Skip to main content

The teachers using rap and hip-hop to help students learn

They are known for expressing their views on pimps, hos and homies. They regularly wax lyrical on topics such as rape, domestic violence and the best place to score hard drugs.

Rappers are not, however, renowned for their strong feelings about the importance of listening to your teacher and doing all your homework.

But an international movement called HipHopEd is now using rap music to help encourage schoolchildren to learn.

Gary Grice, one of the founding members of hip-hop group Wu Tang Clan, regularly tours schools in New York, encouraging students to write raps to explain scientific concepts.

Teenagers have therefore written raps that accurately explain the principles of gravity, or - more in keeping with the genre - the functioning of the human reproductive system. They then perform these in a rap battle with other students.

Meanwhile, Darren Chetty, a teacher at Gayhurst Primary, in east London, has worked with students to come up with raps that explore identity and background.

“An important part of the teacher’s role is to help the student make connections between their lived experience and the wider world,” said Mr Chetty. “It’s about meaning-making – exploring home life, street life and school life, and creating spaces of reflection to see where those things connect.”

And, says Jeffrey Boakye, head of English at School 21, also in east London, hip-hop can be used as a non-intimidating introduction to more conventional literary texts.

He recently used the Eminem song Toy Soldiers as an introduction to First World War poet Wilfred Owen’s work. 

Of course says Mr Chetty, it is inevitable that, during any discussion of hip-hop lyrics, conversations about racism and misogyny will arise.

“We had a massive discussion about discrimination,” said 10-year-old Lola, one of Mr Chetty’s students. “We always end up learning something. And it’s always something we want to learn about.”

A longer version of this story will appear in tomorrow's TES. Read the magazine on your tablet or phone by downloading the TES Reader app for Android or iOS. Subscribe to the magazine here. Or pick it up in all good newsagents.

Log in or register for FREE to continue reading.

It only takes a moment and you'll get access to more news, plus courses, jobs and teaching resources tailored to you