Transcending Poetry, Jazz, Rap & Hip Hop

Estimated Time: Ten 50-minute class sessions.


Students of grades 11-12 explore poetry, jazz, rap and hip hop music and discover the common threads that run through the poetry and music, and how the themes and subject matter of the poetry and music reflect the lifestyle of the period. Students begin the lesson by examining various types of music and selected poems, and discussing the similarities and differences in the themes and how they reflect everyday lifestyles.

Following the introduction, students research the music to obtain a more in-depth knowledge of its history, pioneers in the field, and examples of artists. From this research students prepare a PowerPoint presentation of the information found. Students then read jazz poems and compare these to the lyrics of the music they researched.

A culminating activity provides an opportunity for students to write their own lyrics to a jazz, rap or hip hop selection and share their songs with the class. At the conclusion of the lesson, students complete a unit evaluation.


Students will:

  • describe the characteristics of poetry, jazz, rap and hip hop music;
  • compare and contrast the themes and lyrics of poetry, jazz, rap and hip hop music; and,
  • analyze how poetry, jazz, hip hop and poetry reflect the culture of the time.

Materials Needed

  • Print Literature

    • Selected Langston Hughes poems from The Weary Blues and Montage of A Dream Deferred. Specific poems include: “Railroad Avenue,” “Mulatto,” “Brass Spittoons,” “The Cat and the Saxophone,” “Jitney’,” and “Closing Time.”

      (These poems can be found in many standard American Literature anthologies as well as the Complete Works of Langston Hughes or Selected Poems of Langston Hughes.)

    Song Lyrics

    • Duke Ellington’s “Take The A Train” and “It Don’t Mean A Thing”
    • Louis Armstrong’s “Ain’t Misbehavin'” and “Star Dust”
    • Billie Holiday “Lady Sings The Blues” and “God Bless The Child”
    • Grand Master Flash’s “The Message”
    • Run DMC’s “It’s Like That”


    • The PBS JAZZ documentary, Episodes Two (“The Gift”) and Three (“Our Language”)


    • Your choice of recorded examples of jazz, rap and hip-hop music.

    Equipment & Technology

    • Audio tape or CD player
    • VCR and television
    • Computes with Internet access and word processing software
    • Blank audio and video cassette tapes
    • Optional: PowerPoint projection system or overhead and transparencies
    • Optional: Scanner

    General Supplies

    • Markers
    • Newsprint
    • Poster paper
    • Flip chart

Teaching Procedure

Assessment Suggestions

Refer to student assessment forms.

Extensions / Adaptations

  1. A modification of this lesson could be to use the recorded music of rap, jazz and hip-hop for warm-up. Play one of the types of music and have the students respond to the music in writing by answering questions such as what the music says about a particular community or culture, the theme, etc. This could be journal writing. You could have students share their responses with the class.


  2. Research the life of an artist of one of the types of music: jazz, hip-hop, or rap. Do a written report or PowerPoint presentation. For the special needs student, do a pictorial report or PowerPoint presentation with captions that represent events in the life of the artist.


  3. Write a report on selected jazz poems of Langston Hughes. Discuss the similarities of themes in the poems and how they reflect the lifestyle of the period.


  4. Make collages of lyrics and musicians of rap, hip-hop and jazz, or a combination of the three. This could be used for younger children or special needs students.


  5. Draw pictures of the leading artists in the field of rap, hip-hop or jazz. Use pictures to post in class or have an art show.

Recommended Resources

Web Sites

Duke Ellington’s Washington

I hear America Singing (Langston Hughes)

Literature & Life

The Hip-Hop Phenomenon

Fooling with Words

Print Literature

African American Literature, Voices In Tradition, 1992.

Barksdale, Richard, (ed). Black Writers of America. New York: Macmillan, 1972.

Bloom, Harold, (ed). Modern Critical Views: Langston Hughes. New York: Chelesa House Press, 1989.

Giants of Jazz, Louis Armstrong Alexandria, VA: Time Life.

Goss, Linda & Marian E. Barnes, Talk That Talk.

Igus, Toyomi, I see the rhythm. San Francisco, CA: Children’s Book Press, 1998.

Lewis, David L., (Ed). The Portable Harlem Renaissance Reader. New York: Penguin Books, 1994.

Nelson, Havelock & Michael Gonzales. Bring The Noise: A Guide To Rap Music & Hip Hop Culture.

Selected Poems of Langston Hughes. New York: Vintage Books, 1990.

Wiltz, Teresa. “Taking The Rap Online And Off”, Washington Post, Style Section, October 9, 2000.

Relevant National Standards


  • Students use a variety of technological and informational resources (libraries, databases, computer networks, video) to gather and synthesize information and to create and communicate knowledge.
  • Students read a wide range of literature from many periods in many genres to build an understanding of the many dimensions (philosophical, ethical, aesthetic) of human experience.
  • Students use spoken, written and visual language to accomplish their own purposes (for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information.
  • Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.

Mid-Continent Research for Education and Learning 

  • Students know the characteristics and uses of computer software programs. (Technology)
  • Students understand the relationship between music and history and culture. (Music)

About the Authors

Judith Kelly, currently director of the D.C. Area Writing Project, taught middle school for 27 years in the District of Columbia Public School System. She was recently honored by the D.C. Council of Teachers of English.

Patricia Bradford, chairperson of the English Department at Charles Herbert Flowers High School in Prince Georges County, Maryland, was recently named Prince George’s County Teacher of the Year.

Consentine Morgan, currently academic dean at Frank W. Ballou Senior High School in Washington, DC, has taught English for 28 years. She is one of the three 1999-2000 ACE-Intel Teacher Summer Institute grand prize winners for her lesson plan integrating technology into history and English language arts.

All content in this curriculum provided by PBS. Chiaroscuro is not responsible for the content provided therein. Any questions, contact

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