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Creating Relevance During Remote Instruction

How to Leverage Pop Culture and Social Media to Keep Students Engaged

By Christina Quarelli, K-8 Curriculum Specialist at McGraw Hill

Part 3 of our series, “Make Every Remote Learning Moment Count,” where we explore no-plan strategies to boost student engagement quickly.

Teachers can keep their class attentive by experimenting with both the mode and medium of their attention grabbers, instruction of various skills, as well as how students show evidence of their learning back to the teacher.

Students may easily grow tired of the overused call/responses such as, “1,2,3 Eyes on Me!”, “Class, Class” or clapping patterns in the elementary setting. Of course, this will depend greatly on the age of your students, but using current taglines, top 40 music, theme songs, quotes from THEIR favorite movies or commercials for them to complete will surely get their attention.

Generate Enthusiasm with Recongizable Taglines

Here are some fun examples to try. There are several online, but have fun coming up with your own, and consider having students create some as well to generate enthusiasm and ownership.

Varying how you grab the attention of your whole class will create relevance and be a fun brain break and recalibration for everyone. If you decide to diversify your attention-grabbing portfolio, remember to continue to add to it and keep it updated, adding new ones throughout the year and class to class. What worked just a couple of years ago may not speak to your current roster of students.

Use Familiar Multimedia to Reinforce Concepts

In addition to establishing relevance to refocus students, another sure-fire way to invite students into a new concept is to introduce it using multimedia from their everyday lives. Using familiar movie clips or lyrics from songs will surely pull them in. All movies started as scripts and songs are in verse form (poetry), so ELA skills and strategies are a perfect fit here, especially when it comes to figurative language or symbolism.

For example, symbolism can be easily introduced with a short clip of an animation. Watch this 4-minute clip about the story of Carl and Ellie from Disney/Pixar’s movie UP and think about what the symbolism is or how characters grow/change over time. Current television commercials can also highlight various propaganda techniques and well-known songs or speeches are a fantastic way to introduce, teach, or even assess various forms of figurative language. Try listening to Martin Luther King Jr.’s I Have a Dream speech and see if you can identify all of the metaphors! These could also be fun activities to use as formative assessment.

Ask Students to Show Their Learning

High engagement and buy-in can be ignited by what teachers ask students to do to show their learning. Ask yourself:

  • How are students showcasing their knowledge?
  • What are students using or creating to provide evidence of their learning?
  • What products can be assessed and/or inform instruction?
  • Other than assessments and daily classwork, what other projects are students working on and what do those look like?
  • Are you relying more on worksheets for students to complete asynchronously? How engaging are these items?

Give Students Choice

A very powerful way for students to engage in project-based learning is by giving them choice in their products. Choice boards or menus are nothing new but consider what choices you offer.

Simulating a current medium from their world — such as the latest and greatest social media platform that many of your students are using daily — might just empower them to put their best foot forward and be invested in the work they are producing.

Whether that’s creating hashtags with a single image (Instagram), creating a 1-minute video (Tik Tok), or writing a concise 140 character synthesis (Twitter), allowing students to utilize their “language” to communicate their learning will put them in a familiar environment which they will appreciate and enjoy.

When studying a famous person or reading a biography, for example, creating a social media page for that person with required attributes will not only be fun for students who engage in social media, but will help them organize their thoughts around it. The same could be done for the setting of a story or representing certain time periods. If students were studying Nellie Bly, for example, what would her status say? Who would her friends be? What pages would she follow? With some guidelines and clear expectations, your students might just surprise you in what they produce!

Get to Know Your Students Well

Whatever you decide to implement, you’ll need to know your students well to do it well. Make the back-to-school inventory/survey at the beginning of the year specific and intentional. You can create a second one for after Winter Break.

Stay current by asking questions during class in-between/transition time. Favorite cartoons, songs, YouTube stars, bloggers, well-known commercials, or preferred social media platforms will allow you to speak their language, resulting in improved student engagement.

It will also start shifting the tone of your class, because students will feel more valued, heard, and respected simply by your effort to stay relevant.

For more on how to make the most of every virtual learning moment, download the guide below!

Christina Quarelli is a K-8 Curriculum Specialist at McGraw Hill. Christina, a former K–8 teacher of 18 years, specializes in gifted education. She holds a Master of Education degree in Educational Counseling and has worked as both a teacher mentor and instructional coach focusing on best practices for engagement and maximizing learner potential. Christina is currently a K–8 curriculum specialist for McGraw Hill and resides in Phoenix, Arizona. Most recently, Christina has created teacher supports and resources for those transitioning to teaching their core content remotely.



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