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Hip-Hop Pedagogy

Written by  Thursday, 11 July 2013 23:31


Silveree Sumling

Full Sail University

January 26, 2014


The focus of this research was to improve college students’ communication skills through hip-hop pedagogy. Action research was the methodology used among urban, adult learners in a four-year college setting.

Three components of communication were the focus for improving students’ communicative abilities, which were written, nonverbal, and verbal. The results indicated that hip-hop based activities helped students express themselves better nonverbally and through written work, whereas verbal delivery skills improved, slightly. Hip-hop pedagogy was a viable method to teach communication techniques because students retained concepts, applied knowledge, and demonstrated the ability to be effective communicators during presentations. More time was needed, however, to strengthen and cultivate verbal skills.




Because urban, adult learners were impacted by the culture of hip-hop, students brought to the classroom the language, dialect, and written structure used in their environments and social contexts. Being exposed to hip-hop cultural norms, practices, and hip-hop artists affected students’ abilities to communicate proficiently on the academia and professional level. This area of focus was chosen to address the communication deficiencies exhibited among young adults.  The purpose of this research was to examine the effectiveness of using the tenets of hip-hop to improve communication skills.  

This research answered the following questions:  

1. Can having college students compose lyrics based on hip-hop writing conventions and techniques enhance writing skills?

2. Can having showing hip-hop videos and having students emulate hip-hop artists improve nonverbal communication skills of college students?

3. Can listening to and reciting lyrics improve verbal communication skills of college students?  

The goal was to solve the problem by using cultural communicative behaviors to implement a series of hip-hop related activities that students would have some familiarity with and to provide relevancy for each respective form of communication. Social learning was, also, used as a way to have students observe, learn from each other, and emulate hip-hop behaviors that they were exposed to during activities.  It was anticipated that students would not only learn from written, verbal, and nonverbal activities, but also from each other by working in small groups and modeling each other.  


Literature Review

Hip-hop was a genre of music as well as a culture that incorporated components that rappers used to communicate with young adults such as emceeing, deejaying, and dancing (Soderman, 2004).  Guy (2004) stated that educators had no understanding of the impact hip-hop culture had on 21st Century Learners, which meant that cultural gaps existed in the classroom.  Guy (2004), also, confirmed that because the culture of hip-hop had a presence in the classroom, teachers were disconnected from students.  Hallman (2009) specified that because hip-hop culture represented the voice of urban, adult learners, hip-hop related curricula could be used to enhance instruction.  Forell (2006) concurred that educators should use hip-hop in their curriculum to engage learners. Belcastro and Boon (2012) confirmed that motivation influenced the success of retaining and reproducing information because when people modeled what they deemed important, learning outcomes would be achieved.  DeLeon (2004) suggested that educators needed to learn and speak the language of their students in order to be influential and effective in communicating content as hip-hop artists because hip-hop dialect was the principal language of youth culture.

Chelsey (2011) implied that hip-hop pedagogy was a significant approach that could improve literacy because young adult learners could improve their vocabulary by listening to and being exposed to rap music.  Alim (2007) identified that rap music had certain elements that existed in linguistic patterns, which inferred that hip-hop was a powerful tool that connected the two contexts to create meaningful messages.  In 2005, Newnan affirmed that rap ciphers were comparable to communicative methods and arrangements that was similar to debates and group presentations because it involved analyzing current settings, adjusting language to specific audiences, and utilizing delivery aspects of communication.  In addition, Newnan (2005) recognized rap as a form of human communication because it included verbal, nonverbal, and written conventions.  Weinstein (2006) noted that students could learn from writing raps because it evoked pleasure during the creative writing process in that it stimulated the brain while students engaged in developing written work.

In 2008, Norton specified that educators needed to fuse hip-hop into the learning environment to support reading, writing, and speaking to aid in students’ comprehension, literacy, and retention.  Hanley (2007) contended that integrating popular culture components into instruction developed literacy skills across disciplines because it provided relevancy to the learning environment that students needed.  In addition to providing a relevant learning environment, Boyce (2011) suggested that people learned by observing the actions of others so emulating the actions of hip-hop artists became an actual learning experience.  Boyce (2011) also believed that establishing an engaging environment would increase student retention. McCrary (2005) argued that reading, writing, and creating hip-hop lyrics that surrounded coursework was a way for students to get involved in their academics, which made them attentive to assignments and active agents in their education.  In 2009, Hill purported that hip-hop pedagogy was a legitimate instructional strategy; therefore, concluded that it had educational worth.


Participants of this research consisted of 120 college students. The demographics of these students were freshmen and sophomore males and females between the ages of 18-45.  Most of the students held part-time to full-time jobs and lived in urban communities.  Ninety-nine percent of the students were African American due to the college being located in an urban area. Activities took place in class and online.

In Cycle 1, multiple pre-assessments were administered. A written and oral communication pre-assessment was given, which entailed students submitting a writing sample and presenting a speech, and students, also, filled out a pre-questionnaire prior to beginning any hip-hop oriented tasks. The technology used during this cycle was a computer and camcorder.  Students used the computer to access the learning management system Desire 2 Learn along with Google Documents to complete online exercises. The camcorder was used to record students’ activities, in which they viewed and offered critical feedback to group mates. Videos of students’ presentations were uploaded to Desire 2 Learn and feedback was conducted online via Google Docs. During Cycle 1, students participated in written communication activities such as writing metaphors, similes, alliterations, antithesis, rhymes, and other literary devices used in writing. Students wrote lyrics on assigned topics to demonstrate their understanding of written concepts. Students participated in nonverbal communication activities by emulating hip-hop videos and lip-syncing their favorite songs. Students worked in groups for these assignments and assisted each other throughout the process of learning how to master nonverbal communication skills. Students partook in verbal communication activities by reciting lyrics to rap songs in the form of a speech as well as strengthening enunciation and vocal variety skills by delivering tongue twister lyrics.  

New hip-hop components were introduced to students in Cycle 2 to add novelty to the research and to expose students to other techniques for learning. In this cycle, students watched breakdancing videos and hip-hop related commercials, analyzed print advertisements, and conducted evaluations on artist performances. Students were required to demonstrate their understanding of nonverbal elements by imitating techniques such as gestures, eye contact, movement, facial expressions, body language, and posture as it related to the videos, commercials, advertisements, and performances that they observed. On Google Docs, students articulated their comprehension of the material viewed by writing a blog.  In addition, students delivered a series of original presentations in groups and individually exhibiting nonverbal communication methods in front of their peers.

To further cultivate written communication skills, students analyzed literary devices used in commercials and wrote 30-second commercials for hypothetical hip-hop clients, businesses, and situations using literary methods of writing. As a group, students wrote lyrics and participated in a class rap cipher. For the verbal form of communication, students continued reciting rap lyrics to increase oral delivery. However, the focus was different for each student. Emphasis was placed on the verbal element that needed the most improvement. Verbal elements of delivery included rate, pitch, tone, vocal expressiveness, pause, vocal variety, enunciation, and volume.

Adjustments to the hip-hop curriculum were made after Cycle 1 to focus on specific skills that needed to be strengthened. Both cycles combined took 6 weeks to complete.  

Data Report

Instruments used to collect data during this research were pre/post questionnaires, pre/post writing samples, pre/post speeches, observation, field notes, and video.  These quantitative and qualitative tools were used to evaluate students’ skillsets of written communication, nonverbal communication, and verbal communication prior to and after Cycle 1 and Cycle 2. 

In Cycle 1, quantitative and qualitative data was collected, which revealed that students showed major improvements in the areas of writing and nonverbal delivery.  However, only minimal improvement was made for verbal delivery skills. Prior to beginning research, 100% of students reported on a questionnaire that they used nonverbal delivery cues during daily conversations, but only 15% of those students used those same nonverbal cues during presentations. Ninety-five percent of students admitted to not using verbal aspects of delivery while speaking. Only 10% of students knew what literary devices were and used them in writing.

The nonverbal post questionnaire for Cycle 1 showed that 55% of students said that the   activities implemented during the project helped improve their nonverbal delivery skills during presentations. The other 45% of students stated that they needed more practice in order to acquire nonverbal skills. Results from the written post questionnaire indicated that 100% of students were able to identify literary devices, and the post writing sample exhibited that 100% of students included literary devices in their written work. The verbal post questionnaire specified that 100% of students were able to identify verbal elements in hip-hop music and speeches.  However, the post-speaking sample exhibited that only 10% of students utilized vocal elements such as vocal expressiveness, volume, pitch, and enunciation. 

Speech samples were collected and assessed as additional data to accompany quantitative data. Each nonverbal and verbal element were assessed and analyzed. The pre nonverbal speech sample disclosed that 85% of students gave little eye contact, 85% of students did not use hand gestures, 95% of students did not use facial expressions, and 95% of students did not move. The pre verbal speech sample showed that 90% of students did not demonstrate verbal elements while speaking. Because improvement was minimal for verbal delivery skills in Cycle 1, new strategies were implemented in Cycle 2.

In Cycle 2, qualitative data was collected at the end of the cycle. After examining video recordings, 85% of students’ nonverbal delivery improved in eye contact and hand gestures but still needed work with facial expressions and movement. Fifteen percent of students needed work on all nonverbal elements such as eye contact, facial expressions, body language, movement, and hand gestures. 

Observation of verbal presentations signified that 10% of students were proficient in verbal delivery elements such as volume, rate, and enunciation. Ninety-percent of students were not confident in that they relied on paper to present speeches, which took away from executing vocal aspects of delivery. Written work submissions showed that 95% of students’ writing skills improved significantly.

The data collected was important because it not only provided measurable results, but also proved how hip-hop pedagogy, between the two cycles, nurtured students writing abilities, shaped nonverbal cues performance, and slightly improved vocal delivery. 


Hip-hop culture currently influences language and the communication of youth and young adults. Communication is the process of conveying and transferring messages verbally, nonverbally, or through writing in a manner that the receiver understands the intended message. The purpose of this research was to investigate the notion that hip-hop pedagogy could be used to teach, strengthen, and develop communication skills of urban, adult 21st century learners.  To accomplish this, three questions of inquiry were posed and addressed: 

1. Can having college students compose lyrics based on hip-hop writing conventions and techniques enhance writing skills?

2. Can showing hip-hop videos and having students emulate hip-hop artists improve nonverbal communication skills of college students?

3. Can listening to and reciting lyrics improve verbal communication skills of college students?  

The findings of this research showed that hip-hop curriculum was effective in teaching writing skills, developing nonverbal delivery skills, and strengthening verbal delivery skills.  Quantitative data showed that 100% of students demonstrated the ability to use literary devices in written work. When students were assessed at the end of both cycles, they provided a writing sample, which included metaphors, similes, alliterations, antitheses, and rhymes that were taught during this project. 

Quantitative data revealed that 55% of students said that the nonverbal activities presented to them throughout this project improved their gesturing, movement, eye contact, and facial expressions while presenting speeches. When students were assessed on their nonverbal abilities, they connected with the content in that their nonverbal cues complemented the content that was being presented. Students showed through their nonverbal delivery that they retained information learned and were able to exhibit their understanding of concepts taught through hip-hop and technology. Students displayed their knowledge by enacting performances and movie scenes. 

Quantitative data indicated that only 10% of students were comfortable with verbal delivery. When students were assessed for verbal delivery, it was evident through observation and reviewing videos that they paid close attention to how they enunciated words, managed speaking rate, and used their voice to project to the back of the room.  However, certain vocal elements like vocal expressiveness, vocal variety, and using pauses in key places still needed improvement, which 90% of students fell into this category. 

This research proved that using hip-hop pedagogy as a platform to teach communication skills is a viable way to get students involved in their studies, help students retain information, and introduce coursework that is relevant to them and their culture. As a result of this research, it is evident that using a hip-hop curriculum that incorporated the tenets (emceeing, breakdancing, graffiti, and deejaying) of hip-hop increased students’ written, nonverbal, and verbal communication skills. Educators could close the cultural gap and discontent in the classroom by learning and using hip-hop pedagogy to spark learners’ interest.

Future Research

Future research on hip-hop pedagogy would consist of identifying whether or not creating a portfolio of hip-hop educational lyrics would be an effective tool to increase student retention in other disciplines. The research would use various techniques such as producing an educational rap compact disc and creating audio books over hip-hop beats. Another area of study would be to construct a hip-hop curriculum for each form of communication and focus on the skillset that learners need to develop the most. 



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