Yesterday we were rappin' man, rappin' in the 'room in the hip hop styleeeeIt's true. Yesterday's lesson was an all-singing, all-dancing hip hop fest. With a class of six-year-olds.
Songs and chants abound in the primary classroom, but raps? Not often will you find a rap in a course book, at least not for six-year-olds. However, a rap is really just a chant. It is a chant with (possibly) some background music or a beatbox. It is a chant with a very clearly defined rhythm. The rap we did yesterday was one based on a story we have been reading: "I will not ever, never eat a tomato", from the Charlie and Lola series of books written by Lauren Child. The idea for the rap itself I have to thank Carol Read for, as part of a wonderful set of activities to use with this and other story books, available here.
I wrote the rap on the board and we drilled it a few times, removing some of the words each time (I can't remember the name of this activity - erase the sentence? Something like that).
I then asked the children if they had heard of rap music or hip hop, and explained that it was music but saying the words to the rhythm of the music rather than singing. I then showed them how to dance to rap music, very badly I must admit! We practised rapping and dancing, at first line by line, slowly building it up, with me clapping the rhythm. I wanted to focus on the rhythm as it actually follows natural sentence intonation and stress patterns, even when rapped. I had previously underlined the stressed syllables on the board. I then found a rap backing track on Youtube and we started dancing to it while saying the lyrics.
As the kids were focused on dancing, the repetition of the rap was not as noticeable as they were multi-tasking - either clapping the rhythm or dancing and rapping at the same time. This is not so easy for six-year-olds! I had noticed in previous lessons that one of the members of the class was quite kinaesthetic and would tend to stand up and dance when he heard music, such as the theme tune to a cartoon. Allowing this type of learner to dance or move while speaking or singing is going to help the language be fixed in their minds, it is, in a way, anchored by the movement in their bodies. Some ideas for helping kinaesthetic learners to learn in any classroom situtation can be found here.
One of the things I noticed, is that the pronunciation of the learners seemed to be greatly improved. Somewhere, between the first activity of "reading" the words on the board (they are being introduced to the written word but are not competent readers) and the final performance, their pronunciation had improved. I think this is mainly due to the intonation of the sentences and therefore, the rhythm of the rap helped enforce this rhythm of the words. This, to us as native speakers, is natural, but for Spanish children is not natural at all, Spanish being a syllabic language. However, I also believe that the fact that the kids were more focused on their dancing and when to move than on the language itself, also allowed them to somehow "forget" about the words and how to say them. This to me, if it is true, seems a fascinating phenomenon. If we can get learners to be less focused on the language itself and more on what they are saying or doing, perhaps the pressure of speaking correctly will be removed and therefore fluency will improve. I am thinking of trying this out as an experiment with adult learners. I won't ask them to dance, but perhaps I could ask them to show us how to do something they know how to do, or even do something mechanical like shuffle a pack of cards. I would be interested to know if there has been any research into this area.
All in all, the rap was a successful activity - it was fun, the learners were engaged and they learnt how to talk about what they don't eat. After this, the learners copied the skeleton of the rap and changed the food words for their own. Tomorrow we will rap their own versions!
Here is the video, which I am sure you will be waiting to see!