What is hip-hop if not poetry?
Using poems in class is something that I do not try often enough, but I was inspired to create a found poetry lesson by The Teacher James. The premise of this activity is simple enough: use album titles to make a short, simple poem. You may use any genre of music, but of course, this post will focus exclusively on some of my favorite hip-hop records. There are a number of ways teachers can use this in class. Found poetry can be a great stand-alone activity, especially for warm ups or time fillers, but they can also be the main task of a lesson.
- Level: High Beginning to Upper Intermediate (A2-B2)
- Time: 30-50 minutes
- Activity: Reading, Writing, Speaking
- Language Aims: Use your album selection to practice a number of target language items. Some possibilities include:
- grammatical patterns
- word order
- confidence-building for speaking
- Hip-Hop Albums. You may:
- bring in your own collection, if you have a sizable vinyl or CD collection
- a list of albums printed on a piece of paper
- a Pinterest page such as this one, computers or mobile devices needed
- 5 printed album covers with the artists and titles cut or blacked out
- Index cards
- Hip-Hop Albums. You may:
Before the lesson starts, print out five album covers (preferably color) and cut or black out the artist and title. Then tape them to the walls of the classroom. You may use any albums for this stage of the lesson, but I recommend selecting ones where the cover art and titles are not a very obvious match.
- Give students slips of paper with the artists and albums, or dictate them. Tell students that they must walk around the room and match the artist/album with the cover art. Run the activity, and perhaps play a track from one of the selected albums.
- Have students compare the matches with a partner and then check as a whole class. Have students explain why they matched a title with a particular cover. After facilitating a short discussion, reveal the correct matches. For the above albums:
- The Roots, Do You Want More?!!!??!
- Ice-T, Power
- The Notorious B.I.G., Ready to Die
- Gang Starr, Hard to Earn
- Scarface, The Diary
- Elicit the word poetry by asking several CCQs, such as:
- What did Shakespeare write?
- What rhymes?
- What doesn’t always follow the standard rules of grammar?
- Tell students that they will create found poetry, which is a type of poetry created by taking words and phrases from other sources (Wikipedia). They will use only the album titles to write their poems. Demonstrate by creating a poem using the example covers in the first activity:
Do you want more
Hard to earn.
- Explain that they must use the album titles exactly as they appear (or close to it), that poems may only be 3-5 lines long, and that perfect grammar is not important. It’s crucial to emphasize this last point because the poems will inevitably lack articles, prepositions or other words needed to make grammatically correct sentences. Give students a list of albums, bring your own music collection to class and have them sort through it, or create a Pinterest page with 20-50 album covers. Here is my example.
- Have students write the found poems on index cards and tape them to the walls when they are finished. Run this stage for as long as you would like, or until most students have written 2 or 3 poems.
- Have students walk around the room and read poems by classmates. Follow up with a discussion and/or survey about their favorites, and ask a few students to volunteer and explain the meaning behind their poems.
- Form small groups of 3 or 4 students and have them rewrite poems in standard English. A couple of notes regarding the follow up and review:
- If you want to practice a specific grammar point, you may need to spend some extra time selecting albums that will lend itself to your lesson’s specific target language item.
- Unless you have a specific target language item in mind, be prepared to discuss incidental questions of grammar. Critics of Dogme and TBL point out that many teachers are uncomfortable or not confident enough to discuss grammar points with little or no preparation.
- Use the student poems on the wall as part of a running dictation. One student runs to the wall, reads a poem and runs back to dictate the poem to his/her partner, who in turn listens and writes it down.
- Read the students’ poems yourself and have students guess who the author is. Great for practicing language of guessing and the passive voice: I think it is… It might be… It was written by…
- Instead of having students write their poems on index cards, have them submit their poems to a class website, Facebook page, Twitter feed or Pinterest board. Students can comment on and share each other’s work with virtually any social networking site.
How have you used poetry in your class? Instead of using album titles, could you create a found poetry lesson around another text? Would you be uncomfortable dealing with incidental grammar questions? Please write your comments below!