When we heard teachers were including hip-hop in their ELA lessons, we were a bit surprised. To us, it seemed so unconventional. How could music take the place of literature? We grew up studying Dickens, Hawthorne, Hemingway, Steinbeck—but now, kids are analyzing the lyrics of Queen Latifah? Actually, yes!

We found that hip-hop can meet the same goals as the old classics and even have some added benefits. Here are three ways that teaching hip-hop can be effective:

  • Hip-hop is exciting and engaging. It speaks to the students in a way that is familiar and enjoyable. Even your most reluctant readers will be eager to learn and participate.
  • Hip-hop addresses current and relevant ideas that students will find fascinating.
  • Hip-hop is like modern-day poetry and can be used to teach rhetorical devices. Consider, for example, the following lines from “The Rose That Grew from Concrete” by Tupac Shakur.

Did u hear about the rose that grew from a crack
in the concrete
Proving nature’s laws wrong it learned 2 walk
without having any feet

What an excellent way to teach metaphor and personification!

But how could we use hip-hop to teach vocabulary? Believe it or not, we found a way to do just that.

In the newest addition to our Vocabulary in Context series, The History of Hip-Hop—The First 25 Years, we use stimulating new ways to teach vocabulary using, you guessed it, hip-hop! The book includes passages about its history, famous artists, and other important topics. We're pretty certain it will teach even the greatest hip-hop enthusiasts in your class something about their favorite musical genre. Each chapter contains reading comprehension, inference, and fill-in-the-blank questions, as well as information about Greek and Latin roots. Can you believe you can talk about Jay-Z and Latin in the same lesson? Whether you're already teaching hip-hop or have never heard it before, this book can be a great addition to your ELA curriculum.