Student Engagement using Hip

Student Engagement using Hip Hop

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Student Engagement using Hip Hop

Hip hop was born in the 1970s in response to the persistent violence and gang culture in the South Bronx. As a form of movement, music, style, and art, hip hop acts as the avenue for marginalized youths to express their experiences with poverty, racism, oppression, and crime (Helms et al., 2016). As such, many educators have strived to find ways to incorporate hip hop into the learning environment, utilizing it to bolster students’ literacy, critical thinking, and STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) skills, an approach modernly considered as hip hop pedagogy. This is a culturally relevant approach to teaching that empowers learners to exploit their cultural capital and establish connections between school coursework and their interests (Covington et al., 2018). Therefore, teachers should utilize music in the learning environment to promote student engagement. It is reported that students who learn with the support of music experience accelerated brain development, improved reading and listening skills, improved language development, and improved spatial reasoning (McDaniel Jr, 2017). Learning music can also activate students’ brain centres that aid decision-making, information processing, and focusing attention. For these few reasons and more, educators employ music such as hip hop that is rich with cultural relevance to encourage students especially African American and Hispanic descents to actively participate in-class activities. Teachers use hip hop culture particularly rap lyrics and songs to create learning materials, promoting student participation through classroom content that learners can easily relate to and familiarize themselves with (Covington et al., 2018). Therefore, the different elements of hip hop (MC’ing/rapping, graffiti/art, break-dancing, DJ’ing, and knowledge of self) bolster the efficacy of its use in engaging students (McDaniel Jr, 2017). 


Rapping, which is also referred to as MCing is a practice that originates from African culture and oral tradition. It encompasses rapid-fire wordplay, poetic elements, and storytelling methods. As an element of hip hop music, rapping mandates artists to master language, and as such, incorporating this element in teaching will actively engage learners and as a result, assist to enhance their verbal skills. Considering the fact that rap music has been ranked as the most popular America’s music genre, it is more reasonable for educators to utilize rap music to reach learners who may otherwise find a subject relevant (Covington et al., 2018). Specifically, educators strive to explore the richness of hip hop culture to facilitate student engagement in coursework ranging from literature to neuroscience. The literary analysis and sixteenth-century poetry are without a doubt quite exciting from the context of individuals with proper background and knowledge, but students may rarely feel the same way (Perez, 2020). This changes when educators utilize hip hop as the primary text in the learning environment. Incorporating hip hop as learning texts will trigger students’ need to explore the lyrics of their desired songs to present in-depth discussions on the aspects that include metaphors, rhyme, word choice, rhythm, connotations, tone, and figurative meanings. 

The most effective way to engage students through rap or MCing is to commission students to allow students to find lyrics within the hip hop industry that relate to their class tasks such as vocabularies and literary terms (Covington et al., 2018). This means that teachers should assign tasks to students, individually or in groups to explore different hip hop songs of their interest and align them to their classroom literary terms to better understand these terms. Allowing students to learn via contexts that they can easily associate or familiarize themselves with is effective in achieving effective learning outcomes. Educators can also provide lyrics for the learners to analyze during class time to understand the diverse definitions of literary terms within the coursework. It is, however, important to ensure that students refrain from artists and lyrics that focus mainly on vulgar languages. Students’ engagement and learning outcomes can be reinforced by introducing literature and classic poetry so that they can perform comparisons and contrasts on these works with hip hop songs (Perez, 2020). This will allow students to engage in comprehensive discussions on issues relating to historical context, theme, and synthesize diverse perspectives. 

For younger learners, rapping can help them with pronunciation and learning letters since they can engage in verbal practices. Specifically, young learners can be asked to create raps for every letter with the alphabet to enable them to familiarize themselves with each letter of the alphabet. Students can also be indulged in word pronunciation and reading aloud with specified rhythm and purpose (Covington et al., 2018). This is an effective way of promoting positive learning outcomes since learners can access learning materials that relate to things they encounter during their day-to-day activities. As a result, there will be limited resistance amongst students since the class activities entail things they love in the real world, making it easy for educators to achieve their set learning outcomes. Issues of dropout rates will also decrease since the learning materials are interesting enough to encourage them to attend school on daily basis with the anticipation of learning new things relating to hip hop music. 


Visual art is also another hip hop element that can be incorporated into the learning environment to bolster student engagement and improve their visual skills. Specifically, graffiti also known as visual art has been inspired by hip hop, which has also attracted the interest of many teenagers and learners from diverse backgrounds (Brown et al., 2021). Many people may not find this approach effective since the concept of graffiti involves students roaming around the streets with spray cans drawing musical arts, which is often a violation of the law. There are other approaches that educators can employ hip hop to promote students’ engagement and improve their visual skills. However, graffiti is usually a great example of word art that students can engage in to improve their perceptions of art and the different dynamics that necessitate artistic works (Laffier & Bowman, 2021). Graffiti artists often utilize symbols, words, and colours to express their in-depth emotions and beliefs. Therefore, allowing students to interact with examples of graffiti in the learning environment exposes them to deep artistic ideas as well as allow learners to engage in interpretation of artistic elements with more familiar works besides the usual classical works of art (Helms et al., 2016). 

Some of the ways in which students are engaged in the classroom via visual art as an element of hip hop music is prompting them to draw their initials in creative ways on plain paper, dry-erase boards, or index cards. This will allow learners especially the young ones to portray their names in their best artistic way possible with reference to the usual graffiti they encounter daily in their neighbourhoods (Brown et al., 2021). Considering the fact that visual art such as graffiti can be culturally associated with specific communities, students from these communities will find the class activities more interesting, and as such, help them grasp the learning goals. For instance, students can be asked to create a painting about their family, neighbourhood, or any other topic relevant to the learning objectives set by the educator. Many students will find these activities easy to do since it requires them to work on things they are familiar with or can easily associate with. Such aspects of learning enable students to express their emotions and beliefs about their neighbourhood or families, hence serving as an avenue for educators to understand each learner and tailor teaching to their specific needs (Brown et al., 2021). 

Furthermore, graffiti most at times is used within the hip hop community to convey messages and claim space (Laffier & Bowman, 2021). Students can also treat the chalkboard or the whiteboard as their canvas to explain and illustrate different learning concepts in the class. For instance, students can be asked to draw visual representations on the different layers of the atmosphere in science classes using characters and symbols that portray their comprehension. They can also ask each other questions regarding their creations. This will help them understand the motives behind each other’s choice of colours and the representation of their different symbols or images used. Consequently, this approach will enhance the visual skills of engaged learners as well as prepare them to understand and interpret different visual works of art in the real world. 


Breakdancing is among the key elements of hip hop which emerged in response to the extended drumbeat of hip hop music. This being the kinesthetic aspect of hip hop culture, teachers can utilize dancing in science classes to effectively create and implement physical learning activities. Specific concepts where students can engage in dancing is when learning different states of matter. As such, students are prompted to move around the learning environment just like how particles would when there is an increase or decrease in energy (Benford & Smith, 2021). This will bolster student engagement in the classroom since they learn through practical, an approach that enhances retention. For instance, students will be able to understand the effect of the energy on states of matter when they are asked to move closer to one another to a situation where they are clustered in a fixed position to imitator a solid, demonstrating energy decrease (Kruse, 2016). On the contrary, students can be asked to move faster around the class to mimic a gas, showing an energy increase. These class activities are quite easy to implement since they require less prior knowledge and involve routine that will promote understanding of the respective learning concepts as well as helping students remember. 

Even though dancing can be somewhat hard to implement in a standard classroom space, having access to an open space of the gym can allow teachers to use hip hop as a way to get the learners moving (Kruse, 2016). Hip hop culture-related kinesthetic aspect such as breakdancing has numerous benefits to learners such as improved coordination, flexibility, and balance among students. Dancing in the learning environment can also help students reinforce their artistic expression and self-confidence (Benford & Smith, 2021). The key to students’ success is high self-confidence and healthy well-being. As such, incorporating hip hop culture in the classroom will engage students in activities such as dancing which enable them to confidently express themselves without the necessity of verbal interaction. Some students may be gifted in dancing, and as such, creating a dancing routine in class will improve students’ learning process. Educators can organize students in groups or the whole class and have them call out different dance moves and synchronize them into a routine set to the favourite hip hop songs of the students. This is the most effective way to engage learners since it allows them to also select from many existing routines that can be introduced to them easily. Furthermore, hip hop music triggers easy follow a rhythm that allows students to establish attractive dance moves and add as much flourish as they want. 

DJ’ingHip hop music can be used to set the mood for a conducive learning environment. For instance, DJ’s primarily play music to set the mood for hip hop events or shows, and as such, learners can also create a list of their favourite hip hop instrumentals to help them set the mood for the classroom. The fact that students are involved in creating the instrumentals playlist makes it easy for them to feel the ambience and learning mood. Educators can play the hip hop instrumentals selected by learners quietly during group discussions or independent learning. Furthermore, playing hip hop music in the classroom is the most effective approach to catching the attention of students, and as such, it provides a great opportunity for learners to engage in effective, close listening skills (Crooke & Almeida, 2017). Some of the key elements from hip hop music that can help students enhance their listening skills include a focus on rhythm. Specifically, educators can allow learners to tap on their desks to the meter, beat, and tempo of the music that is being played. This will prompt them to identify music dynamics such as when there is a change in noise levels or when the melody of the songs varies. Engaging learners in listening to music allows them to assess the difficulty of different hip hop music such as when it is conjunctive (easy to sing) or disjunctive (difficult to sing) (Kruse, 2016). 

Other elements that students can focus on when listening to music in the classroom include instances of consonance, smooth sounds that help release musical tension and dissonance, harsh-sounding harmony (Crooke & Almeida, 2017). This will boost students listening skills which will further help them listen and understand what is being taught in the classroom. Besides, using hip hop music as the primary text for learning helps attract the interest and attention of many students especially from African American and Hispanic backgrounds who find hip hop culture as their way of life. Hip hop music, therefore, acts as a way of teaching students how to identify important key points in learning sessions. For instance, educators can prompt learners to identify instances when musical lines in the music being played happen all at once as an approach to teach them about music texture. The act of being attentive and following melodies in music can be transferred to a normal classroom context where learners can identify important concepts and note them down. Therefore, engaging students in different musical activities that sharpen their listening skills will help improve their performances in other subjects that require a lot of attention such as sciences (Kruse, 2016). 

Knowledge of Self

Listening to hip hop music allow individuals to establish unique and authentic viewpoints regarding the injustices that a lot of people countrywide, especially those from minority backgrounds grapple with each day (Covington et al., 2018). One does not have to listen to a lot of hip hop music before establishing a pattern. For instance, hip hop music many times have been associated with issues on social justice such as mass incarceration, poverty, police brutality, and the war on drugs. As such, incorporating hip hop music in the learning texts allow learners to gain extensive knowledge on the past events that have transpired in the path to social equality. For instance, older students can benefit from hip hop music as it complements their learning sessions on the history and politics of the United States as well as their activism, civics, and community service (Crooke & Almeida, 2017). To ensure effective implementation of hip hop music in these class sessions, educators can prompt learners to quote hip hop when writing their essays on topics such as the history of civil rights movements and the war on drugs in the U.S. or engage them in debates using songs as key topics. However, some of the topics may be too advanced for young learners to handle, and as such, educators can engage them in discussing issues such as the message singers or writers attempt to convey. This allows teachers to explore the social-emotional skills of learners without engaging them in complex class activities. Educators can also utilize hip hop music as a springboard to engage learners in discussions on approaches to facilitate social change, such as being kind, honest, respectful, and generous (McDaniel Jr, 2017). 

Furthermore, the notion that hip hop stresses the knowledge of self and authenticity also enables learners to engage in science projects that apply to their lives and bring changes in their communities. Incorporating hip hop in science learning sessions encourages learners to establish an augmented level of comfort when engaging in science concepts. Hip hop also promotes the development of positive science identity in the classroom. Specifically, young students who perform science tasks while connecting to hip hop culture are able to create their comprehension of science as well as feel more knowledgeable and prepared to grapple with the content (Wells, 2019). 

Conclusively, it is clear that Hip Hop Education is an opportunity to engage learners not only with classwork but also with their lives. Incorporating hip hop music in the learning environment provides students with a myriad of opportunities to connect the subjects and concepts with the hip hop culture, aspects they can easily familiarize themselves with. For instance, rapping mandates artists to master language, and as such, incorporating this element in teaching will actively engage learners and as a result, assist to enhance their verbal skills. Visual art is also another hip hop element that can be incorporated into the learning environment to bolster student engagement and improve their visual skills. Furthermore, breakdancing being the kinesthetic aspect of hip hop culture, teachers can utilize dancing in science classes to effectively create and implement physical learning activities. DJíng in hip hop music can also be used to set the mood for a conducive learning environment. Finally, incorporating hip hop music in the learning texts allow learners to gain extensive knowledge on the past events that have transpired in the path to social equality, encouraging them to establish knowledge of self. 


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McDaniel Jr, E. (2017). Using Elements of Hip-Hop to Promote Student Engagement. Learning to Teach, 6(1).

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Crooke, A. H. D., & Almeida, C. M. (2017). “It’s good to know something real and all that”: Exploring the benefits of a school-based Hip Hop program. Australian Journal of Music Education, 51(1), 13-28.

Perez, R. A. (2020). The Four Levels of Implementing Mathematical Rap in Your Classroom. Ohio Journal of School Mathematics, 86(1).

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Helms, M., Moore, R., Edwards, D., & Freeman, J. (2016, August). STEAM-based interventions: Why student engagement is only part of the story. In 2016 Research on Equity and Sustained Participation in Engineering, Computing, and Technology (RESPECT) (pp. 1-4). IEEE.

Laffier, J., & Bowman, M. (2021, July). Graffiti in the 21st Century Classroom: Promoting learning and empowerment for students with traditional and digital graffiti. In EdMedia+ Innovate Learning (pp. 1-6). Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education (AACE).

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