Transform Student Engagement Writing Academic Rhymes Blog

Transform student engagement: Writing academic rhymes

This is the second post in a series about transforming student engagement. Check out Transform student engagement: Discovering Lyric Lab and sharing with teachers to read about the start of this story.

Our First Student Rap Battle: A Practice Run

After convincing the 8th grade social studies team to try out the unknown with a rhyme-writing project, we began our test run with our first period homeroom students. For 20 minutes a day, students were given a week to complete raps of their own in groups of three, the freedom to choose any social studies topic from class, and given full responsibility to work at their own pace in computer labs alongside peers. The great thing about Lyric Lab is that it’s structured in each video, so students were able to listen to what the Flocabulary rappers did, and get inspired from the professionals.

One of my most challenging students even took a moment to share his feelings about having this opportunity to express himself in the school setting, saying, “You know, I was raised on the streets, and I already knew how to rap and all that, but this is something completely different. I’m just trying to get outta here and be somebody, you know? You’re taking all this time to do this with us, and I wanted to say thank you.”

The Results: Unleashing Student Engagement and Voice

Students working together on their Lyric Lab rhymes in the computer lab

The results completely blew us away. I was amazed to see 100% of my students engaged as they browsed Flocabulary’s video library, looked over lyric notes, and sorted through beats in the Lyric Lab. They were collaborating as a team, hungry to compete, impress the team at Flocabulary, and impress themselves by creating and sharing something that sounded professional.   

Now that their actions could be seen by the whole school, and possibly Flocabulary, I trusted my students in handling the real responsibility of seeing their work through to a more global stage. This instantly cultivated what they expected from themselves. I had never imagined the students would use Lyric Lab to express feelings on difficult subjects, like women’s rights, slavery, and feeling unrepresented in government. For many students, this project also became a way to have their voice heard.

Take Two: A School-Wide Rap Battle

With our great success in first period, word of a “history rap battle” had spread throughout the school faster than we imagined. Soon, all of our classes were asking when it was their turn to work in the Lyric Lab. Hearing that passion, I began work on planning an even larger competition: The first ever school-wide Flocabulary Rap Battle! This time, however, I had to get all my team’s nine class periods on board for this week-long commitment.

Sharing the idea with my staff, I expected a long discussion over the next few days to convince them, but after our previous successes with the Lyric Lab, just mentioning the idea of something bigger immediately excited them, and we began collaborating. We wanted the students’ raps to be as well-written and researched as possible, so we gave them three days in the computer lab, followed by one day to practice.

Our team worried that if we gave our classes too much freedom with the project, they would just take the assignment as pure fun and forget to challenge themselves, or use advanced vocabulary and subject material. I was so impressed to see my students managing their raps with a healthy balance of content knowledge and personal expression. One student, who had experience with freestyle rap on urban culture, felt out of his comfort zone when writing about subjects he was unfamiliar with, but once he understood the main themes behind the American Revolution: representation, tyranny, liberty, and rising above your situation, he created beautiful lyrics.

We selected the two best performances from each class to perform in the final rap battle in the auditorium. We came out with nine wonderful winning raps from all our classes.

I was amazed to see how much this project made students engaged and happy to come to class; to give them something to be passionate about and proud of.

A student group performs their rap on the auditorium stage for classmates

On the day of the rap battle, so many students were visibly shaking backstage, saying they were too shy to perform, but every single student conquered their fears, and their nervousness melted away when they heard the classes cheering for them. Students were thanking me for the experience when they were finished, and said this project was the most fun they’ve had the entire year. As an educator, I felt it was my responsibility to give students a chance to explore something new to them, and perhaps discover that they were good at it.

Takeaways: My Advice to Educators

For educators of all subjects interested in this project, I could not recommend it more. Feel free to make a rap in the Lyric Lab on your own, and see how your students respond to it. You can always start slowly and add more complexity as the year goes on.

For teachers that are interested in having performances on stage, I think it’s important to be aware that all students have a different skill set. For those students that are just so shy they cannot get on stage, I made sure to tell them that it was their job to make the best lyrics possible, and work with other students that were more comfortable performing. I would always push my students to conquer their fears of stage fright, but whatever they decided to do, I also made sure to show the pride I had in their work.

When students see a teacher that cares about what they create, and when given the environment to create, they will become passionate, and they will surprise you with what you think they are capable of. We have to give them that chance to surprise us.

Brett Tackett

Brett Tackett is an 8th grade social studies teacher at Aldine ISD in Texas.