Introduce the unit: Tell students they will be studying the ways in which rap music is a modern poetic form; In what ways it is indeed poetry, and how rap relates to other forms of poetry. They will be learning about the roots of rap music, and beginning a daily journal about the songs and poems we study.
Ask if anyone knows the history of rap music. Tell them some of the history (as outlined “A Bit About Rap Music” above) and mention some of the connections to poetry, oration, civil rights, etc.
Give students a copy of the lyrics to the song “I Know I Can” by Nasir Jones (Nas). Then play the song. (Note: Please feel free to use any rap song here and anywhere throughout the unit-the more current the better.) Have students read along with the song and then write in their journals (alone or in pairs): Based on what they have already learned about poetry, have them write about the ways in which the lyrics are poetry or not.
Tell students to bring in their favorite rap songs for tomorrow and continuously throughout this unit (remind them of the rules about what you’ve determined appropriate for the classroom in terms of language and content). If they can, have them bring the lyrics to the songs (you can find most rap lyrics online). Have students write about one of the songs they brought in. In what ways is this poetry?
Watch a video of “I Know I Can” by Nas. Have students write in their journals briefly about what they thought of the video. Do they feel it is poetry? Is it rap?
1. What are poems? How do we recognize them?
2. What are the uses of poetry? (Political act, expression of emotion, formulaic for remembering things, to tell a story, to rouse people to attention and action, to have fun, to play with language, other?)
3. Why does poetry continue to exist? And in what form(s) do we see it today?
4. What makes a poem or a song “good”?
Use the songs students brought in to have a dance party (with refreshments). Our school has a dance department-it would be fun to have some of the dance students come in and get the party started.