Three Ways to Use Hip Hop in Your Next English Lesson
I love featuring teachers who are doing their own thing online, giving others an opportunity to share their story and and their ideas, inspiring us all as we strive to succeed.
Today I bring you Stephen Mayeux from ESLhiphop. I’ve known Steve for around a year now, and in that time we have connected on a monthly basis to share what we are working on and to help each other to grow and reach our respective goals.
Stephen is the perfect example of someone who knows the important of choosing a specific niche; he has built his teaching around this niche, using his enthusiasm, creativity, and love of what he is doing to help English learners improve.
It brings me great pleasure to introduce you all to Stephen. He has three very creative teaching ideas that all involve an online tool called Rap Stats. Take it away Stephen!
Three ELT Activities Using Rap Stats
Yo! I’m Stephen “Big Nasty” Mayeux, and I am in the house, or rather, on the homepage to spit some knowledge! Jack and I are very good friends, and he has been a supporter of ESLhiphop from the very beginning. Since I started that blog a year ago, there have been other exciting developments in hip-hop education which have legitimized the genre more and more for instructional purposes.
In 2013, GZA from the Wu-Tang Clan teamed up with a professor from Columbia University’s Teachers College to create Science Genius, an initiative to promote science education by having New York City students write science-themed rap songs. And earlier this year, data scientist Matt Daniels analyzed rap lyrics and classic literature and discovered that several contemporary hip-hop artists have better vocabulary than Shakespeare or Herman Melville’s Moby Dick.
Now there’s another innovation in hip-hop education (ooh, I rhymed!) from the makers of Rap Genius, an online community that annotates rap songs. Rap Stats is an online tool that plots the frequency of words appearing in hip-hop lyrics from 1998 to present, and it’s also free to use and very addicting to language nerds! Simply enter one or more words and phrases in the search box, and Rap Stats will generate a color-coded line graph.
In this post, I am going to share three ideas for using Rap Stats to practice English. If you’re in a brick-and-mortar school, your classroom will need to have Internet access in order to use any of these activities. Other than that, everything that I am going to suggest requires very little preparation.
#1 — IELTS Writing Classes
In the Academic module of the IELTS, test takers must analyze and interpret a graph, diagram, or process and describe it in about 300 words. There are dozens of test-preparation books and even more free websites with sample writing prompts, but why not spice it up and make writing more fun? ETS (Education Testing Services) probably has no plans to include Rap Stats in the newest version of their exam, but your students can still have very useful writing practice by responding to frequency analysis reports. You could use the sample graph below in order to practice the language needed to:
- make implications
- describe positive and negative correlations
- highlight trends over a period of time
- predict future usage
#2 — Dictogloss <> Illustrate <> Check
This activity is similar to the one above, but the procedures have simply been reversed. (Secret ELT Trick: If you ever run out of ideas, just think of everything you’ve tried before and do it backwards!) Instead of producing text after seeing a graph, students will produce a graph after listening to and writing about the data. This is how I would set up and run the activity:
- Create a Rap Stats graph ahead of time and describe it to your students. You can either write a short paragraph before your lesson or just describe it on the fly. Whatever you decide to do, don’t let your students see the graph yet.
- As in a typical dictogloss activity, students must listen without taking any notes and then reconstruct your description in a short paragraph. Students can work either individually or in small groups.
- Students then produce graphs based on their own writing or from another group.
- Display the graph that was described in step 1 and have students compare their work to the original.
#3 — Discovering Recent and Outdated Slang
A few months ago, Business Insider ran a story on my blog, and one commenter wondered if listening to hip-hop would only introduce obscure and outdated slang words and idioms making English learners sound unusual. It’s a legitimate point to bring up, and it’s the basis behind this next activity aimed at helping students acquire recent slang words and avoid using ones that have died out.
- Create a list of slang words and idioms before the lesson begins. Have students decide which words are still used today and which ones are outdated and irrelevant.
- Have students group the words in a number of different categories. For example, you might have students group the words by part of speech.
- Students use Rap Stats themselves and run analysis reports on the list. In small groups, students examine the data together and determine which words and phrases are still used today.
- Review the words as a whole class, and then follow up with a speaking or listening activity.
I hope this blog post was helpful and interesting. Try it out with your students and let me know how it goes in the comments below. If you use Rap Stats in other ways, then I would love to hear about it. Connect with me on Facebook and Twitter, and tell me all about it!
This guest blog article was written by Stephen Mayeux, the founder of ESLhiphop.com. He teaches private English classes on Skype. He’s also a worldwide ambassador of peace, love, and hip-hop for Gallery Languages.
Peace, love, and hip-hop
Big Nasty Steve