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Lesson Plan

Highlighting Out-of-School Language Expertise with Pop Culture Dictionaries

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Highlighting Out-of-School Language Expertise with Pop Culture Dictionaries

Grades 6 – 12
Lesson Plan Type Standard Lesson
Estimated Time Five 50-minute sessions
Lesson Author

Traci Gardner

Traci Gardner

Blacksburg, Virginia


National Council of Teachers of English



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From Theory to Practice



Validate students' out-of-school language use by asking them to share details on the use of words and phrases from movies, television shows, books, and other texts. In this activity, students compose dictionary entries for words and phrases from pop culture texts, connecting the definitions to their personal use of the terms. Their work is published individually, or if desired, collectively in a class dictionary.

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Pop Culture Dictionary Assignment: This assignment asks students to write dictionary entries for words and phrases from a pop culture text.

Rubric for Pop Culture Dictionary Entries: This rubric outlines the expectations for students’ pop culture dictionary entries.

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All students are language experts. They know and have used language extensively before they come to the classroom. The linguistic knowledge that they bring to the classroom is wide-ranging. They may still be learning the demands of academic language, but they are well-practiced in many other kinds of language use.

The language expertise students bring to the classroom is central to this activity. Students take on the role of experts by explaining popular culture words and phrases that they use in everyday conversations. As a result, this lesson plan validates out-of-school literacy and encourages students to explore how audience and purpose govern language use.

This kind of validation of language expertise and the related deep comprehension of the ways that language works is critical to developing students’ literacy skills. The Common Core State Standards for Grade 9–10 and Grade 11–12 both suggest that students need to “Apply knowledge of language to understand how language functions in different contexts, to make effective choices for meaning or style, and to comprehend more fully when reading or listening” (54). This lesson plan touches on all aspects of this standard, as students consider how language choices are made within pop culture texts and how they extend to audiences and purposes outside those texts.

Gardner, Traci. 2008. Designing Writing Assignments. Urbana, IL: NCTE.

Read more about this resource


Common Core State Standards For English Language Arts and Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects. National Governors Association Center for Best Practices & Council of Chief State School Officers, 1 Jan. 2010. Web. 22 Nov. 2014.

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