First, my confession: I’ve never watched Breaking Bad. And I live in Albuquerque, where the show was shot and where everyone except me has seen every minute of every episode of every show. Don’t tell my neighbors. Or my students.

But I have watched enough being written about Breaking Bad to know it had a grip on our city like nothing else. I wondered how I could harness that interest for my own journalism education purposes.

For a few years, I’ve used Twitter with moderate success to engage students on the finer points of journalism. I will admit here to the occasional tweet about National Punctuation Day, because I heard somewhere that embracing your inner nerdiness is coming back in style. I am here to say that’s not true.

What I needed was something that captured my journalism students’ attention just like the show. I needed something they were interested in enough to have a conversation about. Something they couldn’t stop talking about. But it had to be about journalism, or at least kind of related to journalism. Turns out the answer was the show.

I got lucky with Breaking Bad. Yes, pop culture and journalism education intersected one day when a local teacher (and if you watch the show you know there’s a teacher as a key protagonist) paid to place an ad in the Albuquerque Journal. The ad was an obit for Walter White, a key character in the show as everyone but me knows. The “obit” did not appear in the obits section, but rather in the news section, along with other ads you expect to see in any local newspaper. It was not marked as a paid ad, but it was in the paper the same day a local reporter wrote a story about the teacher taking out the ad.

That caught my attention. How many other “obits” have run in newspapers about television characters? (I ask that in all seriousness, please email me if you’ve seen one.)

Curious as to what had happened behind the scenes, I tweeted a question to see if anyone at the paper would explain. I got linked back to the story the reporter had written, but not much insight on whether there had been a debate on the issue. I then tweeted this question: #lobocamp students: what do you think of an obit for a tv character in a newspaper? Raises interesting, new questions. #breakingbad #BrBaABQ. (#lobocamp is a hashtag I use with my students; the #breakingbad and #BrBaABQ are used by fans of the show.)

Pretty soon, students engaged. Some would have run it, some wouldn’t have. Others would have labeled it as an ad. I heard from students who don’t speak much in class, and who typically tweet about other topics. Bingo. We even talked about the topic in class later that week.

So for my colleagues who sometimes ask how they can use Twitter as a classroom tool, the lesson I took away from this was to simply find something students care about and relate it back to your topic, even if that link is a bit tangential. I can see now that most students weren’t going to retweet or respond to my thoughts on bad headlines or grammar or newspaper correction policies, try as I may. But a crazy show that has propped up the local economy with blue donuts and meth “candy”? Absolutely.

I say all this with some heartburn, as I want my students to care more about compound modifiers and multimedia projects than t.v. drama. But I’ll take the successes where I can.