If you are reading this post, you are probably an English teacher. I assume you’re a creative, open-minded person who’s ready to take risks and try new things in the classroom. Perhaps that’s the reason why you’ve been following ESLhiphop in the first place. You love the concept of teaching and learning languages with rap music, but you’re still reluctant to give hip-hop a chance. Instead of offering a complete lesson plan this week, I wanted to share a list of 15 activity ideas that you can use with your students right away. Many of these activities are tried and true favorites that we all know, and some of them might be new to you. No matter what the case is, you don’t have an excuse anymore. Try one of these fifteen activities with your students before classes let out for summer break, and let us know how it goes.
15 Activities with Hip-Hop
Dictogloss – Explain to your students that you will dictate some of the lyrics and they will listen without taking any notes. Put students in pairs or small groups and have them reconstruct the text to the best of their ability and emphasize that collaboration is more important than being perfect. At the end of the activity, show students the original text so that they can compare their work. If you are using the Test-Teach-Test model of instruction, running a dictogloss in the beginning might be an easy way to diagnose how much of the lesson’s target language your students already understand.
Running Dictation – Print the chorus or a short selection from a verse on paper and put it up on the walls around your room. Have students form pairs. One student will run up to the wall, read the text and run back to dictate it. The other partner must listen and write. This activity is great for morning classes because the physical activity makes people more alert.
Screaming Dictation – Very similar to a running dictation. Students form pairs and stand on opposite ends of the room. One partner has the text on a piece of paper and must scream across the room. The other partner must listen very carefully and write on a piece of paper. This activity will certainly get very noisy, but it’s the good kind of noise. The screaming students must carefully articulate and pronounce words, and the receiving partner gets useful listening practice. In the event there’s a breakdown in communication, students will have to use language of clarification to continue the dictation. Excuse me, say that again please. What did you say?
Predicting Gaps – Filling-in-the-blanks is one of the most common and overused music activities, but I like using this variation. Before students listen to the music, have them predict the words in the gapped lyrics. This could be a useful diagnostic tool to identify vocabulary and grammar your students may already know. You can check work by showing them the lyrics or by listening to the song a couple of times.
Found Poetry – Use rap album covers or lyrics to help students write found poetry. At the end of the activity, students can share their poems by reading them aloud or by publishing them on a class website. A complete lesson plan is available at ESLhiphop.
Arranging Lyrics – Take some lines from the verse or chorus and rearrange them so that they are out of order. Have students work in pairs or small groups to predict the right sequence and then listen to the song to check. Completing this activity is not a reliable indication that your students actually comprehend the song, but it will give them useful practice for distinguishing sounds. For this reason, it puts less pressure on your students to understand everything, making it useful as a warm-up.
Using Instrumentals – Who says hip-hop and rap music is only for listening? Why not give your students the opportunity to bust rhymes as well?! Many hip-hop songs also have instrumental versions available on YouTube. Students can write their own songs and poems and recite them over the instrumentals, or you can set up a class karaoke lesson and practice the songs previously learned.
Video Info Gap – What’s hip-hop music without music videos? Students pair up and sit face-to-face. One student is looking at the video and the other partner has her back to the screen. Play the video without any music or sound. One partner must describe what is happening in the video while the other listens on. Pause the video in the middle and have partners switch. Conduct a whole-class summary of what they have just seen and watch the video with music in its entirety.
Comparing Video to Lyrics – Have students compare the lyrics to the images and actions found in a song’s music video. This task has a number of possible objectives, but it is particularly useful for examining and discussing literal and figurative language.
Chain Discussions – Group discussions are always good for pre-listening and post-listening activities, but they have a tendency to fall flat and fizzle out rather quickly. Using a chain drill will ensure that discussions do not fall flat, making it valuable fluency practice. To set up the activity, take half of your students and make them stand in a circle, facing outwards. Have the rest of the students stand in front of one other person, so that there is an inner and outer circle. Start the discussion and every 90-120 seconds yell, ‘Switch!’ Students in the outside circle must take a step to the left, and the process is repeated for as long as you like.
Listening for Rhythm – Music of any genre is a great tool for listening to and imitating English rhythm and stress patterns. A complete lesson plan for practicing rhythm is available here.
Rewriting Lyrics – Hip-hop music uses not only a lot of figurative and idiomatic language, but also AAVE which is a non-standard variety of English. Having the students rewrite metaphorical language in plain English will invoke critical thinking skills. Rewriting the ‘rap dialect’ into prescriptive English will also heighten awareness of language forms while giving students a chance to appreciate a variety of English not used by society’s status quo.
Reading Lesson, Listen at End – Use the lyrics as the primary material for a reading lesson, and then listen to the song at the end of class as a reward!
Distinguishing Minimal Pairs – Rappers have an excellent command of the language, and they cleverly play with words and use minimal pairs in their rhymes. One great example is KRS-One’s “Sound of da Police” which interchanges the words ‘officer’ and ‘overseer.’ While they’re technically not true minimal pairs, they are similar enough making this track perfect for sound discrimination and pronunciation practice. Start the video at 1:36 to see what I mean:
Call to Action
So there you have it! 15 ideas so that you can finally start using hip-hop. For this post, there will be no discussion questions, but a call to action instead. Do you want to accept the challenge and try something new? Do you want to bring a new edge to your lessons? Do you just want to be different and get out of the comfort of your routine? Try one of these activities and share your experiences in the comments below!