Using rap as a vehicle for developing unseen poetry analysing skills
This is me. I am not ashamed to say, I am probably the least 'down with the kids' person in the entire world. I once even called 'Snap Chat,' 'Chat Snap' - to the great hilarity of my pupils.
So it was with a small amount of trepidation that I decided to follow in the footsteps of some of the fabulous educators I follow online and to dip my toe in the river of rap as a way of helping students develop their skills of analysing unseen poetry. Of course, I have used song lyrics for this purpose before - but I always stuck to bands I liked. I have a brilliant series of lessons on Smiths' lyrics which I may blog about some other time. But after stumbling across some resources on Iambic Pentameter and Eminem, I thought I would give it a go.
I can't take any credit for coming up with the idea of the two songs I started out with - my resources were based on a PowerPoint from TES here
. Analysing Tupac and J. Cole together worked really well as although they mention similar issues in both of the songs, one has a much angrier tone. I sometimes find mood and tone is something which my pupils have particular difficulty commenting on, so this helped them to understand what sort of comments I was looking for.
My year 10 class particularly loved the comparison between the following lines:
"It ain't a secret, don't conceal the factThe penitentiary's packed and it's filled with blacks
" In Tupac
- and -
"Asking the Father for forgiveness, got 'em overwhelmed (Please, God, I want to go to Heaven)As if He's spiteful like them white folks that control the jail
" in J. Cole.
These lyrics in particular gave an opportunity for a rich analysis of tone and the nuances of using particular words. They picked up on the plosives in Tupac's "penitentiary's packed" and commented on how he is angry but seems to possibly place the blame on the police or authority/government/society. Whereas, the use of "spiteful" and "control" more directly blame white people as an oppressive race. I live in a very white area, so it was refreshing to hear pupils talk thoughtfully about colonialism and hearing them consider the daily struggles of POC.
This also led to an interesting discussion on police brutality both in this country and the US. It would have been a brilliant opportunity to do some interleaving to Language Paper 2 skills here as there is an excellent Reggie Yates' documentary about race riots in the USA, where he follows a young black male who is arrested for having sagging pants. There is a clip here
which would be really great stimulus for doing some transactional writing.
After this introduction, I did a lesson on Stormzy, using his song 'The Crown.' We started the lesson with this picture on the board:
I asked students to write five adjectives on a post it note to describe how they would feel if they were walking down the street and saw this gang and to stick their post it notes onto the white board when they were finished. A student volunteer then came to the front and read out some of the answers. Unsurprisingly, many of the adjectives were quite negative and we spoke about why that might be. One student spoke up about how this was unfair and that the picture just looked like most teens on a Friday night as there is nowhere to go and that society unfairly judge teenagers in hoodies by stereotyping that they are all causing trouble.
I then gave each row a newspaper headline I had printed out about teenagers. I found these by just doing a quick Google search, but they included ones such as:
EXCLUSIVE: Mob of schoolboys 'fuelled by VODKA from a pre-GCSE exam party' destroyed treasured model railway exhibition, claims 'mortified' mother
- or -
Bike yob crashes into a Mercedes as he does WHEELIES while weaving through traffic - but then surrounds the motorist with mob of friends as they blame the DRIVER
Each row discussed the connotations of how teenagers were being presented in the press and whether they thought it was fair that as teenagers themselves, they should shoulder the blame for how all teenagers behaved. This set the tone up really well for analysing 'The Crown' as in it, Stormzy raps about his frustration with having to be the voice seen as representing all young black males. The YouTube video is here.
I am not a huge fan of acronyms, but until my class is confident, I have given them a structure to analyse unseen poetry using TILL: Title, Ideas, Language, Layout. Once they become more confident, many will no longer need it. So, when analysing the lyrics, each member of a group of four worked alone to take responsibility in exploring an element of TILL in the lyrics and then came together to team teach the rest of their group what they had come up with. Through this discussion, they could then annotate the lyrics with different layers of meaning as some disagreed on what things could suggest.
I felt it was a really useful activity, which will lead in nicely to analysing the Power and Conflict poetry next half term. One of the kids even called me "fresh" which I am saving in the compliments bank for the next time I say something embarrassing.