Note to Self: Lessons using Rap Music generally aren’t Best at Teaching English

By Monika Salita
@monikasalita or About Monika

As a teaching assistant, you’ll find yourself ‘testing the waters’ so to speak time and time again: figuring out which lesson plans work for you and which ones don’t.

I’ll try to save you some grief by mentioning that rap songs (like Estelle and Kanye West’s “American Boy”), although hip and cool for most, aren’t the best teaching tools. I learned this through one big flop of a lesson plan.

students learning a songHere are some tips on how to go about choosing and using music in the classroom effectively:

  1. Think about and listen to a wide variety of music. Make sure that the lyrics are clearly enunciated; the language is current and not too out of date or too informal; and, most importantly, slow enough for students to listen to and comprehend given their current level of English.
  2. Songs that are very quick tempo, like many (but not all) of today’s rap songs, are generally too fast and too full of foreign slang terms for students to comprehend. Songs with clear, simple, direct lyrics will work better.
  3. Online searches for good (or bad) teaching materials will yield many results. Some good song suggestions I’ve encountered include Beyonce’s “If I Were A Boy,” which can be used for a lesson on the conditional tense; and Saving Jane’s “Girl Next Door,” which can be used to teach aspects of the American school system; or a clean version of Katy Perry’s “Hot ‘N’ Cold” to teach opposite adjectives.
  4. Expand beyond just simple fill in the blank activities. Structure a lesson plan around the artist’s native culture. For example, you could use Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song” for a lesson on Jamaica, or global events associated with the artist’s home country, or anything that you may be fond of, in order to share your personality. How about Lionel Richie’s “Hello” for a lesson on communication?
  5. Continue to use the songs, videos and lyrics as vehicles for discussing the artist’s home country, and create a lesson discussing the song’s theme or topic. Create a worksheet, removing certain parts of speech, and have students fill in the blanks, or even have them write a new poem or song inspired by your original song choice.

The creativity presented in such lessons is hoped to boost interest, engagement and retention.


I adored teaching English in beautiful Montpellier, France during the 2008-09 academic year. I am an avid learner and have finished two professional certificates in public relations and social media technologies.


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