The Current Logo

Rap and Formal Language?

Written by Melissa Shields
July 24, 2011

Need to do:  Post student samples, blogs, assignment, rewrite intro and conclusion, tie it all together. Needs more cleanup.

Having taught middle school for sixteen years, I feel as though it is incumbent upon me to present lessons in a way that engages students and ultimately prepares them for learning (and working) in the years ahead.   I find that if I don’t simply hand the content to my students on a platter, so to speak, their learning becomes more authentic as they discover information they determine necessary to solve problems.   It has taken me several years to fully embrace this type of instruction.  There is a certain level of control one must give up when employing PBL lessons.  The classroom is less quiet; students deliberate (sometimes loudly) with one another.  Assessment of PBL work is very rarely objective; there is rarely a right or wrong answer.


I have conducted variations of this lesson many times as a way to bridge the gaps between informal language, formal language, and slang. I also use this activity to review poetry convention lessons. The goals are multifaceted:  1) Identify slang and informal language; 2) Identify poetry conventions; 3) Deliberate in groups to agree and the first two goals; 4) Groups rewrite rap song with formal language; 5) Perform revision; and 6) Publish revision on class blog.

I often seek new resources so that my students can find relationships to their own lives within selected texts.  I chose the song, “Just the Two of Us,” because I knew that my students love Will Smith, enjoy rap music, and can easily relate to the parent-to-child tribute.  The nature of the lesson allows them to address differences, such as slang, dialects, and cultures. Language plays an undeniable role in cultural diversity, and this lesson allows students to capitalize on the richness of language that they already use and hear every day in the media, music, and at home. During the lesson, I make several points that their Southern dialect is not incorrect.  When a student asks me if “Y’all” is wrong, I respond that it is not poor grammar at all, although it is a regional expression, one that we Southerners relish. 

In the age of texting and instant messaging, along with popular music inundated with poor grammar, I have discovered that my students have become increasingly lax in their writing or speaking skills.   Many have obviously become so accustomed to either writing or speaking words in a certain way that they no longer use the correct spelling or usage. This activity allows me the opportunity to address these issues, as well as mechancis and poetry conventions.

Authentic learning activities like this allow students to try what they already know and discover what they need to learn, using familiar tools such as music, podcasts, and blogs.  The collaborative nature of the lesson helps my students develop effective people skills to achieve higher performance as a team, as evidenced in the video.  The combined focus on communication skills and teamwork arm my students with skills they will need long after they leave my classroom.

I have the following sentence displayed on the screen:  “I was sittin’ at my crib watching the tube when my boys came over to chill.” And then, I display the formal variation:  “I was sitting at home watching T.V. when my friends came over to visit and to relax.” 

I then display the following words: chill, tube, crib, my boys, homey, diss, phat, groovy.  As a class, we identify “formal” synonyms for those words. We also revisited hyperboles and metaphors.

I provide the lyrics to Will Smith’s song and review these instructions:  “As you listen to the song, circle slang, underline informal language, identify hyperboles and metaphors, and label rhyme scheme.”   I then played the song.  Many students usually nod their heads the bead or even sing along.    The students are often eager to share their results.   I allow an additional 10 minutes to collaborate in groups to agree on their identifications. 

I then assign the second part of the lesson: rewrite selected text as a group, using formal language.  When finished, go to the computer lab, and publish revision on blog (one that I had created on their school’s website).  On the following day, students performed their revisions for the class.   These performances are podcast on my website, which gives them an additional incentive to make it great!

As a language arts teacher, communication skills (both written and spoken) are at the heart of my lessons.  This authentic learning exercise allows my students to improve these skills, ones they will also need in the workplace, as well as make language arts connections to their every day lives. These connections are further strengthened by allowing them to use the tools and media they relish. 

?????Students were also able to revisit poetry conventions such as rhyme, hyperboles, and metaphors in the context of a rap song.

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