Teaching Poetry Through Rap Music and Lyrics - Kendrick Lamar

Teaching Poetry Through Rap Music and Lyrics

Paul Gallipeau Completely Unrelated 45 Comments

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.

If this lesson was helpful to you please buy Tupac’s poetry book for your classroom or to give as a prize to a student. You can also say thanks by buying me a cup of coffee! ;)

A Rose That Grew From Concrete by Tupac Shakur
You can get a copy of The Rose that Grew from Concrete on Amazon with this link.

P.S. If you are a teacher who is interested in earning some extra cash on the side, please consider checking out my website, How to Start Tutoring. I created it to share the business side of becoming a tutor. Some of my popular posts there are on how to sell your tutoring services and how to market your tutoring services.

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!

Comments 45

  1. 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!

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      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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  2. 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?

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      Thank you, Britt! “The Rose That Grew From Concrete” is probably one of the best for teaching purposes. Here’s a link: http://genius.com/1707966/2pac-the-rose-that-grew-from-concrete-autobiographical/Long-live-the-rose-that-grew-from-concrete-when-no-one-else-even-cared

      “The Depths of Solitude is another great one: http://genius.com/2pac-in-the-depths-of-solitude-dedicated-2-me-annotated/

      “Forever and Today” is a third that I like: http://genius.com/2pac-forever-and-today-annotated

      This last one, “Only 4 the Righteous,” mentions sex and condoms which I guess is something teachers are supposed to avoid talking about, but it’s a funny poem if you can “get away” with it: http://genius.com/2pac-only-4-the-righteous-poem-annotated

      I hope that helps. If anyone else has some recommendations please jump in!

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          Thank you for your comment! I’ve used “I Dream A World” which you can read online here: http://www.learningfromlyrics.org/Langstons.html

          Here’s the poem copy/pasted too (it’s included in the PDFs for version 2 and 3):

          I Dream A World
          By Langston Hughes

          I dream a world where man
          No other man will scorn,
          Where love will bless the earth
          And peace its paths adorn
          I dream a world where all
          Will know sweet freedom’s way,
          Where greed no longer saps the soul
          Nor avarice blights our day.
          A world I dream where black or white,
          Whatever race you be,
          Will share the bounties of the earth
          And every man is free,
          Where wretchedness will hang its head
          And joy, like a pearl,
          Attends the needs of all mankind
          Of such I dream, my world!

  3. 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!

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  4. 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!

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  5. 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.

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      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.

  6. 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.

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      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

  7. 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!

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  8. 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!

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      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

  9. 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!

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      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

  10. 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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  11. Thank you for sharing this lesson. I am a first year theatre teacher and I am incorporating your lesson with Shakespeare sonnets, then comparing rap and Shakespeare. I am going to wrap up the lesson with showing some excerpts from Hamilton and having students create their own historical raps!

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  12. Hi Paul this lesson is a God send I’m a middle school teacher at an At risk opportunity school. Focused on the kids just as if they too were the cream of the crop. I’m always looking for ways to reach and inspire them to keep their hope alive and never give up. We are working on poetry and it’s kind and Tupac Shakur research has been an enlighten for me. Of course one of my favorite is dear mama. I would love to have your presence to share your passion with these young men and ladies. God bless you on your journey

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      Thank you! God bless you too. Growing up, I went to the “inner city” schools here in Rochester and I appreciate good teachers like you. Tupac said that he wouldn’t change the world but he would spark the mind that does. I’m happy that my lesson was useful to you in sparking some minds. Best wishes! – Paul

  13. I am a first year teacher at a Title 1 school in Florida. This lesson was so successful because my students were really able to relate to the music and lyrics. I was so concerned with the poetry unit because it is something i am not the best at, but thank you for putting this together. It was so beneficial for my students and finally helped finding those elements click! Thank you!

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  14. I taught this today! You saved my classroom today! Thanks so much for sharing. The kids loved it. It worked great as a method of “backing up” what I had told them about iambic pentameter. It sounds a lot cooler coming from a rapper.

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  15. Please more!!!! I have enjoyed your resources and I would love to know how you came up with these plans and anything els you may have. I had to turn one of my music classes into a hip hop class due to demographics and although I know hip hop well….trying to teach it is something different.

  16. Thank you so much for sharing! I took your notes with the examples from songs and turned it into a sort. So I made index cards with each lyric on them, then gave students a chart with the different poetic devices. They had to sort through the cards and write the lyrics for the corresponding device. I also created one with examples from classic rock for those students who aren’t into hip-hop/rap. They were the most engaged I’ve ever seen them! And I got a lot of comments like, “Why can’t my other teachers be like you?” Thank you for the inspiration!

  17. Hello!

    Thank you for posting this. I actually used this for my music therapy session at a juvenile detention. The students are working on poetry and lyrics, how to create songs. The examples for each element worked perfectly for the kids and really helped them understand. Some of the kids even pretended to sound like each rapper that was used in the example.

    Thank you!

  18. Thank you so much! This is my first year teaching and your resources came in and saved me. I work with inner city kids and this was something they could relate to. I loved it! Thank you!!!!

  19. Thank you so much for sharing this valuable resource. I’m currently a graduate student in Creative Writing, specifically in Poetry, and am employed at a public library in the hood. I really want to work to promote literacy in the community where I work. I’m now in the midst of planning out a rap/poetry program for kids and am seeking out resources to help me carry out this endeavor. Your lesson plan is extremely helpful. I will write back again with how its going. Thank you!

  20. So this morning I was really not happy with the poetry lesson I had picked out for the day. I went on google to see if I could find something better. I am SO GLAD I found this! Thank you so much for sharing, my kids loved the Hip Hop or Shakespeare game! I loved hearing them discuss the literary elements in the hip hop lyrics. I also loved how you took the time to find an example for each literary device. You’re awesome.

  21. Thank you for providing this fabulous resource. It provides an excellent bridge for students to make the connection between the music they’re listening to and more traditional forms of poetry. I’m having them select (school appropriate) lyrics on their own from which to identify the poetry elements and teach their song to the other students. Really fun and engaging lesson. Thanks again!

  22. thanks man, I just don’t know how to begin this lesson, and of course i’m doin this, and I know these kids gonna love it.

  23. I used the outline for my first demo lesson for an 11th grade honors class on their last day of school and they really enjoyed it! Especially the HipHop or Shakespeare game from the TED talk. I wrapped up the lesson with a “Do it Yourself” prompt. I asked students to write their own rap verse of a minimum of four lines using two or more literary elements. Many students volunteered to perform their raps and afterwards asked the rest of the class to try to identify which poetry and literary elements were being used. Thank you so much for the great lesson topic and ideas.

  24. Thank you for such a wonderful lesson on the elements of poetry. I adapted it a little for my middle school students. It was a big success. The students really enjoy it. I have never seen them focused on and so enthusiastic about an English lesson. They wrote very good songs. I’ll continue using this lesson forever. You’re worth a million bucks!

  25. I love this! The Rose That Grew from Concrete and old school hip-hop inspired me to write my YA urban fiction novel “Got the Flow: The Hip-Hop Diary of a Young Rapper” about a 16 yr old kid that wants to be a rapper to help he and his mom get a better life. I wrote and produced the songs that are linked in the eBook (for an interactive experience for the reader!). Any help promoting this book would be appreciated. I wrote it specifically for the kids that “hate reading” and think books are “boring”. Much love and keep changing the world!

    -Carlos Salinas

  26. Student teacher here. I am super excited to be using this lesson. I’m trying the approach of if you put a frog in a pan and slowly turn up the heat… i know that students immediately turn off when Poetry is mentioned so I’m trying a different angle to get them motivated and excited for our poetry unit.

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