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Integrating Pop Culture in the Classroom: Music

By Claudio Zavala, Jr.M/em>

Step inside the hallways and common spaces at schools across the globe and you are sure to find students wearing earbuds or headphones. More often than not, they are listening to music! And on most occasions, they are told to put it away. Why?

Instead of telling students to put their music away, use it to connect with them. Integrate music into your lessons, projects and classroom activities. Not a music teacher? That’s okay! You can use music in your classroom in so many different ways.

Put on your headphones, tune your instrument and get ready to jam with your students and march to the beat of another drum. Here are some ideas to try out!

Brain breaks

Ever sat through a long meeting and needed a break? Think of your students. They need breaks too. Take a break dance, sing and get their wiggles out! Use Go Noodle to take a five-minute break to help them regain focus. It’s free and includes many songs from popular movies and TV shows.

Transition songs

No matter what grade you teach, I think we can all have fun with transitions. Lower self-contained classrooms can use music to transition between activities or lessons. Try using theme songs like “Mission: Impossible” or “The Magnificent Seven.” Upper grades can use music between passing periods. Use popular songs (appropriate, of course) as a timer for students.

Math and music

Most popular music is played in standard 4/4 time signature. That means there are four quarter notes in a measure or a bar. The number of measures/bars can vary by the length of the song. With that information, play “Guess the Beats Per Minute (BPM)” game.

Choose a popular song like, “Can’t Stop the Feeling” by Justin Timberlake and play the first 10 seconds and count the beats. You should get 20 beats. Challenge students to figure out the song’s BPM. Here’s a hint: two beats per second. Next, challenge students to figure out how many beats are in the entire song. It’s a fun way to use music in your math class.


Use music to help students with language acquisition. For example, students can analyze the lyrics to Selena’s Bidi Bidi Bom Bom to learn the meaning of the song. In addition, students can gain appreciation of another culture. And they may dance while they’re at it!


Artists like “Weird Al” Yankovic have made careers out of creating parodies of famous songs. It’s a great example to use for a creative writing assignment. Give your students the option to choose a song and rewrite the lyrics.

An extension to this activity is to have students create music videos for their parodies. Check out Karaoke Kids.

These are a few ways you can integrate all types of music into your classroom. If you think of any other ways, please do share with others.

Claudio Zavala Jr. has been an educator and instructional technologist for more than 20 years and is a creative media consultant and content creator. You can connect with him on Twitter @ClaudioZavalaJr.

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