of as fun or engaging.
When it comes to vocabulary acquisition though, explicitly teaching words like this isn’t the only way or even the best way. In this post, we’ll go over some other (fun!) ways to really plant new words deep into the brain.
1. Wide reading
It’s no surprise, but reading – and reading a lot – is one of the best ways to encounter new words. In fact, by simply reading a language learner can encounter way more vocabulary words than they could hope for by receiving explicit instruction in a class. Through reading, the learner can also reinforce that vocabulary by seeing it over and over, and reading it in different contexts. Reading is also a lot more fun than trying to do flashcards – there’s nothing to lose!
2. Read Out Louds, Audiobooks, etc
This is a great choice for learners who aren’t strong at reading, or, well, just don’t like actually sitting down to read much. As long as the language used is high-quality (meaning, it contains more high-leveled vocabulary and grammar structures than just conversational English), students have the opportunity to acquire lots of new vocabulary words. Personally, I like listening to podcasts with really meaningful topics – even in English (which is my native language) I find that I can still learn tons of scientific vocabulary.
3. Word Learning/Recognition Strategies
If you had to do any sort of standardized test or test prep, you’ll know the usefulness of learning things like word roots, prefixes, and suffixes. In the same way, learning such parts of speech can help students acquire and easily recognize new vocabulary.
4. Build Consciousness to Words
Hey, do you know how old an onion is? Five (오년)
What happened to the three cats that crossed the river? Un, deux, trois cats sank.
What is turtles favorite food? Cherry pie (черепахи)
Super lame puns like these are one of my favorite things to both learn and teach languages. They’re easy to remember and develop an interest in words. Of course, you don’t have to only use dad jokes to build word consciousness! Think about incorporating things such as riddles, poems, and anagrams into your vocabulary building as well.
Those are some of our favorite ways to learn, teach, and most importantly, retain vocabulary both in and outside of a classroom setting. Do you have any other ideas? Let us know in the comments below!
ITTP, or Intensive Teacher Training Program, is a six-month-long training program for both primary and secondary teachers in Gyeonggi-do. It’s for the keenest, most passionate educators we could find. We won’t lie to you – it’s not easy to get into, and once it starts, it only gets harder. It isn’t all grim though: ITTP is rewarding both on a personal level and in terms of what you as an educator can take away into your classroom.
What Are the ITTP Topics For This Year?
As mentioned before, we have two tracks this year: one for elementary and one for secondary.
The elementary track is all about CLIL (Content and Language Integrated Learning). We’ll be taking a deep, deep dive into developing this type of curriculum, including creating CLIL lesson plans, weekly curriculum, projects, and even how to design rubrics with CLIL in mind. We’ll also be exploring how to incorporate picture books into the CLIL classrooms, and, of course, gather ideas from educators around Korea for how to foster language acquisition in elementary school students.
The secondary track focuses on taking a literary approach to creative writing. Trainees will be asked to engage with a particular text, honing in on one or two of the literary elements to extrapolate into a creative writing unit that includes both assessment and feedback. Later on, trainees will look at culutrally responsive education and integrated teaching methods. We’ll also get to read some fun YA books – Fault in Our Stars and Coraline sound good to anybody?
There’s a ton more information surrounding ITTP – enough that we had to create another full website surrounding it. Here you can find schedules, the books we lovingly wrote, homework, and more. Click here!
When we teachers design curriculum, we want it to be effective. We want our students to achieve their results and goals in both the short and long term. We want our students to understand and gain something from what we teach them, and to have a lasting effect on their education and maybe even lives.
This is, unsurprisingly, tricky to do. It can be easy to get overwhelmed and throw a worksheet or activity at our students that’s disconnected from our long-term goals and begs the question about what exactly is gained from doing them.
Now that I’ve presented this strawman argument, let’s crack into what this article is really about: understanding by .
Understanding by design framework (UbD), as proposed by Wiggins and McTighe, is a way of writing curriculum that helps ensure that students actually understand what’s being taught, rather than simply gaining knowledge about the content material they might forget in time. It wants students to have knowledge, rather than being able to simply memorize something in order to pass a quiz, and for this knowledge to be lasting, meaningful, and appropriate to their everyday life.
Sounds great, right?
Let’s look at how to actually do it.
In “traditional” curriculum planning, teachers usually look at the textbook first. We see its content, and from there, develop goals for our students and chart out our lessons.
When working in the UbD framework, we need to work backward. It goes like this:
Identify your goals
Figure out what you need to get to those goals (tools, assessments, etc)
Plan how you’re actually going to teach it
So, imagine that you want to teach your students about plant biology, specifically the parts of a plant
Now, in the traditional method of designing curriculum, you’d probably give students a short lecture on the subject. Maybe you’d have them read the textbook or some other materials. You might have them do a short assignment or two, and then eventually have them do a test or quiz.
Of course, there’s nothing inherently wrong with planning curriculum like this, necessarily, but, pop quiz: can you, the person reading this article, recall words such as “petiole,” “node,” “anther,” or “style”? I can almost guarantee you, at some point, had to memorize these words or even take a quiz on them, but as an adult, these words have not stuck with me. I do remember, however, thinking how pointless this all was the time and just wanting to hang out with my friends instead.
Now let’s look at how you could plan a similar lesson using UbD framework.
The teacher might choose several types of plants – moss, ferns, azaleas, grass, tomato plants, or even algae. The teacher then divides students into small groups and asks them several questions. What parts can they see of the plants? What do the plants have in common? How can these plants be classified? After coming up with these answers, students can then label plants in their own ways in their groups. After each group has come up with their answer, they can then compare their responses with the other groups. Did they all come up with the same answers? It is very likely that they did not, and students will argue with each other about why their categorizations are correct. They can listen to each other and even change their original answers as they discuss their ideas. Then, students can discuss why it might be beneficial to have official ways to talk about plant parts and categorizations.
Only then would the teacher open the book and have students read about plant parts and categorizations.
Crafting True Student Understanding
Understanding has six aspects:
Let’s see how they apply to our plant biology class. First, plant classification is discussed (explanation) and students talk about their own ideas about how it can be done (interpretation). Next, students apply this to label their plants in their groups (application) to decide plant classifications. Afterwards, students discuss the classifications they came up with in their other groups (perspective) and are asked to listen to or even change their original classifications (empathy). Finally, the students can crack open their textbooks to learn about actual plant classifications (self-knowledge).
In order for the teacher to determine that understanding has been achieved, the teacher can assess using something as simple as a test or quiz, but they could also do an alternative assessment, such as having students label or categorize the plants in the “correct” way.
Big Ideas and Core Tasks
As I’ve already mentioned, backwards design begins by determining what students should know by the end of the program or unit. In UbD, this is also called the “big idea.” When developing UbD curriculum, the teacher should develop content around the “big idea” and connect all course content to it. Big ideas and core tasks are the ideas that anchor the curriculum and represent the true heart of the topic. Big ideas have no “right” answer and are meant to be argued. For example, in a biology class the big idea might be something like “species adapt to survive.” Over the course of the year, there exist a myriad of core tasks the teacher could develop in order to discuss this idea.
Essential questions are questions that help frame your content goals. Like big ideas, these questions shouldn’t have simple answers, but should spark ideas and discussion in the classroom. For example, in our biology class, our essential questions might be something like:
What are the basic structures of a plant?
What does a plant need to survive?
How have different plants adapted to different environments?
Overall, when writing your essential questions for a unit, think about ones that will foster inquiry and meaning to your students.
As a curriculum designer, I love working with UbD framework. I think it’s helpful to look at things from a broader, student-centered perspective to create engaging curriculum. There are tons of resources and further reading you can do on UbD framework (to start, I’d recommend the book written by the original creators of UbD). I hope this short crash course can get you started on your own UbD journey.
EUEEC (Using English in the English Classroom for Elementary) is a methodology program for elementary school teachers within Gyeonggi Province in South Korea. During the April program, we went over basic skills to use in the elementary school classroom; talked about how to flesh out an elementary school textbook chapter into a robust, engaging lesson; and, of course, gave our participants some fun, practical activities they can easily implement into the classroom.
We’ve got a few rounds of EUEEC this year (the first was actually back in January!) but the next one will take place August 4-5.
During the April round of EUEEC, we mostly focused on teachers who were new to the English classroom, and who needed a crash course in English teaching basics. We did modules on reading, writing, phonics, speaking, and vocabulary. Here’s the gritty details.
In the reading module taught by Autumn, trainees learned how to start using story and picture books in their own classroom. We went over some strategies for how to engage students, increase reading comprehension and – of course – to make reading time enjoyable for all.
In the writing module taught by Betsey, trainees looked at how to plan and implement extended writing activities based on the target language in the 5th grade English curriculum. Example activities were analyzed for objective and purpose before trainees had time to create their own activity with their group members.
In the phonics module taught by Eric, trainees learned about the steps of the phonics teaching process. We also talked about how to organize games and activities for phonics, and even how to incorporate picture books for phonics practice.
In the vocabulary module taught by Chris, trainees examined current vocabulary teaching strategies, learned how to implement new methods, and examined and modify current elementary level activities to enhance vocabulary learning.
In the speaking module taught by Kristina, trainees explored ways to encourage speaking participation in a student-centered classroom. They looked at different activities and envisioned how to develop their own or modify other activities to fit their classroom.
The other rounds of EUEEC will take place in August, October, November, and December, so if you can’t make it to the April training, we hope to see you later in the year. As always, you can find more information and sign up on our Korean site.