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Teaching Strategies | English Language Arts | February 27, 2024

Teaching with Rhythm and Rap

Rhythm and rhyme have a unique ability to embed words and concepts indelibly in our brains. By using rhythm and rhyme to teach specific materials, students will be more likely to retain information, master content, develop literacy skills, and meet standards goals. This article shares how you can use rap to instill important information in students’ memories. With the rap protocol provided here, guide students to write their own raps about themes and concepts from complex texts.

The Dynamic Power of Rap

We all recall songs, prayers, and poems we learned as early as age 4, 5, or 6—before we learned to read. The reason for our deep memories of these early experiences is that rhythm and rhyme have a unique ability to embed words and concepts indelibly in our brains.

In Hip-hop Poetry and the Classics, Sitomer and Cirelli (2004) show that rap lyrics possess the same literary components as classical poems: alliteration, allusion, metaphor, and so on. Teachers can take advantage of the dynamic power of rap to instill important information in students’ memories. I’ve found that you don’t need experience with rap to use it successfully—all you need is the desire to try something new!

TCM_RapProtocol-650x520-2Rhythm, rhyme, and rap are powerful hooks that spark students’ interests and engage them in learning. There are many creative ways to use these art forms to support instruction and deepen learning in all the content areas.

Teaching Rap in the Classroom

As a teacher, I discovered that teaching rap in the classroom is a great way to draw in all types of students and simultaneously meet state and national standards. By integrating rap into the regular curriculum, teachers can use students’ out-of-school interests as assets to learning academic subjects in school. Writing raps about texts inspires students’ enthusiasm and enhances their ability to read complex texts closely, improve comprehension, review for tests, and relate texts to their own lives.

Perhaps most importantly, I have found that when students invent a new rap themselves, they experience the excitement and joy of creation and an authentic sense of accomplishment and pride.

The Rap Protocol

A step-by-step protocol will support both teachers and students. The Rap Protocol guides students to write their own raps about themes and concepts from complex texts. The Rap Protocol can be used for a whole class, pairs of students, or small groups—and is especially helpful when teachers use a gradual release of responsibility approach. As students work in pairs or small groups, they learn the step-by-step sequence of the Rap Protocol and become increasingly independent as rap artists.

Follow these steps when teaching rap in the classroom.

  1. Tell students to use rhythm and rhyme to create a rap about a chapter/text. Not every line must rhyme; encourage alliteration and rhymes within lines.
  2. Explain that raps should use language that is appropriate for school.
  3. After writing, have students practice reading raps aloud expressively and rhythmically. Encourage gestures, clapping, body movement, and costumes.
  4. Have students perform their raps for the class, families, and assemblies. Record performances and post on websites/blogs.
  5. Display raps on bulletin boards or display cases and publish them in school newsletters or online newspapers.

The Argument Rap

“The Argument Rap,” also provided here, helps students master the complex skills necessary for writing a persuasive argument paper.

The Argument Rap by Rosalie Fink

Let’s analyze an argument.
What must it contain?
The first component
Is the argument’s claim.

Some call the claim “the thesis.”
It’s the author’s main idea.
The important things about it?
It’s a statement and it’s clear.
Where does the claim belong?
Beginning? Middle? End?
Any place can work well,
But there’s usually a trend.

Often the first paragraph
States the claim there.
But sometimes the claim
Appears elsewhere.

The second component
Is called the evidence.
Data, details, facts, and reasons
Used to convince.

To convince your readers
That your argument is tight,
Use facts and examples
To convince them of its might.

Explain each fact fully
So they know you’re right.
Reasoning and logic
Make your argument tight.

Raise rebuttals or counterarguments
To show your awareness and strengthen your position.
Concede any weakness in your argument,
Acknowledge the strengths of the opposition.

Finally your argument needs to end
With a clear conclusion that leaves no confusion.
To give your argument an awesome end
Write a clear conclusion that leaves no confusion.

Teachers can use their own students’ fascination with pop culture to draw in all types of students and help them appreciate classic poetry, as well as rap. By demonstrating literary elements that the two genres share, teachers entice and empower students to recognize the relevance and power of rap as well as classics of the literary canon. Try teaching rap in the classroom and see where it takes your students!



Author Bio:

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Rosalie Fink, Ed.D., Professor and Author

Rosalie Fink, Ed.D., is Professor of Literacy Emeritus at Lesley University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. A former classroom teacher and literacy specialist in New York public schools, she received her doctorate at The Harvard Graduate School of Education, where she was an invited Visiting Scholar in Education and won a Spencer Post-Doctoral Research Fellowship. She is the author of many articles and two books chosen by the International Literacy Association as Book Club Selections: Why Jane and...

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