How To Use Hip-hop As A Teaching Tool For Vocabulary Repetition

How to use hip-hop as a teaching tool for vocabulary repetition

With widespread learning loss at an all-time high across the country, providing students with opportunities to accelerate their learning is now more crucial than ever. The term ‘learning poverty’ perhaps shines the best light on this problem that continues to plague our youth. According to Herbert & Saavedra (2021), learning poverty refers to anyone unable to read and understand the basic text by the age of 10. The authors go on to explain that at least 53% of our young people are considered to be living in learning poverty. An important and foundational step to understanding these basic texts is vocabulary attainment; without developing knowledge of tier 1 and tier 2 vocabulary terms, students are unlikely to be able to work their way out of learning poverty. So what do we do?

Student using building blocks

Why is repetition important in vocabulary?

The beauty and secret of learning are often wrapped neatly in repetition. Repetition is an essential learning tool that, through practice, makes learning easier. It makes sense that an intentional effort to create these opportunities for students may greatly impact their reading and, just as importantly, their understanding of vocabulary.

How many exposures does it take to learn a word?

The US Department of Education recommends 17 exposures to vocabulary words to help students master them (Bennett, 2019). This research explicitly states that these exposures should happen intermittently and not consecutively. In other words, teachers may introduce new vocabulary words to their students at the start of class (first exposure) and revisit them 30 minutes later with a drawing activity involving those same vocabulary words (second exposure). A third exposure might include the words being made part of a homework assignment. We recognize that based on where students are in their learning, they may require more or fewer exposures than this ‘magic number’ of 17.

How to use hip-hop as a teaching tool for vocabulary repetition

Vocabulary exposures with Flocabulary bar graph

Bring Flocabulary into your classroom

Flocabulary is a K-12 digital platform that uses hip-hop music videos to engage students in their learning. At Flocabulary, we believe students learn best when they have a voice in their own learning. Our north star, for nearly two decades, has been to facilitate learning that is not just academically rigorous but also joyful and reflective of student interests.

Infuse music and vocabulary to create an engaging learning experience

An essential building block to Flocabulary’s foundation and approach to learning is the idea that repetition can help students advance their understanding of the content at a much higher rate, especially when it comes to teaching vocabulary. One of the first things teachers do when introducing their students to a Flocabulary lesson engages them with a video. We’ve always suggested that teachers play each video twice or more for the greatest impact on learning. The first time, the video should be played in its entirety so students can absorb the information in a fun and exciting way; this aligns well with how they already consume content on social media and other digital platforms. The second time through, teachers can open the content up for discussion, stopping the video from clarifying information or engaging students in a discussion about a given topic.

The key vocabulary terms that appear in each video also appear in other Flocabulary lesson activities, first and foremost in our Vocab Cards and Vocab Game. Using Vocab Cards, students are invited to review definitions of key terms, write a sentence using each term, and even draw their own depiction of those terms. Once students have reacquainted themselves with a lesson’s vocabulary, it’s time to test their knowledge using the Vocab Game.

Vocabulary repetition activities using Vocab Game

Flocabulary’s Vocab Game

The Vocab Game is a gamified evaluation of student vocabulary knowledge. Students answer questions to “build a beat,” earning a new element of an instrumental with each correct answer. Questions include matching a word to its definition, using a term to fill in a blank in a sentence, matching terms to images, identifying synonyms and antonyms, and more. Students must correctly answer each question to build out the entire instrumental. This gamified approach to learning vocabulary encourages students to repeat the activity until they achieve a full beat—in other words, mastery of a given lesson’s vocabulary terms. For example, if you teach math vocabulary, students can use the Vocab Cards and Vocab Game to deepen their knowledge about fractions.

But vocabulary instruction doesn’t end there—it’s infused into every step of Flocabulary’s lesson sequence. And while vocabulary repetition will occur naturally while using Flocabulary, there are many ways to take a more intentional approach to use Flocabulary as a teaching tool for vocabulary repetition. Here’s a weekly calendar you can use to do just that in your classroom:

Weekly Schedule: Vocabulary Repetition Activities with Flocabulary

Day 1: Monday

  1. Play a Flocabulary video in class for the first time. Choose a relevant video for your lesson. Play the entire video without interruption to allow students to enjoy the content on their own terms.
  2. Play the video a second time, this time with Discuss Mode on, allowing students to engage with the embedded discussion questions.
  3. Invite students to review the Vocab Cards, sorting vocabulary words they know vs. words they don’t and familiarizing themselves with the definition of each word.
Battle of Brooklyn Flocabulary lesson video cover for vocabulary repetition

Day 2: Tuesday

  1. Using the Vocab Cards, have students use the word in a sentence or draw a visual representation of the word. Feel free to assign students either writing or drawing, both writing and drawing, or allow them to choose which they prefer (depending on time constraints and where students are learning).
  2. Have students collaborate with a partner to share their sentences, give and receive peer feedback, and make edits if necessary. 
  3. [Optional] Invite each student pair to act out/role-play 1-2 vocabulary words for the class to guess.

Day 3: Wednesday

  1. Play the video a third time all the way through without interruption.
  2. Have students complete the Vocab Game to check for understanding of vocabulary words.
  3. [Optional] Organize a full-class discussion about the content in the video. For younger classes, this might involve revisiting Discuss Mode questions or inviting students to ask clarifying questions about the content. For older classes, this might take shape as a Philosophical Chair debate or Socratic Seminar discussion.
  4. Assign Break It Down and Read & Respond in class or for homework. Each vocabulary term is included in Read & Respond, while key concepts will be covered in Break It Down, prompting students to review video clips including vocabulary terms.

Day 4: Thursday

  1. Watch the video one final time as a group.
  2. Have students take the Quiz to check for understanding of important concepts.
  3. Assign students Lyric Lab in-class or for homework—be sure to ask them to include the vocabulary words they’ve covered all week in their lyrics.
Getting to know me Lyric Lab activity example

Day 5: Friday

  1. Give students time to finalize their lyrics in Lyric Lab.
  2. Open the floor to students who are interested in performing their lyrics to the class.

This weekly approach to vocabulary repetition provides students ample opportunity to familiarize and re-familiarize themselves with key vocabulary terms in a Flocabulary lesson. Students will encounter words in their first watch of the video and revisit them with each subsequent watch as they gather text evidence using Break It Down. They’ll use words on their own with Vocab Cards and later Lyric Lab. They’ll test their knowledge of key terms using the Vocab Game and Quiz and re-encounter those words in a new context using Read & Respond. This intentional and varied repetition provides students with multiple exposures to new vocabulary terms, all in the context of an engaging Flocabulary video.

Start using Flocabulary for vocabulary repetition activities and instruction

Learning poverty puts limitations on people at a young age and, in many instances, negatively impacts their trajectory in life. There are creative and unique approaches to learning to help change the narrative. The idea of giving students repeated opportunities to explore new words through various learning activities seems to work. In fact, vocabulary repetition, when done intentionally, has been shown to improve students’ overall reading and comprehension.

Flocabulary uses hip-hop music, videos, and interactive activities to provide students with a range of vocabulary exposures to help enhance their literacy skills. With our abundant catalog of standards-aligned lessons, Flocabulary can help counter learning poverty. Hopefully, you’ll be able to give our weekly schedule a go and see how students gravitate to the learning material as it is introduced in a manner they can relate to. Just remember the difference you can make in a young person’s life by empowering them to become good readers. Try Flocabulary—it’s where the rigor meets the rhythm! Sign up for Flocabulary to access the resources and activities shared in this post.

Mervin Jenkins and Mike Judd

Mervin Jenkins is a Senior Brand Ambassador and rapper and Mike Judd is a Curriculum Manager and rapper at Flocabulary.