Discovering Voice

byAndrea F. Kulas


In Frost's essay "The Imagining Ear," he calls attention to sound: "[y]our attention is too often called to the poet with extraordinarily vivid sight, and with the faculty of choosing exceptionally telling words for sight. But equally valuable, even for schoolboy themes, is the use of the ear for material and composition."1 By highlighting the sense of sound instead of sight in a poem, we will use sound as a vehicle to focus on the elements of poetry. Students will not only have access to a variety of readings, but a variety of multimedia applications (audio/visual) of these readings. Additionally, the goal is for students to express themselves critically and creatively through speaking and writing while focusing on how authors use sound to create images and feelings.

The overarching strategies of this unit will be the analysis of the sound of poetry by identifying rhyme, meter, rhythm, and tone. Since this class is designed to prepare students for the AP English Literature and Composition exam, students will also be asked to study the elements of SOAPStone.2 Additionally, students will need to understand the structure of the poems in order to explicate them. You will find that the supplementary lessons at the end of this unit are designed to focus on these topics. As always, students will be examining the language of the poetry including (but not limited to) diction, allusion, and imagery.

I am expecting students in this unit to:

  • - be able to practice the application of poetic devices
  • - write, revise, and edit their own writing
  • - assemble a poetry portfolio of terms with examples from their readings
  • - develop and record opinions about poems and poets
  • - create their own critical analysis of a set of poems by the same author
  • - use sound as a foundation to support an individual stance on the value of modern takes on poetry

The culminating project is to have students take poetic devices and apply them critically to the issue of intellectual property in popular culture. By the end of this unit, students will have to take an argumentative stance and defend it by using the poetic devices they have learned through this unit.

The intended use of this unit is for an Advanced Placement English Literature and Composition classroom. All of the lessons in this unit can be adapted for use in a regular or special education course.

School Expectations

Additionally, it is expected in this unit that students will perform a variety of assignments by the end of this unit according to the College Readiness Standards:

  • - Recognize a clear intent of an author or narrator in uncomplicated narratives
  • - Locate basic facts clearly stated in a passage.
  • - Add a sentence to accomplish a fairly straightforward purpose such as illustrating a given statement
  • - Add a sentence to introduce or conclude an essay or to provide a transition between paragraphs

School Background

New Millennium School of Health, where I teach, is an urban high school located on the far Southeast side of Chicago at the James H. Bowen campus. The campus was transformed into four smaller schools in 2004 as part of Mayor Richard M. Daley's Renaissance 2010 program. The focus on 2010 is to identify failing schools (absenteeism, low percentiles of meets/exceeds on state exams, etc.) and restructure them into several smaller schools housed under the same building. New Millennium School of Health shares the Bowen campus with three other schools that have relatively the same size student population. With just over 300 students, New Mill offers limited classes because of the size of the staff. One of the few alternative options is to take AP English Literature and Composition. Although a high percentage of students are chosen for this class, all Seniors have the option to register for this class. If a student enrolls in this class, AP English Literature and Composition becomes a substitute for Senior English credit; furthermore, it becomes a graduation requirement fulfilling the four English credits needed for graduation. Additionally, it is important to note that currently 99.9% of our students get free and/or reduced lunch and that 23% of our population is categorized legally as special education students.


It is sometimes difficult for students to discern the written word as an organic, living text. The printed word presents language as merely dead ink on a page. As educators, we have the responsibility to allow students access and agency to exhibit their value as readers and writers. The several times I have heard Bernie Phelan, Table Lead for the AP English Language and Composition exam, speak, he reminds teachers that literature does not exist until it is actually read.3 In essence, the air passing through your lips breathes life into what was once thought of as merely ink on paper. Our nuances, reading inadequacies and command of language therefore create meaning.

More particularly, the genre of poetry lends itself to voice. Sound is material in its vibration, pitch, and volume. The most ancient of literary genres, poetry uniquely lends itself to the primacy of sound through conveying a sense of thoughts, feelings, and meaning. Poetry foregrounds sound as an organizational principle. Students often struggle with detangling form from function, which is surprising in that patterns of sound are primary in our acquisition of language. In the most basic sense, we respond to sound often when we say casual phrases like, "you're a poet and you didn't know it" or, "that's poetic."

One reason we respond to poetry that way is because poetic conventions are familiar: rhyme, rhythm, etc. This familiarization is ironic in that many students find poetry disenfranchising. As educators, it is necessary for us to make the unfamiliar, familiar, and then to allow students to travel back again - unpacking poems as they see fit. In doing so, we can help guide a student's understanding that sound is a process in motion through both speaking and listening.

In Fred Sedgwick's book Teaching Literacy, he defends teaching poetry "because it helps us to look at, to study the world. It enables us (if we take it and the world seriously) to see." More importantly, he goes on to claim that there is a need to teach poetry in the classroom because it teaches students to write prose better. His reasoning is that "writers of good prose and poetry have rigorous alertness to the possibility of cliché, a phrase, or word, or comparison that has been over-used to the point where it is tedious."4 Most importantly, he points out that good prose does not lack strict organizational structure, much like its ancestor, poetry.

For the most part AP English Literature and Composition Free-Response Questions on poetry have remained similar in the past few years. For instance, the 2008 test, which used Keats' "When I Have Fears" and Longfellow's "Mezzo Cammin," asked students to compare and contrast while analyzing poetic techniques.5 In 2007, the test asked students compare and contrast while analyzing literary devices in the texts "A Barred Owl" by Richard Wilbur and "The History Teacher" by Billy Collins.6 Getting students to analyze poems and understand literary techniques, while having them understanding the value of a work, is difficult.

Students need to have a stake in their work in order to have bought in. For many of our students that is a connection to self. In the questions listed above, there isn't a real entryway for students to connect their own feelings with poetry. The rules are very hard and fast. For students to puncture the thick skin of poetry, it is necessary for them to take something that is unfamiliar and make it familiar in some context that is accessible to them. I propose that the necessary means in doing that is through sound.

Students already have a fundamental relationship to poetry in the form of music. This has only been furthered by the advent of the iPod and the variety of MP3 players available allowing students to readily access, store, share, and collect music. Because of this emergent technology, students seem to be even more enamored with sound than ever. Although, an iPod is relatively expensive, it has paved the way for other companies to make inexpensive MP3 players, granting access to their collection of data. Additionally, with corporate backing, like The Gates Foundation, many schools have computer labs that offer database storage or proxies for students to run their MP3's on; even those students without access to a computer can store and play music just as readily as a student that does have access to a computer at home. Cheap mp3 players allow students to listen and collect just as much free/stolen music as they please allowing them even more access to an audible society.

In an effort to make the unfamiliar, familiar, it is necessary in the twenty-first century for teachers to utilize technology to its utmost capabilities. It was only roughly fifteen years ago that I remember sitting quietly in a classroom reading Beowulf to myself. It was not until I ordered a copy of Seamus Heaney's audio-book version of his new translation of Beowulf; however, that I seriously understood the power and command of Anglo-Saxon poetry - it is no wonder that Heaney's book was a New York Times Bestseller for several weeks. To this day, I am sure many of us know teachers that teach poetry (as well as prose) in the isolation of student's minds. But ,we must not forget that sounds awaken us. The natural poetics of rhythm and meter helps us connect with poetry in the very organic sense of sound. Students cannot see poetry without hearing poetry.

I have hesitated using rap music in the classroom because I want students to sincerely think about what they are reading. It is easy to be caught up with wanting to teach what you think they need to know. It would be ignorant not to reference rap in a unit of poetry simply because rap has a distinct and profound history through jazz, blues, and Caribbean roots. Sometimes we forget that rap and the culture of hip-hop are not just important to our students, but are important to world history. More importantly, rap has not only had a profound impact on the history of popular culture, but has been applied to studies in sociology, psychology, economics, etc. By using rap to teach students poetry, they are allowed to make connections with texts by accessing prior knowledge.

Using rap in this unit is not meant to be a decoy. Rap is culturally relevant and it has a unique relationship to poetry through rhythm, meter, and rhyme. Most would argue that rap as merely the glorification of drugs, sex, and violence, but it is necessary to address with students that "[r]ap music is two-fold. Like most forms of music, it is about entertainment. It is also about creating spaces where particular communities of African American and Latino youth from urban areas in the U.S. can engage in dialogues about education, power, politics, sex, violence, language, and economic segregation."7 Rap should be taken seriously in and out of the classroom because it is both real and relevant to urban culture. Using that as a background, students will discover their own argumentative stances on the issue of intellectual property in popular culture and be able base their arguments in examples from the canon of authentic poetic literature.

Background for Final Project

In Adam Bradley's intro to Book of Rhyme he explains that "skilled MCs underscore the rhythm of the track in the rhythm of their flows and patterns in their rhymes. As a consequence, the lyric rappers write are more easily separated from their specific musical contexts and presented in written form as poetry. The rhythm comes alive on the page because so much if of it is embedded in the language itself."8

The culture of hip-hop and its representation in music has changed in the last twenty years. It evolved from The Sugarhill Gang's simple, yet complicated tracks in the 80's to the calls to social justice from Public Enemy in the 80's and even NWA's hood lyrics by the early 90's. Sampling emerged as a mainstream art form by the late 90's. In more recent years, rap has sampled melody, and beats to match their rhyme schemes. While some critics have labeled this as a lame attempt to recycle tracks, I would argue that it is an homage to great lyrical content that has been passed down through time.

More recently, with the advent of the mash-up, this has become even more apparent. Albums like Dangermouse's, The Grey Album, which combines the melodies of The Beatles' White Album and Jay-Z's Black Album remind us that there are familiar contexts and that it does not just rely on the melody. The Beatles and Jay-Z are only but four or five decades apart. They both successfully use the components of their ancient cousins: meter, rhythm, and form. Magically, these items are mixed together into a new form of music: the mash-up.

Another prime example of the mash-up artist would be, Greg Gillis, a.k.a. GirlTalk, who compiled over 150 different tracks from some of the most popular songs of the last 50 years to create the album Night Ripper. Most recently, his album Feed the Animals, has received critical acclaim; however, the government has scrutinized it. Many have referred to it as stealing intellectual property, but GirlTalk has defended his works by claiming that they are new creations and not mere samples of songs.

Unit Question

Using what you have learned in class about poetry and sound has GirlTalk created a new sound that has new meaning through rhythm, meter, and rhyme or is his work just merely the copying of popular music?


Recognizing Rhythm

At the most basic, rhythm is a pattern of sound. In poetry, we want to make note that we also include the accents of stress in the text because that is what carries the movement of the pattern. From hymns to Anglo-Saxon poetry, nursery rhymes to popular music, most poetry we use in our classroom is written in accentual-syllabic meter. Accentual-syllabic meter is difficult in that it combines two separate kinds of patterns: accents and syllables into rhythmical units we call feet. At first, students need to get into the practice of dividing lines of poetry into syllables using authentic literature (fig 1.). I have provided you with a syllabic breakdown showing the meter, of the lines in fig. 2. Once students have a good feel for the meter, they need to take the next step and add accents to the syllables. For purposes of this exercise, I have put an (x) to symbolize a stressed syllables and a (-) to symbolize an unstressed syllable. To view the metrical meter breakdown, refer to fig. 3.

For purpose of this strategy, I have used several examples from Robert Frost's "Mending Wall"

Original Text (fig. 1):

The work of hunters is another thing (ln. 5)

No one has seen them made or hear them made (ln. 10)

We keep the wall between us as we go (ln. 15)

Syllable Breakdown (fig. 2):

The | work | of | hun | ters | is | a | noth | er | thing

No | one | has | seen | them | made | or | hear | them | made

We | keep | the | wall | be | tween | us | as | we | go

Accentual-Syllabic Breakdown:

- x - x - x - x - x
The work of hun ters is a not her thing
- x - x - x - x - x
No one has seen them made or hear them made
- x - x - x - x - x
We keep the wall be tween us as we go

The figures above use the tradition iamb pattern of meter - stressed, unstressed. Typically, it is only necessary to teach the four main kinds of accent patterns: iamb, trochee, dactyl, anapest. See fig. 5 for examples regarding the four main kinds of accentual patterns.

Fig. 5

Accentual Pattern Markings Example
Trochee stressed, unstressed (x   -) evening
Iambic unstressed, stressed (-   x) shampoo
Anapest unstressed, stressed, stressed (-   x   x) Washington
Dactyl stressed, unstressed, unstressed (x   -   -) intervene

To be perfectly honest, meter is difficult. Pinsky notes in his book The Sound of Poetry that "the stress on syllable in English is not inherent in the sound, but relative."9 Simply stated, students need to practice, practice, practice this technique in order to hear the beat associated with sound. Marking of the meter of a text is called scansion. By taking the time to divide the lines into feet and marking the locations of stressed and unstressed syllables, students learn to hear the rhythm.

Recognizing Meter

In the above section Recognizing Rhythm I simply explained the syllabic background is the meter, but there are various kinds of meter that students should be familiar with for the AP English Literature and Composition exam. Please reference Figure 6 with the various kinds of meter that can be (but, not limited to) presented in a text.10

Fig. 6

  Iambic Trochaic Dactylic Anapestic
1 foot - x x - - x x x - -
2 feet - x | - x x - | x - - x x | - x x x x - | x x -

Recognizing Rhyme

There are many different strategies in recognizing rhyme schemes in a text. Start by explaining the basics of rhyme. Next, have a pre-chosen word for students to list as many rhyming words as they can. I would give a word that is connected to this section of the unit like scheme. Give the students a few minutes to write down as many words they can think of that rhyme with scheme. Students should come up with a variety of answers including, but not limited to: beam, deem, dream, gleam, scream, steam, team, theme, etc. If you feel it is necessary to go through a more through definition of rhyme I would suggest practicing this a few times to get the student's thinking about rhyming words. Once students feel comfortable with basic rhyming, give them definitions of more specific kinds of rhymes (exact, slant, masculine/feminine, etc.) and have them categorize their rhyme list when they are completed.

Although this seems like a basic exercise, it is necessary for development in language. In an evaluation of Project CALL (Contextualized Approach to Language and Literacy), an educational psychologist argues that children that come from minority and/or low socioeconomic backgrounds, in addition to those children who already have speech and language difficulties, tend to perform below mainstream and are at severe risk for developing literacy problems later in life. As a way to battle this phenomenon, they suggest that teachers need to provide students with a strong foundation of literacy skills. The two they choose to evaluate are the strategies of rhyming and letter knowledge.11 For purposes of this unit, I am going to focus primarily on rhyme, but many of the strategies and lessons can be adapted to include letter knowledge for English Language Learners/English as a Second Language. Of many of the studies cited in the article they make a certainly a significant link between the knowledge of nursery rhymes and literacy successes of reading, spelling, and most important the acquisition of knowledge in children.

Another way to break it down is by looking at a variety of nursery rhymes, as well as, books by Dr. Seuss. Taking the time to look at these texts can be fun, but also will rely heavily on the teacher to require students in acts of critical inquiry. An additional or other way to look at rhyme is to focus on poets like W. C. Handy whose lyrical poems feature rhyme prominently. Many of Handy's poems, "St. Louis Blues" and "Beale Street Blues," are poems that are readily available on a variety of free/low-cost music services. Instead of having students read the poems aloud, students will not only listen to the performance of the pieces, but many times can hear them sung.

Another unique way of doing this is choosing rap songs in languages that are alternative to the languages spoken at your school. While students are not aware of the meaning, it is inevitable for them not to; they can hear the unique sound of rhyme. I would suggest using the artist MC Solaar from France. His beats are similar to the American conventional of rap music and therefore will allow students to hear the same conventions use in foreign text.

Combining Rhythm, Meter and Rhyme

To assist in teaching these sound devices, I would use rap music as a foundation. For instance, it can be difficult for students to see the strong stresses in meter in Anglo-Saxon poetry, but as Adam Bradley states in Book of Rhymes, "the beat in rap is rendered audible."12 To familiarize the unfamiliar students should be given the opportunity to apply rhythm, meter, and rhyme to rap. This is key for students in understanding the lyric poetry of the Anglo-Saxons are all but distant relatives' of spoken word and rap.

Choosing the right spoken word or rap texts can be very difficult. I suggest picking texts or artists that connect directly with your students. We need to remember as educators that at its very essence, popular culture is a reflection of our fears, desires, needs, and dreams. Knowing this educators must take students and their likes/dislikes very seriously. For a unit like this I would chose someone like Chicago-based artist, Lupe Fiasco. He embodies many of my students' experiences because he knows the urban realities of being a Chicago teenager. His music is also very relevant to the kind of social injustices and societal issues of urban youth. In past years, poets turned rappers like Common, or bling, strapped, rollers like Lil' Wayne have received more notoriety, but I find that many of Fiasco's lyrics are ore sculpted and socially relevant to the classroom. Depending on the age and background of your students you may choose to use other artists for the strategies I included above that rely heavily on rhythm, meter, and rhyme. As a disclaimer, I strongly suggest reading lyrics and listening to the texts before using them in a classroom setting.

Tone - "The Sound of Sense"

Robert Frost introduced the concept as "The Sound of Sense," in a letter in 1913 to his dear friend John T. Bartlett. Frost there refers to the "imagining ear." At the time when Frost wrote this letter he distanced himself from other poets claiming to Bartlett that he was "possibly the only person going who works on any but a worn out theory (principle I had better say) of versification. You see the great success in recent poetry have been made on the assumption that the music of words was a matter of harmonized vowels and consonants." Frost did not see himself as a writer who followed the then formal patterns (orthodox) of poetry. It was not the specific words, but the abstract sound of the words, that he believed created content and meaning. To explain this more clearly, Frost suggested that "the best place to get the abstract sound of sense is from the voices behind a door that cuts off the words."13 In essence, that is a prime example of what he meant by the "sound of sense."

In Frost's lecture "The Last Refinement of Subject Matter: Vocal Imagination," he asks the reader to imagine asking him if poetry, for him, is a matter of basic poetic devices, such as rhyme, alliteration, consonation, and he responds with a resounding "no". He then asks us to imagine the different ways he might say "no":

  • No, I should hardly be inclined to say that poetry was a matter of vowel and consonant sounds; or
  • No, I will tell you NO! Let's hear no more of that: or
  • No, I can't hear it, no; or
  • No, you wait a moment and I'll tell you14

He goes on to explain that, while we normally look at the word "no" in a negative way, we use it in a variety of different ways: pessimistically, compassionately, disapprovingly, etc. Frost is asking us to evaluate tone, a term that is often hard to teach to students.

Teaching AP English Literature and Composition I find that I often use Ogden Morse's article "SOAPStone: A Strategy for Reading and Writing" in my classroom. SOAPStone is a strategy I have seen used in English, Social Studies, and even Studio Art AP level classes. A simple acronym, SOAPStone can help a student lead towards understanding the underlying rhetorical analysis of tone. Each step leads towards a better understanding of tone: S, who is the speaker; O, what is the occasion; A, who is the audience; P, what is the purpose; S, what is the subject; and last, but certainly not least Tone.15 Using this acronym is a great way for students to support their thoughts and feelings, by organizing their notes and using adequate examples from the text to support their findings about an author's tone.

Another way to have students think about SOAPStone and have them analyze a poem or rap is by adopting the RAFT strategy. The RAFT acronym asks students to recognize: R, role of the writer; A, audience of the text; F, format of the message; T, topic of the text. A way to extend this lesson is to give students the option to write using the RAFT strategy by providing a role, audience, format, and topic from them. This is a nice strategy to use in class because it offers a variety of different kinds of assignments for students to complete. Some options are listed below:

Role Audience Format Topic
  • Young Adult
  • Government Official
  • Teacher
  • Young Adult
  • Government Official
  • Teacher
  • Rap
  • Speech
  • Editorial
  • Newspaper Article
  • Journal
  • Politics
  • Welfare
  • Education
  • Violence
  • Parenthood

Tying it Together Through Socratic Seminar

One of the ways I would like to have my students present their own critical analysis as well as take individual stances on variety of topics is through the strategy of Socratic seminar. While students on the AP English Literature and Composition exam do not have the opportunity to prove themselves through the spoken work, Socratic Seminar is a good way for students to start thinking and defending their own arguments.

With the given background students will be given a variety of texts websites senate hearing logs, YouTube clips, and interviews. They will have two days, in and out of class, to review the evidence and decide on the following topic: Is GirlTalk's music a new creation? Using Socratic Seminar, I would also like to urge students to take a stance on the complexity of rhyme patterns in music they listen to versus the works of Hughes and Handy. What are the similarities they see? The differences? Can they say one form is more complex than the other? Does that result in them feeling strongly about the value of a text

Classroom Activities

All activities in these lessons will be using the text The Compact Bedford Introduction to Literature by Michael Meyer.

Lesson 1 - Accentual-Syllabic Meter/Rhyme

Designed as a follow-up lesson to the basics of Accentual-Syllabic Meter, this lesson expects that students already have the basic understanding of accentual-syllabic breakdown. Additionally, for purposes of this assignment students will be provided with the following poems by Langston Hughes: "Negro," "Mother to Son," "I, Too," "The Weary Blues," "Ballad of the Landlord.".

Step 1: Students will be placed into groups of three and given an overhead of one of the above Hughes' poems. As a group they will break the accentual-syllabic meter down of their poem. They will also answer the following questions:

  • - Can you identify a pattern or rhyme scheme in the text as a whole?
  • - Can you identify a pattern or rhyme scheme in certain sections of the text?
  • - Can you identify any lines that repeat in meter?
  • - Does the poem follow a definite accentual-syllabic meter pattern?
  • - What is the overall tone of the poem?
  • - How do the tools of accentual-syllabic meter and rhyme scheme enhance the poem's overall tone?

Step 2: Students will report out their findings using an overhead projector. It is assumed that the students in the audience will peer review the presenting group's breakdown of the accentual-syllabic meter.

Step 3: Teacher will facilitate the discussion of the texts as a whole with the following questions:

  • - Do you see similarities between any of the poems?
  • - What kind of patterns are present?
  • - Can you make any generalizations about the rhyme schemes?
  • - Do you find any kinds of schemes that are typical of this author?
  • - Is there anything you feel is missing or surprising?
  • - Can you group any of the poems together by poetic devices?

Lesson 2 - Alliteration Mad Libs

For purposes of this assignment I have used Galway Kinnell's poem "Blackberry Eating" as a foundation for this lesson

Step 1: Introduction of the key term alliteration, "the repetition of the same consonant sound in a sequence of words, usually at the beginning of a word or stressed syllable," and provide examples: "descending dew drops," "luscious lemons." It is important to advise students that alliteration is based on the sounds of letters, rather than the spelling of words and that alliteration is also used to intensify ideas by emphasizing key words.

Step 2: Students will identify examples of alliteration in authentic literature. Many poems can be used for this example, but for the purpose of this lesson I would use William Blake's "The Tyger." Students will recognize the alliteration throughout the poem on their own. This can be assessed in a variety of ways based on the modifications you deem are necessary per student. Some ideas would be to have students make their own annotations on the text by underlining or highlighting sounds that repeat and/or practice reciting a poem aloud with emphasis on the sound that is repeated.

Step 3a: Students should be able to apply alliteration with some guidance through a Mad-Lib-like activity. I would suggest taking a poem from authentic literature that highlights alliteration and take out major words/parts of speech that either create meaning in the poem or feature alliteration. Students should work in groups filling out the premade list of words that describe either missing words or parts of speech. For instance, sometimes you might have them provide a feeling versus providing an adjective. It is imperative that you choose a poem that has alliteration and that you notify on your premade list which words need to contain the same alliteration:

  Missing Words Student Suggestions
1. Month July
2. Adjective stinky
3. Adjective hairy
4. Adjective dumb
5. Adjective (same consonant as #6) smart
6. Fruit (same consonant as #5) strawberries

Students should provide a word for each of the situations given.

Step 3b: Following the Mad-Libs format students will be given the poem with the necessary missing words forming their own poem based on their changes and report out.

"I love to go out in late ___#1____

among the __#2__, __#3__, __#4__, __#5__


Student Example:

I love to go out in late July

Among the stinky, hairy, dumb, smart


Step 4: Reveal the original poem to the students and have them identify the alliteration in the poem. Students should then compare the difference in tone that the alliteration creates between the original piece and their poem.

Step 5: Using the same Mad-Libs format and their examples provide students with a tone that they should write with and have them rewrite their poems using alliteration in combination with tone.

Tone: scary
  Missing Words Student Suggestions
1. Month October
2. Adjective creaky
3. Adjective dark
4. Adjective flowing
5. Adjective (same consonant as #6) pale
6. Fruit (same consonant as #5) prunes

Student Example:

I love to go out in late October

Among the creaky, dark, flowing, pale


Step 6: Have the students reflect independently on their work by completing an exit slip: what kind tone is conveyed by alliteration in Galway Kinnel's poem "Blackberry Eating"?

Lesson Plan 3 - Socratic Seminar: Rap vs. Poetry

Step 1: Place the students into a Socratic circle with nameplates visible to all students involved.

Step 2: Give the students a question that they can only answer with a "yes" or "no." All students must answer the question in order to participate in this activity. The guiding question for this activity is - should rap music be valued as poetry?

Step 3: As the teacher you will act as facilitator and provide a safe environment for students engaged in the seminar. Students can be given credit in a variety of ways: listening with both their eyes and ears, referencing a text or another student's comment, professional etiquette, etc.

Step 4: To make sure that the students are on track I have provided a list of guiding questions for this seminar. Possible guiding questions:

  • - Can someone define poetry?
  • - Are all songs poems?
  • - What are the conventions of rap music?
  • - Do the conventions of rap music align with those of poetry?
  • - Are all rap songs poetry?
  • - Does an artist have a responsibility in the tone of their message or tone?
  • - Is rap just bad poetry?
  • - If rap does not fit the metrical scheme of poetry is it still considered to be poetry?
  • - Does the manipulation of language through code switching make rap any less poetic? An example of this would be when an artist chooses to use ‘lil instead of the word little. Or, it could also be when an artist chooses to create a new word in order to make the rhyme scheme happen. An example of this would be similar to rhyming the word rocking with the invented word Reboking.
  • - What does it mean to be poetic?
  • - Is rap poetic or is it poetry?
  • - Can rap be poetry and not poetic?
  • - Why might or might not someone think of rap as poetry?

Step 5: Give students time to digest the discussion and have them respond to the leading question again, but in a journal form.



Board, The College. The AP English Literature and Composition Exam. (accessed June 2009).

This is an example of one of the many retired AP English Literature and Composition Exam Free Response Questions available on-line at AP Central.

—. The AP English Literature and Composition Exam. (accessed June 2009).

This is an example of one of the many retired AP English Literature and Composition Exam Free Response Questions available on-line at AP Central.

Bradley, Adam. Book of Rhymes. New York: Basic Citvas Publisher, 2009.

The most current, in-depth book on the use of poetic techniques and languge use in rap. Bradley seperates the poetics of rhythm, rhyme, and wordplay in contrast to the story that rap tells.

Brown, Annaya. Using Hip-Hop in Schools: Are We Appreciating Culture or Raping Rap? 2008. (accessed July 2009).

Brown questions the use of hip-hop in schools. She also makes the argument that by inserting hip-hop into curriculum that teachers must make it clear that hip-hop is a culture that exists in normalcy and is not just a way to draw students' attention.

Culatta, Barbara, Kendra Hall, Dana Kovarsky, and Geraldine Theadore. "Contextualized approach to language and literacy (Project CALL): capitalizing on varied activities and contexts to teach early literacy skills." Communication Disorders Quarterly, 2007.

Several edcational psychologists study the long term effects of literacy strategies on young children.

Frost, Robert. Collected Poems, Proses, and Plays. New York: Litearary Classics of the United States, Inc., 1995.

This anthology is great because it covers most of Frost's works, but also includes some of his prose.

Martin, Bedford/St. The Compact Bedford Introduction to Literature. (accessed June 2009).

Used a resource to The Compact Bedford Introduction to Literature this website offers a variety of reading quizzes, writing topics, and author resources.

Meyer, Michael. The Compact Bedford Introduction to Literature. New York: Bedford/St. Martin Press, 2007.

This classroom text not only has an extensive poetry collection, but includes many short pieces of fiction and several full text plays.

Morse, Ogden. AP Central. (accessed July 2, 2009).

This resource is a very compact version of how to use SOAPStone in your classroom.

PBS. Poetry Everywhere. 2008. (accessed June 2009).

As a resource for teachers and students this website provides many live recordings of poetry.

Pinksy, Robert. The Sounds of Poetry. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1998.

This text offers easy to read chapters on line and meter.

Reed, Ishmael. From Totems to Hip-Hop. New York: Thunder's Mouth Press, 2003.

This modern anthology of poems includes works from a variety of cultural perspectives.

Sedgwick, Fred. Teaching Literacy. London: Continuum International Publishing, 2002.

Sedgwick's book has a lengthy section that discusses the importance of teaching poetry and the literacy strategies that can make it more accessible.

AP English Language Vocabulary List - Appendix A









Figurative language

Generic conventions















Point of view




Rhetorical modes











(the vocabulary list is not limited to only these terms)

Implementing District Standards (Part I - English) - Appendix B

  Quarter 1 Quarter 2
Strand Topic Development in Terms of Purpose and Focus* Organization, Unity, and Coherence*
CRS Identify the focus of a simple essay applying that knowledge to add a sentence that sharpens the focus or to determine if the essay has met a specified goal

Delete material b/c it disturbs the flow and development of a paragraph

Add a sentence to accomplish a fairly straightforward purpose such as illustrating a given statement
Determine the need for conjunctive adverbs or phrases to create connections between sentences (e.g. therefore, however)

Add a sentence to introduce or conclude an essay or to provide a transition between paragraphs
  • Critique and evaluate a piece of writing to determine that it maintains focus
  • Reorganize an essay so that it meets an intended purpose
  • Provide evidence, examples, and details to illustrate topic sentences
  • Create complex sentences by combining sentences using conjunctive adverbs or phrases
  • Include transition sentences in body paragraphs to increase fluency of a piece of writing

*Throughout the year we will be working on Conventions of Punctuation - use punctuation to set off complex parenthetical phrases, recognize and delete unnecessary commas based on a careful reading of a complicated sentences (e.g., between elements of a compound subject or compound verb joined by and), use apostrophes to indicate simple possessive nouns, recognize inappropriate uses of colons and semicolons.

  • - Parts of speech
  • - Parts of a sentence
  • - Comma usage
  • - Punctuation, commas for items in a series
  • - Punctuation in quotations
  • - Appropriate comma usage for sentence flow

Implementing District Standards (Part II - Reading) - Appendix C

  1st/2nd Quarter
Strand Main Idea (MID)** Supporting Details (SUP)**
CRS Recognize a clear intent of an author or narrator in uncomplicated narratives Locate basic facts clearly stated in a passage.
  • Locate and identify details that will help you figure out what the author is trying to say.
  • Determine what the author is thinking about.
  • Recognize what the author is trying to say throughout the entire paragraph.
  • Define narrator/author
  • Create sentences that allow you to restate what paragraph is all about
  • Locate and define facts and opinion (are facts true? do you agree with the author's opinions? discuss the above with your students)
  • Locate and discuss basic facts that are clearly stated in a passage
  • Determine which facts/details are important to understand the author's intended message
  • Identify which facts/details are important to understand the main idea/author's intended message
  • Scan the paragraphs to find important and/or specific information
Literacy Strategies
  • Fishbone/Herringbone
  • Paraphrasing
  • Most Important Word
  • Guided Reading
  • QAR
  • Rapid Retrieval of Information (RRI)
  • Reciprocal Teaching
  • SQ3R
  • Jigsaw

**Throughout the year we will be working on Meanings of Words — Understand the implication of a familiar word or phrase of simple descriptive language:

  • - Examine the text and explain the meaning words based on their experiences
  • - Explain prior knowledge and how it relates to the meaning of words for your students(make connections)
  • - Use the dictionary and thesaurus to increase your students vocabulary

Implementing District Standards (Part III - TIA) - Appendix D

As of last year Chicago Public Schools mandated the implementation of Targeted Instructional Area (TIA). As a school, we have decided to focus our TIA on the practice of critical thinking. Throughout the year, the school has decided to use the Powerful Practices (PP) of problem solving, developing arguments, and rhetorical analysis. We have committed to using a variety of Instructional Tasks (IT) to facilitate in our planning of these PPs.

Implementing District Standards (Part IV - ISBE) - Appendix E

Goal 1 - Reading

1.A.5a Identify and analyze new terminology applying knowledge of word origins and derivations in a variety of practical settings.

1.B.5b Analyze the defining characteristics and structures of a variety of complex literary genres and describe how genre affects the meaning and function of the texts.

1.B.5d Read age-appropriate material with fluency and accuracy.

1.C.5b Analyze and defend an interpretation of text.

Goal 2 - Literature

2.A.5a Compare and evaluate oral, written or viewed works from various eras and traditions and analyze complex literary devices (e.g., structures, images, forms, foreshadowing, flashbacks, stream of consciousness).

2.B.5b Apply knowledge gained from literature as a means of understanding contemporary and historical economic, social and political issues and perspectives.

Goal 3 - Writing

3.A.5 Produce grammatically correct documents using standard manuscript specifications for a variety of purposes and audiences.

3.B.5 Using contemporary technology, produce documents of publication quality for specific purposes and audiences; exhibit clarity of focus, logic of organization, appropriate elaboration and support and overall coherence.

Goal 4 - Listening and Speaking

4.A.5a Use criteria to evaluate a variety of speakers' verbal and nonverbal messages.

4.B.5a Deliver planned and impromptu oral presentations, as individuals and members of a group, conveying results of research, projects or literature studies to a variety of audiences (e.g., peers, community, business/industry, local organizations) using appropriate visual aids and available technology.

Goal 5 - Research

5.A.5b Research, design and present a project to an academic, business or school community audience on a topic selected from among contemporary issues.

5.B.5b Credit primary and secondary sources in a form appropriate for presentation or publication for a particular audience.


1. Frost, Robert. Collected Poems, Proses, and Plays. New York: Literary Classics of the United States, Inc., 1995.

2. SOAPStone is a classroom strategy that is discussed more in depth later on in this unit.

3. Phelan, Bernie. "Rhetorical Sitation." Chicago: College Board, August 2008.

4. Sedgwick, Fred. Teaching Literacy. London: Continuum International Publishing, 2002.

5. The College Board. The AP English Literature and Composition Exam. (accessed June 2009).

6. —. The AP English Literature and Composition Exam. (accessed June 2009).

7. Brown, Annaya. Using Hip-Hop in Schools: Are We Appreciating Culture or Raping Rap? 2008. (accessed July 2009).

8. Bradley, Adam . Book of Rhymes. New York: Basic Citvas Publisher, 2009.

9. Pinksy, Robert. The Sounds of Poetry. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1998.

10. For more examples of traditional accentual-syllabic meters University of North Carolina Greensboro offers a great website that breaks down the meters down to eight feet and offers examples from traditional literature for each of the accentual-syllabic meters presented.

11. Culatta, Barbara, Kendra Hall, Dana Kovarsky, and Geraldine Theadore. "Contextualized approach to language and literacy (Project CALL): capitalizing on varied activities and contexts to teach early literacy skills.(." Communication Disorders Quarterly, 2007.

12. Bradley, Adam. Book of Rhymes. New York: Basic Citvas Publisher, 2009.

13. Frost, Robert. Collected Poems, Proses, and Plays. New York: Litearary Classics of the United States, Inc., 1995.

14. Ibid.

15. Morse, Ogden. AP Central. (accessed July 2, 2009).

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