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Teaching Poetry Through Rap Music and Lyrics

Posted by Paul Carl Gallipeau | Jan 11, 2014

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I created this lesson to teach ten basic poetry and literary elements  to high school students from the Rochester City School District at the  Nazareth College/Hillside Work-Scholarship Connect Homework Helpers  program.

You can download the handout as a .pdf at the end of this  article. I encourage you to use it however you want in your classroom  but—if you do—please contact me to let me know what you did and how it went!

How I Start the Lesson

I open with a little bit of the history of rap and hip hop and I play the game “Rapper or Shakespeare” that I blatantly stole from Akala’s TED talk (which you can watch on YouTube here).

The “Rapper or Shakespeare” game is easy, you read a line and  ask the audience or class if it was written by Shakespeare or a rapper.  I did a speech on this at my Toastmasters club and people guess wrong  all the time which kind of forces “rap skeptics” to acknowledge the  poetic nature of rap.

What the Lesson Covers

The first part covers defining ten common literary elements.  The ten elements covered are as follows: simile, metaphor,  personification, hyperbole, alliteration, assonance, consonance,  onomatopoeia, repetition, and rhyme (end rhymes and internal rhymes).

Each element is defined and has examples lines from a rap  song to demonstrate its use. I read the definition and then call on  volunteers to either read the example or come up with their own.

The second part has four quotes from four different raps for  students to go through and identify each instance of a literary element  being used (as well as what that literary element is). I have students  break up into groups to do this part cooperatively and then I give them a  chance to share afterwards.

When we start going over the lines, I personally rap each  part for the students (they get a kick out of it), but if you’re not  comfortable doing it maybe one of your students will volunteer or you  can simply read it.

The third part includes a couple poems by the iconic rapper, Tupac Shakur, as well as poet Langston Hughes.  These poems can be used to identify literary elements and/or compare  and contrast the poems. Students can go over the similarities and  differences between the poems as well as rap music.


A book that I highly recommend is Tupac Shakur’s The Rose that Grew from Concrete.  Not only does it have some awesome poems, but it also includes scans of  the actual poems with Tupac’s handwriting and doodles. The students  really loved seeing it. I give a copy out as a prize for participation  when I present my lesson.

Concluding the Rap Lesson

To conclude the lesson, I give students the opportunity to  write their own poems and raps that they can later share with the class  if they want to. I’ve had great success with this; some students have  even pulled out their own personal notebooks of poems that they’ve  already written and are eager to share. It’s incredible to listen to the  art they create.

Some students are too shy to read their own work so some time  their friends will read it for them or they’ll ask me to read it and I  do.

Freely use this lesson!

Feel free to use my lesson as an outline for your own class. My only request if you do decide to is to message me and let me know what you did and how your lesson went.

If the lesson is helpful to you and you’d like to show some appreciation, you can buy me a beer 😁. You could also buy a copy of Tupac’s poetry book for your classroom (or as a prize for a student) from that link and  Amazon will give me a small percentage of the sale at no additional cost  to you.

Download the Lesson’s Handout

I have been revising the versions to keep modern examples and  to clean up some oversights. There is no swearing in any of the  examples but the first version does have some content that is  suggestive.

How other people have used this lesson

Here are some more resources around this lesson. If you write about this lesson or create a resource from it please let me know and I’ll add you to this list!

I've redone my website a few times since this post was originally written. Since I moved away from using WordPress and started using Versoly, I lost all of the comments n this post. I did take a screenshot of those comments though! So if you want to read them, you can view them in this image (0.6MB). Best wishes! - Paul

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