Guiding Students Down that “Old Town Road:” Writing Pedagogy, Relatability and the Sitch

Lynn D. Zimmerman, PhD
Governors State University
University Park, Illinois, USA


This study draws on media literacy to suggest pedagogical techniques that aim to combat boredom and enhance student engagement in freshman writing classes. Students often complain they cannot relate to course work; they maintain that course materials do not connect to their real lives and are therefore uninteresting. Because writing classes can serve as an introduction to academic discourse and skillful writing promotes academic success, negative attitudes about writing matter. Instructors craft courses to achieve learning outcomes but also to foster the habits of mind effective writing demands. I contend that discussing and writing about timely, controversial topics from students’ social media feeds teaches them to identify the complex power structures at play in the materials they do find pertinent. Students gain confidence by demonstrating adept understandings of contentious issues and, in fostering this process, instructors neutralize the relatability problem by allowing students to choose the topics they deem compelling.

Keywords: Freshman writing, media literacy, student engagement, lesson plans, social media, pedagogical techniques

Author(s) Bio

Lynn D. Zimmerman is a native of Cleveland, Ohio and English professor who has taught at Kent State University, Case Western Reserve University, John Carroll University, and Notre Dame College. Most recently she served as a visiting professor for Governors State University in Illinois. Her areas of teaching and scholarly interests include American Militia and Domestic Terrorism Discourse; Modern and Contemporary Novel; Horror Literature; British Victorian Literature; and Popular Culture Studies. Her article titled “Singing Truth to Power: Folk Music and Political Resistance in Steven Conrad’s Patriot” is forthcoming this spring in The Popular Culture Studies Journal. She is currently working on a project that explores metatextuality and counterfactuals in the standup comedy of Jim Gaffigan.  Zimmerman completed her BA and MA in English from John Carroll University and her PhD in English from Kent State University. More information can be found at Lynn Zimmerman PhD | LinkedIn and she can also be reached via

Suggested Citation


Zimmerman, L. D. (2021). Guiding students down that “Old Town Road:” Writing pedagogy, relatability and the sitch. Dialogue: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Popular Culture and Pedagogy. 8(1).


Zimmerman, Lynn D. “Guiding Students Down that “Old Town Road:” Writing Pedagogy,  Relatability and the Sitch.” Dialogue: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Popular Culture and Pedagogy. vol. 8 , no. 1, 2021.

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