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 and, if you do, please contact me to let me know what you did and how it went! My contact information is also at the bottom of the page so please tag me if you share this page too.
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 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 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.
The third part includes a couple poems by the legendary rapper, Tupac Shakur (who was a fascinating 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. 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 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 Lesson’s Handouts
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.
- Teaching Poetry Through Rap Lesson v1.0 (.PDF)
- Teaching Poetry Through Rap Lesson v2.0 (.PDF) – Changed Assonance and End rhyme examples. Changed the second verse example on page 2.
- Teaching Poetry Through Rap Lesson v3.0 (.PDF) – Changed the onomatopoeia example to a better one that isn’t an innuendo.
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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!