Teaching Poetry Through Rap Music and Lyrics

Teaching Poetry Through Rap Music and Lyrics - Kendrick Lamar

Originally published on April 18th, 2011. Edited on September 24th, 2013. Updated version added on May 25, 2014.

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. I encourage you to use it however you want in your classroom and, if you do, please contact me to let me know what you did and how it went!

Introducing the Poetry and Literary Element 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 below). 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 Teaching Poetry Through Rap 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, but if you’re not comfortable doing it maybe one of your students will volunteer or you can simply read it.

Teaching Poetry Through Rap

The third part (not included in the PDFs for copyright reasons) includes a couple poems by the legendary rapper, Tupac Shakur (who was an amazing human being despite how the media portrayed him), 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 (affiliate link). 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.

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 sometime their friends will read it for them or they’ll ask me to read it and I do.

Freely Use the Teaching Poetry Through Rap Lesson!

Feel free to use my lesson as an outline for your own class. My only request if you do decide to is to let me know what you did and how your lesson went. I’m also willing to volunteer to present this lesson to students; it’s a ton of fun! You can download any version of the lesson below.

Download the Teaching Poetry Through Rap Lesson

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 could be misconstrued potentially. Check the versions out and pick your favorite.


Photo Credits:

Paul Gallipeau

Honesty and compassion are the two tenets that guide everything I do personally and professionally. Learn more.

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22 Responses

  1. Lindsey Spector says:

    I really appreciate you creating and sharing this lesson! I’ve always enjoyed rap music’s poetic influences but now with the TED talk and your lesson, I finally have a foundation with which to express these ideas to others. Thanks again!

    • Paul says:

      Thank you, Lindsey! That Shakespeare or Hip Hop game is by far the most powerful tool for demonstrating that rap is poetic. Make sure that they admit Shakespeare is poetic before you challenge them with the game though!

  2. Grace says:

    This is brilliant! It’s just what I was looking for! My students are going to love this lesson. Thank you!

  3. Britt says:

    This is great! I am curious which poems by Tupac do you usually use in the third part of the lesson? Could you maybe share the titles?

  4. Britt says:

    Great! I used your handout to start them off, then we’re planning to watch a few excerpts from poetry slams to get them warmed up to do their own slam. Thank you for sharing your ideas!

  5. Kathy Dare says:

    I love, love, love the thought of this lesson. I am planning on implementing it tomorrow. I hope I can teach it as good as you did!

  6. Daniel H says:

    I recently downloaded a rap-based app called AutoRap. It’s a free download with 2 sample tracks (you have to pay for the others). I intend to have my students download the app at the beginning of class to use at the end. Essentially, anything you say into it will auto-tune the lyrics into a rap beat. I was looking for rap based poetry lessons to build toward this as a culmination, and your lesson (and the TED talk) is brilliant. Thank you for the home-run lesson plan! If you’re interested, I’ll let you know how the AutoRap works out. Also, I made a Prezi that you can edit to your liking for the “Shakespeare or Hip-Hop?” portion: http://prezi.com/2noe7xkxqvpz/?utm_campaign=share&utm_medium=copy&rc=ex0share

    Happy teaching.

    • Hi Daniel, thank you for your contribution! Your Prezi is really cool. Do you mind if I embed it into the original blog post with credit to you of course? I’m definitely interested in hearing how the AutoRap thing turns out too.

  7. Tim Lalahi says:

    Amazing, I took this and taught two classes today. Worked so well. But I’m not so sure about how to then move onto getting the class to make their own poetry, however I’m only a student teacher, in my first placement.

    • Hi Tim,

      That’s awesome, thank you for sharing! I’m not sure of the best way to transition into writing poetry from the lesson, I think it’s something that you have to gauge based on the class but I’m not even a student teacher so take that with a grain of salt. Maybe someone else here can chime in with actual advice, haha. Thanks again for sharing and best wishes on your journey towards becoming a teacher!

      – Paul

  8. Jess says:

    Hi Paul

    Thanks for sharing your resources and ideas. I teach English in Australia, and I have a low ability year 9 class this year who I think will really enjoy your lessons. I personally love hip hop and poetry so am really excited to teach this. I’ll let you know how I go!

    • No problem, Jess, I’m happy you like it! I’m a Hilltop Hoods fan but I can’t think of any good lines of the top of my head that you could use to give it a fresh Aussie twist.

  9. Julie says:

    Thanks for the ideas! I’m using this for the curriculum I’m creating for my Graduate Thesis project. I’ve adapted some things, but kept the general idea (and gave you credit). Thank you!

    • Hi Julie, that’s awesome! Thank you for the shout out in your thesis. I’m certainly interested in learning more about how you’ve adapted it because then I can maybe make this post better. Maybe you can email me the details? Best wishes! – Paul

  10. Echo Mann says:

    That you for sharing this. I am currently teaching A Long Way Gone to my 10th grade English class and the author talks a lot about how rap music helps him cope through his tough times. This is an awesome pairing with the novel and gives me information that I just don’t have, since I know nothing about Rap music. Thank you so much!

    • No problem, I’m happy this was helpful to you! I’ve never heard of that book but it seems interesting, I’m adding it to my reading list. Thank you for commenting! – Paul

  11. Taylor Alan says:

    Thank you for posting this! I teach English in Mexico and I was looking for something that would grab the attention of both my older and younger students.

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