Lesson Reflection: Using Hip-Hop Lyrics to Prepare for Standardized Tests

I was super eager to share the XXL article. It was short and straight to the point: hip-hop culture plays a significant role in politics today. My students easily made connections to the poster a protester held that read, “Metro-Boomin Doesn’t Trust Trump” because they know the about Future’s famous line that plays at the beginning of “Jumpman”. But when I asked them, “How did the mood of the crowd change after Trump’s rally was canceled?” They were stuck. I was expecting them to use a sentence about the singing of Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright” as evidence to support their response but they could not do that because none of them really knew the underlying meaning of the song.

I couldn’t believe it. Here is one the most inspirational songs of their time and they don’t really know it?
I headed straight to Youtube and pulled up the video. As they watched it, I advised them to pay close attention to the lyrics in the chorus, “We been hurt, been down before… but we gon’ be alright!”
Then, on the spot, I created a state-test like question: What was the tone of Alright? They would never be able to determine the crowd's mood if they weren't able to identify Kendrick's tone. I gave them 4 multiple choice answers to choose from:
  1. Hate for the police
  2. Hope for the future 
  3. Pride in ourselves
  4. Dislike toward white people

For the past two weeks, I have been providing my students with test prep tools that my academic director taught us in our most recent professional development session. One of the strategies was to analyze and mimic the multiple choice questions that they have the hardest time grappling with. This is done by giving the students a different reading passage and prompting them to self-generate their own multiple choice questions, structured exactly like the ones they got wrong on the practice state test.

As educators, we tell our students to choose the best answer and eliminate the rest, yet, we fail to teach our kids how to identify the best one. This is why I replaced the words “choose the best answer” with “choose the answer that makes the most sense” (another lesson I learned from my academic director, actually).

The second part of the mimicking tool is to prompt the students to create a list of 4 multiple choice responses for the question. This is the true test because the students have to mimic the style of the multiple choice answers as well. This means, they have to understand why each of the four choices are correct or incorrect. It is always easy to narrow down to two because there are always two that are far from correct. But this tool will help students to dig into the design of the last two answers that both seem like they could be the right.

After I listed the multiple choice answers to my question about the tone of Kendrick’s song, the first question I asked my students was, “Which ones are definitely wrong?”

The unanimously yelled, “1 and 4”.

But which ones are correct? They argued about 2 and 3 until finally, they decided on 2 because the lyrics say we are “going to be alright”. The emphasis on the word going shows that he is trying to give the reader (or listener in this case) hope for the future.

It was the most beautiful argument ever. Next week, I plan to have them continue to do this style mimicking as a warm-up activity, with a few more conscious lyrics songs. Maybe some Tupac or some Nina Simone.

Have any ideas on tweaking this? 
Comment below or send me an email - missclayliteracy@gmail.com!


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