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 them to acknowledge poetry in 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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2 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!

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