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Teaching Through Hip Hop and Rhyme
For Teachers

Flocabulary and the Power of Educational Hip-Hop

By Erin Flynn Jay February 18, 2015
Teaching Through Hip Hop and Rhyme

From the time kids are born until they’re around five, parents and educators use music and rhyme as primary teaching methods. However,”when kids get to kindergarten, the music disappears,” says Alex Rappaport, co-founder and CEO of Flocabulary.

“We question this sudden departure from music-based learning,” he continues, “because music and rhyme are two of the most powerful teaching devices we have at our disposal.”

Flocabulary: Using educational hip-hip to teach writing, math, science and history

Since launching in 2004, Flocabulary has created videos for K-12 students that use hip-hop songs to teach lessons on subjects including language arts, U.S. history, science and math. The organization built its program on the belief that a motivated student is a more successful student, and that authentic student engagement leads to higher achievement.

This motivation extends beyond classroom walls. Rappaport often hears from teachers and parents that kids are watching Flocabulary videos at home, and some students even make their own Flocabulary-style videos and upload them to YouTube.

‘When students’ interests are respected and reflected in the classroom, they’re more likely to tune in and learn’

Rappaport believes Flocabulary is effective because it’s authentically engaging for kids. “Music is something kids love outside of school, and when students’ interests are respected and reflected in the classroom, they’re more likely to tune in and learn,” he says.

The program has been used in over 20,000 schools around the world, and the response from educators has been overwhelmingly positive. Rappaport thinks there is one big reason for that. “We help teachers with student engagement, and this can be a major factor in classroom management,” he says. “Teachers have told us that students sit in rapt attention when our videos are playing.”

The power of rhyme: What year comes to mind after hearing ‘Columbus sailed the ocean blue?’

One reason Flocabulary utilizes educational hip-hop is that rhyme is extremely prominent in rap lyrics. “The human brain has this amazing capacity to absorb and retain rhyming content,” says Rappaport.

Meter and rhyme have been used as teaching strategies for thousands of years. “The moment someone says ‘Columbus sailed the ocean blue,’ your brain generates 1492, almost involuntarily, and this is one of the few historical dates we all seem to remember from childhood,” he says.

“We think this mnemonic power of music and rhyme should be harnessed for students of all ages,” he continues. “Rap is a great way to update this technique for the 21st century.”

Flocabulary also aims to make music that kids would actually want to listen to on their own time. The organization works with professional artists who are committed to helping kids. “We’ve always prided ourselves on the ability to be an effective and rigorous learning tool without sacrificing the quality or integrity of the music [the artists] make,” says Rappaport.

Using Flocabulary in the classroom

Rappaport thinks that because Flocabulary’s online library has something for every teacher in the building, it can serve as a go-to resource when a teacher needs engaging content to supplement instruction or bring their lesson to life. Teachers often use their videos to introduce or review topics, for test prep in English language arts and math, and even as a bell-time activity.

To get the most out of Flocabulary content, Rappaport suggests having a class watch any given video several times. Teachers can then use the challenge questions, interactive lyrics and activities the company provides with each unit to review and enrich what students learned in the video.

Flocabulary’s website has additional resources that include:

  • A video tutorial that walks teachers through the content
  • Lesson plans
  • A collection of subject-specific implementation guides
  • Tests to assess student learning

“When teachers play a Flocabulary video, they’re not only teaching standards-based content, but also engaging students in a way that makes them want to learn,” concludes Rappaport.

Erin Flynn Jay is a writer, editor and publicist, working mainly with authors and small businesses since 2001. Erin’s interests also reach into the educational space, where her affinity for innovation spurs articles about early childhood education and learning strategies. She is based in Philadelphia.

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