10 “Trending” Pop Culture Terms That Can Make Teachers' Jobs Easier

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author image_Christine FiorentinoThis article was written by Christine Fiorentino — a middle school ELA teacher for almost 10 years now. In her classroom, there's never, EVER a dull moment, and she wouldn't want it any other way! She strives to make learning fun, inspiring, and memorable. She is also the owner of Nosh - a vegan pudding company.

More often than not, we dread dealing with students who bring “slang” or “street talk” into the classroom. Often, it’s inappropriate, and it usually doesn’t do much to contribute to the learning process. As a result, we’ve trained ourselves to hate it. However, especially in the upper grades, this language is inevitable. So, today, I challenge other educators to adapt their attitude and embrace these pop culture terms as a teaching tool! I made the change this year, and it has made such a positive difference. It’s sort of like reverse psychology for pop culture.

Let’s take a deeper look into some of the “trending” pop culture terms that can actually make our jobs easier, while also making our classrooms a more fun and highly effective place…

1. “Facts”

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    By definition, a fact is something that is absolutely, 100% true based on research and evidence. When students declare “FACTS” about something, they are unknowingly practicing stating a solid claim, and supporting it with specific evidence. This is working as a pre-lesson tool for teachers as they explain how to distinguish personal opinions from evidence-based facts, in terms of both reading and writing!

    2. “#Goals”

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      Set goals, get motivated, and go for it. Maybe we hear them say, “hashtag, goals” way too often and about way too many things, but hey, if it teaches them that it’s cool and positive to follow positive examples, and set intentions and accomplish them successfully, I’m all for it! #teachergoals

      3. “Exposed”

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        Better than terms like “show,” “reveal”, or “uncover,” this trending term is a much higher-level word for students to learn and implement! Sure, it may be presented in terms of a joke or a “roast” (see #4), but if they’re using this word correctly in context through casual conversation with peers, then they’re much more likely to use it in their verbal vocabulary during class time, as well as in their writing!

        4. “Roast”

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          In an age of bullying, where children are being so harsh towards one another, I’ve found that the term “roasted” sets a lighthearted tone between classmates for joking around and laughing with one another. Rather than hurting feelings or crossing over into the realm of bullying and breaking one another down, a little bit of silly “roasting” adds a sense of humor and camaraderie to the classroom. Of course, the teacher must be willing to “get roasted” from time to time, as well!

          5. “Humble”

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            “Sit down. Be HUMBLE!” We must credit and send a shout out to Kendrick Lamar for this one. His song, featuring this word as its title, has inspired an  interest in students about the meaning and purpose of “remaining humble.” Beyond providing an opportunity to learn a vocabulary term, character trait, and theme, the interest in this word has also sparked discussion in my classroom about the topics of modesty, hard work, and teaching kids that the road to success is not always a straight line, but it’s still a journey that should be embraced!

            6. “Boujee”

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              Deriving from the French word “bourgeois,” originally used to identify a member of upper-middle class with style and privilege,” the term “boujee” is now often used in different pop culture outlets, such as song lyrics, movies, or on social media. One of my students asked me about this word, and it led us into an entire lesson about root words, and how important it is to understand the origin of different words, in order to appreciate how we use them today. I grabbed it as a teachable moment because my learners were engaged. It was an opportunity to teach them the meaning of the word “origin,” as well!

              7. “Finesse”

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                In my day, we’d credit this one to the shampoo. Today, however, teachers must credit the trending interest in this term to Bruno Mars and Cardi B’s duet, “Finesse.” During peer editing, one of my students replaced the word “skilled” with this term in a classmate’s essay, and I was so impressed! When I asked where they learned it, they said they heard it in the song and that they’ve been waiting to use it as a higher-level word in their writing! Using it correctly AND helping a classmate to also learn a new term?! Such a proud teacher moment.

                8. “Swagger”

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                  This word has had a serious rebirth in today’s young generation, and it’s awesome! “Swagger” sounds like a slang term these days, because it is used so much and so often in song lyrics and so much casual conversation, but in reality, it’s a classy, timeless, upper tier synonym for style, coolness, and confidence. Encourage students to use it in their writing and post it on your word wall. I’ve decided to take the “ignorance is bliss” route, and not tell the kids in my class their favorite artists didn’t make this one up a few years ago…they just love it too much for me to break the news just yet.

                  9. “Fam”

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                    I have always told my students that we spend so much time together, that we end up becoming a school family, and my classroom a home away from home. This word has added to the feeling of hominess and comfort I strive to create. The trending term “fam,” meaning the people you spend a lot of time with and almost become like family with, has single handedly created an instant bond and positivity among my students. By allowing them to use this as a term of endearment, I have witnessed them become closer, supportive of of each other, and bring one another up. So often it’s the little things like this that make your class memorable, engaging, and a place kids look forward to going every day. What up, fam?!

                    10. “Keep it 100”

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                      The one even has its own emoji! Challenging kids everywhere to keep it real and practice honesty. This trending term can be used as a tool when teaching themes throughout a text, such as honesty, loyalty, and friendship. It can also be used to analyze characterization traits. I recently created a “Who Keeps It 100?” handout, in which students were asked to analyze and evaluate characters who show traits relating to honesty, and which do not, and then provide supportive evidence. An activity like this, based around being real and genuine, reminds them to be true to themselves, as well.


                      I decided to adjust my outlook on pop culture in the classroom this year. Not only has it made my life easier, but it’s also made my classroom more fun! By taking these trending terms, and embracing them as teachable moments or introductions to new lessons, my students are actively building connections between their lives outside the classroom and the content being presented in school. That is when meaningful learning takes place. I’ve even found that now, they use less inappropriate language, because wiggle room has been made for other language they use a lot outside of school. Much of that negative language is them simply testing the waters, seeing what they can get away with (we all know adolescents live for this). By doing this, I think that desire sort of falls away. As a result, everybody’s life gets better, and we become even stronger as educators! Try adjusting your outlook today, and watch the magic happen!


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