8 Ways to Use Pop Culture in the ESL ClassroomBy Camille Turner
July 10, 2021
No matter what age your ESL students are, it’s important to connect with them and to motivate them by creating relevant and engaging lessons. One of the simplest — and fun! — ways to accomplish this is to incorporate pop culture in the ESL classroom. From using TikTok to listening to Taylor Swift, check out the following ways you can bring pop culture into your class!
If you’re new to teaching, you’ll want to get initial training and qualification with a TEFL certificate. You can explore our online TEFL courses to get started!
Why use pop culture in the ESL classroom?
There are many reasons to spice up your class with some pop culture activities. Here are just a few of the benefits for you and your students.
What are some ESL pop culture activities?
These versatile activities can be used in the physical or virtual classroom, with individual students or large classes. They’re also easily adaptable no matter which age group you’re teaching!
1. Caption memes
Memes are everywhere nowadays! You can have students create their own captions to popular memes, which is a great way to improve their writing skills. It also serves as a great warm-up activity at the beginning of class or as a filler activity if you have leftover time. If you want to turn it into a competition, have the class vote on whose meme is the funniest.
Check out these no-prep ESL activities for the last 10 minutes of class.
2. Create your own ending
This pop culture activity example involves asking students to rewrite the ending to a popular novel, movie, or TV series. You can either choose something that most students will be familiar with, like “Harry Potter” or “Pulp Fiction,” or you can let students choose their own story to work with. This is a great way for students to get creative and practice their English writing skills.
3. Have fun with song lyrics
You can easily use popular songs in the EFL classroom to help students practice their English listening skills. You can play the songs in class and create fill-in-the-blank exercises to accompany them, having students write in the words that they hear. You can also use lyrics to identify and practice certain vocabulary words or grammar. For example, if students are learning about verbs, you can have them circle any verbs they see in the lyrics.
4. Write tweets
Since most students both young and old tend to spend a good amount of time on social media, why not use that to your advantage in the ESL classroom? Have students choose a celebrity (or even a film/book character) and create tweets they think the celebrity would write. Other students can then guess who the celebrity is. This is a fun game that requires students to pay close attention to their English writing, as they’ll only have 280 characters to help students guess who the celebrity is!
Take a look at some fun TEFL speaking activities.
5. Listen to podcasts
While you can use ESL podcasts geared toward learners in your lessons, it’s also fun to use popular shows like “My Favorite Murder” or “Welcome to Night Vale.” There are a number of ways to work podcasts into your lesson. You can use them to do gap-fill exercises, have students write their own episodes, use them to start discussions or debates, or even take turns recording students reading podcast scripts in order to practice their pronunciation.
Take a Micro-credential course in Teaching English Using Podcasts to learn more about creating classroom activities around podcasts to develop students’ listening skills.
6. Play with comic strips
Comic strips are another fun and versatile tool for the ESL classroom. Students can create their own from scratch, or you can have a competition where they fill in the speech bubbles for the same comic and then vote on the best one. For in-person classes, you can also cut up comic strips and see which student or which group of students can put the storyline in the correct order the fastest.
7. Watch YouTube videos
A great way to bring popular culture into the classroom is through videos. Show students a popular funny video on YouTube (or TikTok), but mute it. Have them work in pairs or groups to come up with a dialogue for the video. They can then act out the video using their scripts in front of the class. This helps them practice writing and speaking skills at the same time!
Take a Micro-credential course in Teaching English Using Video to learn more ways to incorporate this helpful medium into your class.
8. Become journalists
The news provides an endless source of great discussion topics for ESL students, but there are also some fun activities you can do with the news. One idea is to create your own newspaper as a whole class (you can have one student do this as an individual project, but it really works best when teaching English to groups). Divide the students into beats (sports, cinema, fashion, politics, etc.) and have them each write one story. Then, combine the articles to create a full-length paper that you can read together!
Using pop culture in the ESL classroom is a great way to connect with your students and motivate them to participate in class. There are so many activities from which to choose, and the result is a fun and rewarding lesson!