............ Contemporary Music as a Gateway to Poetry .............Authored by: Ali Rushon (PED 3177 C)* Note: for some of the links you will be directed to the uOttawa Library Login Page. Follow the login directions to access the articles (user name: first part of @uottawa.ca e-mail address. Password: info-web password) ~ People can look to me as a teacher, but I consider myself a student of hip-hop. ~ Doug E. Fresh

~ Well, hip-hop is what makes the world go around. ~
Snoop Dogg


The main focus is teaching poetry through rap and hip-hop literacy. This wiki acts as an interactive resources for teachers to explore theoretical issues and challenges, lesson plans and unit plans, and assessment and evaluation examples regarding contemporary music and poetry. The intended audience of this page is teachers of English Language Arts, grades 7-10, however, if it reaches others as a teaching resource that is wonderful, too!


According to Low, and many others (Alvermann, Callahan, Mahiri, and Koza) despite the growing umber of calls to integrate popular youth culture into curriculum, few address the reluctance of teachers and administrators to build curriculum around popular cultural texts (195). “Some teachers fear that being ‘hip’ to youth culture is impossible, given generational and cultural differences between teachers and students and the ethereal nature of the popular. Popular culture can make the teacher feel vulnerable, in that students’ insider knowledge can shift the balance of authority and expertise” (Low 195). Currently there lies a tension between popular culture, distinctly hip-hop, and the curriculum. Hopefully by exploring some of the theoretical issues, looking at the lesson plans, and becoming more comfortable with both rap/hip-hop and poetry the two can form a harmonious relationship and a more permanent home in the curriculum.


  • For the Teacher

When we as teachers think of literacy we must expand our vision beyond the idea of only reading and writing. Literacy is about engaging in the world we live in, and being active participants rather than simply sitting on the bench while the rest of the team plays. The goal of this wiki page is to hopefully open your eyes to a new way of teaching poetry and, in that, open up possibilities to further explore the cultures of rap and hip-hop as literacy tools. Challenges will arise, but the resources found here will help prepare teachers for those difficulties while keeping the end goal in mind – teaching students in a diverse and meaningful way.
  • For the Student

The end goal for the student who is exploring contemporary music – rap and hip-hop – as a gateway to the poetic form is for them to be able to express their emotions through poetry. In the end they will think creatively, differently, and possibly abstractly about a variety of issues. Also, the student will be able to interpret, criticize, and make judgments about contemporary music and poetry. Moreover, this will transition into discussions on the culture of rap and hip-hop, a medium students are less intimidated by than poetry. Alexs Pate said that “Poetry is vital to people who are trying to figure out how to survive,” and most people, students included, are doing just that, surviving.

images-2.jpegThe Importance of Poetry in the Classroom

According to the Ministry of Education, and The Ontario Curriculum, students must meet expectations such as: interpreting messages, evaluating texts, understand presentation strategies, non-verbal cues, analyze a variety of texts, develop/expand their vocabulary, and organize ideas. The poetry lessons and units include all of those, and more expectations, but the Ministry and the Curriculum are not the only reasons why teachers should teach poetry. Poetry is at times a non-structured form, which can be intimidating, yet that is a key component in its beauty. As teachers we sometimes like only to teach what we are comfortable with, thus, as some are uncomfortable with poetry, we stray from it. However, what an opportunity to embrace the learning opportunity with your students and think creatively along side them, being open-minded to the variety of subject matters poetry covers.

Theoretical Frameworks

  • A Broad Perspective9780872072459.jpg

The book by Donna Alvermann, Jennifer Moon, and Margaret Hagood called, Popular Culture in the Classroom: Teaching and Researching Critical Media Literacy is written for teachers who grew up in a drastically different way in comparison to their students. None of us grows up the same, so I see the book as an essential tool for an teacher who wishes to increase literacy via popular culture. You can buy the book directly from Amazon.
  • A Direct Perspective

Parmar believes that by critically examining and deconstructing the lyrical content of rap, educators and students open doors for a transformative dialogue to occur, and confront the most neglected text: ‘culture.’ This form of pedagogy views students as active and critical agents of social change. Students who engage in this active, critical approach can use rap music as an empowering, liberatory text that they can analyze, interpret, and challenge based on their own knowledge and cultural experience (Parmar 7). Moreover, all students can benefit from the study of rap since the discussion of its culture opens up the opportunity to breakdown stereotypes and common assumptions.

Theoretical Challenges

  • “Say It in a Way in Which People Won’t Be Offended” (Low 212)
  • Resistance from Administration
  • Teachers lack willingness to approach hip-hop/rap and popular culture
  • Classroom censorship/appropriate vocabulary (example below: Low 212)
Word from Student Poem
Teacher Given Connotation
Actual Student Connotation
Fire from my mouth
Pasta shells, to eat
Holes in my actual jeans
Bullet holes
Name of my friend
Semi-Automatic Gun
  • The above chart (column one) contains the words that were in the students poem. Since the teacher was concerned about them (not necessarily knowing the correct connotation) the teacher asked for the connotations - given in column two. The problem? The student knew that they could provided fake or passable connotations, and then when the poem was read allowed in the auditorium the students listening would taken on a different meaning/connotation for each of the words - column three.

Lesson Plan Ideas/Unit Plan Ideasimages-1.jpeg

Spoken Word Unit: Performance Poetry

from Tale of The Talent Night Rap Hip-Hop: Culture in Schools and the Challenges of Interpretation

Low, B. (2010). The Tale of the Talent Night Rap: Hip-Hop Culture in Schools and the Challenge of Interpretation. Urban Education, 45(2), 194-220

  • Aimed to immerse students in a multitude of forms and instance of oral poetry.
  • The class explored contemporary spoken word forms within the context of oral poetic traditions, African American literature, and art and politics.
  • Students were encouraged to bring in examples of rap music, jazz poetry, and other spoken word forms that moved, interested, or challenged them to share with the class.
  • The experience is culminated in a Poetry “Slam” (a poetry mock-Olympics in which original poems are judged by a panel on a scale of 1-10) the students perform before an audience of teachers and students.

Reasons the Unit is Successful

  • Students in the class consistently produce powerful, thoughtful poetry, and many were writing poetry and performing for the first time – success on its own.
  • Graduating class regularly votes the poetry ‘slam’ as the “best school event.”

Challenges with the Unit

  • The discussions that might arise, although it may be an in-depth conversation about poetry and language, someone only hearing a sample from outside the door may think differently. There are risks with controversial topics.
  • Teachers are working constantly with the students regarding the content and appropriateness of their work and the texts they bring in.

Letter Poem Lesson Plan

from Dear Tupac, you speak to me: Recruiting Hip Hop as Curriculum at a School for Pregnant and Parenting Teens

Hallman, H. (2009). “Dear Tupac, you speak to me”: Recruiting Hip Hop as Curriculum at a School for Pregnant and Parenting Teens. Equity & Excellence in Education, 42(1), 36-51

  • An assignment that asks students to write a letter to someone in poetic form.
  • No guidelines.
  • The students expected guidelines: Did it have to be to someone famous? Did it have to be to a living person?
  • Teacher informs them there are no specifications. (Who wants to limit creativity)?

Reasons the Lesson was Successful

  • Students draw upon their real voices because the format of a letter is familiar to them even though poetry is unfamiliar.
  • The activity gives them confidence to use their out-of-school literacy combined with their in-school literacy.
  • Students wrote to their unborn children and to Tupac, and in both letters referencing personal experiences.

Challenges with the Lesson

  • The lack of guidance might be difficult for some students, so brainstorming with them one-on-one might help jump start their creative gear.

Poetry/Hip-Hop Seminars

my own lesson/unit idea
  • Students select a rap or a hip-hop song appropriate for the classroom and analyze it for its poetic form.images-6.jpeg
  • The students then use the song as inspiration to create an original poem of their own.
  • Students are paired up (two songs, two original poems) and must collaborate and create a new poem from their two original poems.
  • Students will create a seminar like presentation for the class: two songs played (lyrics provided on a handout), two poems shared, and then collaboration poem shared. A discussion of how the final poem came to be, what the final poem means, what it represents, and lastly, students will create a visual representation of their final poem.

Reasons the Lesson/Unit could be Successful

  • Students will progressively share their poetry, first with a classmate and then with the whole class.
  • The collaboration allows for a certain level of comfortableness yet challenges them to be team players.
  • Students gain confidence by finding their own voice and being creative in a new way.

Challenges with the Lesson/Unit

  • Teacher should model the seminar and provide a rubric of clear expectations so students have a clear understanding of what is expected – if this is not done, the unit could be challenging.
  • Censoring the music selections the students bring in – a way to help this process is to provide a list of preselect songs, but this also takes away from the individuality of the seminar and removes the inner-connection the song will have with the student.

Resources for Teachers

  • More Lesson Plan Ideas:
Poetry as Art & Activism
Poetry and Hip-Hop, Grade 10 English, 55 minutes

  • Helpful Websites/Articles
Cultural Studies and Rap: The Poetry of an Urban Lyricist
Rap News Network: Tupac Poetry Taught in LA School
Spoken Word 'Waves' Good-bye to Poetic Vapidity

  • Videos


Alvermann, Donna E., Jennifer S. Moon, and Margaret C. Hagood. Popular Culture in the Classroom: Teaching and Researching Critical Media Literacy. Literacy Studies Series. ERIC.

Callahan, M., & Low, B. (2004). At the Crossroads of Expertise: The Risky Business of Teaching Popular Culture. English Journal, 93(3), 52-7

Hallman, H. (2009). “Dear Tupac, you speak to me”: Recruiting Hip Hop as Curriculum at a School for Pregnant and Parenting Teens. Equity & Excellence in Education, 42(1), 36-51

Honnold, R. (2010). Rap as Poetry from the Heart: An Interview with Alexs D. Pate. Voice of Youth Advocates, 33(1), 28-9.

Low, B. (2010). The Tale of the Talent Night Rap: Hip-Hop Culture in Schools and the Challenge of Interpretation. Urban Education, 45(2), 194-220

Parmar, P. (2005). Cultural Studies and Rap: The Poetry of an Urban Lyricist. Taboo, 9(1), 5-15.

Quintero, K., & Cooks, J. (2002). Hip-hop as Authentic Poetry. Voices from the Middle, 10(2), 56-7.

Sánchez, R. (2007). Music and Poetry as Social Justice Texts In the Secondary Classroom. Theory and Research in Social Education, 35(4), 646-66.