Students Get Help Writing Lyrics

Kennedy Center Artist Baba Bomani, right, worked with JHS ninth graders in Barbi Price’s English Language Arts class.

As part of a local partnership team consisting of Chautauqua Institution, Jamestown Public Schools and the Chautauqua Lake Central School District and the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts Partners in Education Program, Baba Bomani, a Washington, D.C., artist recently guided Ring and Love Elementary School and Jamestown High School ninth grade English students in synthesizing factual information by writing lyrics for a hip-hop song about themselves through a fresh and energizing professional development and classroom workshops.

“Baba Bomani had the students fully engaged as he taught them his rules for creative writing, the steps of the writing process, and the four ways to rhyme, all of which was done using rap lyrics and dance motions. They loved the process of finding rhyming words and putting them together to make their own rap. Even reluctant writers were excited about coming up with ways to introduce themselves,” said Ring Elementary School teacher Kim Austin. “We are so lucky to have the opportunity to participate with the Kennedy Center Through the Arts visiting artists, through our partnership with Chautauqua Institution and Chautauqua Lake Schools. The program not only helps teachers to learn new and innovative ways to incorporate the arts into the curriculum in meaningful ways, but it gives the classroom teacher the chance to see what that looks like in the classroom. What sets this program apart from other professional development opportunities is that the artist visits the classroom and works directly with the students before or after the teacher participates in the training.”

Bomani showed students how a well-written essay resembles a well-written song. The main idea is the thesis paragraph in an essay, and is the chorus/refrain/hook in a song, while the supporting details in an essay are just like the verses in a song.

Using innovative techniques such as the Rhyme Tree, students learned how to summarize any topic with well-organized paragraphs and rhymes. Students used mind mapping, dancing, chorus rhyming and open mic by sharing their rhymes, students learned more about the writing process: pre-writing, drafting, revising, editing and publishing.

“It was fun to be so involved in the learning,” said Mercedes Johnson, a Jamestown High School ninth-grade student. Classmate, Maddisyn LaTone agreed saying, “Baba’s way of teaching was different, but we learned while we all participated.”

The workshop allowed teachers to learn that creative writing through hip-hop allows them to:

¯ Assess student’s ability to communicate their thoughts verbally.

¯ Guide students in finding their writer’s voice; and

¯ Engage students in multiple modes of learning, reaching students with differing abilities.

Teacher, Barbi Price added, “Using hip-hop song writing as another way for students to show their understanding taps into their creativity while allowing me to assess their grasp of the skills they need to master. Bomani was a dynamic presenter: funny, loud, and engaging!”

For almost two years, Bomani has been using hip-hop as a teaching tool.

“From years of sitting down with teachers, artists, librarians, administrators while pouring over the Common Core curriculum and dozens of lesson plans, I have developed songs, exercises and graphic organizers that make any student feel confident in writing,” remarked Bomani. “This opens up a whole world of possibilities to keep students engaged and excited about the writing process.”


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