Problem: I want to introduce my students to a wider range of poetry than just the typical Shel Silverstein funny stuff.

Solution: Branch out into songs as poetry, even hip hop as poetry!  One of my students’ favorite poems to study all year is “Rapper’s Delight” by Sugar Hill Gang.  The classroom scene goes something like this:

I hand out a packet of poetry to study for the week.  Students aren’t always excited to see packets because it seems like a lot of reading or work for them.  Some kids slump in their chairs.  Someone says, “Do we have to get through all of this today?”

“Alright, boys and girls, I’m going to start by reading this first poem so that you can just enjoy it and see what it’s like.  This is called ‘Rapper’s Delight.’  “
         I said a hip, hop,
         The hippy to the hippy,
         The hip hip hop, you don’t stop
         The rock it to the bang bang boogie
         Say up jumped the boogie
         To the rhythm of the boogie the beat.

(At this point I have everyone’s attention, they think it must be some kind of joke or mistake)

          Skidlee bee-bop, we rock, a Scooby Do,
          And guess what, America?  We love you!
          Cause ya rock and ya roll with so much soul
          You could rock ’till you’re a hundred a one years old!

(Now toes are tapping, heads are bobbing up and down)

          I don’t mean to brag, I don’t mean to boast,
          But we like hot butter on our breakfast toast.
          Rock it up, baby bubbah,
          Baby bubbah to the boogie the bang bang the boogie,
          To the beat, beat, it’s so unique,
          Now come on everybody and dance to the beat.

I finish and everybody claps.

I ask, “So what is that poem about?”…….long pause, “Well, listen to it again and see if you can figure out what it’s about.”  I read the lyrics again.  Eventually we conclude as a class that it’s pretty much nonsense but it’s a lot of fun!  This becomes a great opportunity to talk about how sound and rhythm are such exciting elements of poetry.  Sometimes it’s about enjoying the aesthetics without a deeper meaning. 

Other teaching ideas for these lyrics would be:
-finding rhyming words or looking for specific phonics patterns
-noticing informal use of language which is part of the new CCSS (’till instead of until, ya instead of you)
-the meaning of vocabulary like “unique” and “boast”
-integrate with music by practicing tapping a steady beat while reciting the words
-read repeatedly for fluency (even perform for other classes!)

This poem/rap can be found along with lots of other great hip hop lyrics and poems in this book:

It even comes with a CD of the authors/artists performing several of the poems (including “Rapper’s Delight”) which is perfect if you’re not sure how the words or rhythm should sound.  If your principal questions you, you can point out that it’s in an children’s poetry anthology!  : )
Including “Rapper’s Delight” as part of my study of poetry definitely got my kids engaged, exposed them to a wider variety of poetry styles, and drove home how rhythm and the sound of language can be such powerful tools in poetry! 
Do you know what’s even better than reading poetry?  Reading AND writing poetry.  Noticing characteristics of poetry like rhythm and rhyme lead straight into including those elements when writing poetry.  Here is a set of graphic organizers to help kids plan out and write their own poetry.  I even included copies of the demonstration planning, drafting, and editing that I did for each graphic organizer with my class. 

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Hannah Braun
Hannah Braun
Hannah Braun is a former teacher with 8 years of experience in the classroom and a master's degree in early childhood education. She designs engaging, organized classroom resources for 1st-3rd grade teachers.