Hip Hop as Literacy

Johanna Marion explains how her love and passion for music and rhyming, became a useful tool in the classroom,  igniting the fire for learning and creating memories from everyday lessons.

CanLit Community | By Johanna Marion

Johanna performing at a local event on the Sunshine Coast, BC.


The Hip-Hop as Literacy Project took roots in my mind in the year 2000.  At the time, I was in my final year of Teacher Training at the University of Victoria, in British Columbia.  I was experimenting with techniques to assist with memorization, and had taken to re-writing my information from class into rhyming couplets.

For some reason, once I’d organized information this way, my retention of knowledge began to improve.  It’s no wonder, really!  I was raised on nursery rhymes, Dr. Seuss stories, and rhyming songs by Children’s  Performers like Raffi, Fred Penner, Charlotte Diamond, and Sharon, Lois and Braham.  It was easy for me to relate to rhyming lyrics, and it was then that I decided to try this concept out in a classroom.  I delivered an entire Math Lesson in rhyme in front of a Grade 5/6 class as part of my final practicum, and they LOVED it.

I was raised on nursery rhymes, Dr. Seuss stories, and rhyming songs by Children’s  Performers like Raffi, Fred Penner, Charlotte Diamond, and Sharon, Lois and Braham. 


Years later, in 2018, I was finally able to use some of my ideas about Hip-Hop lyrics with a group of students that I saw on a weekly basis. At West Sechelt Elementary in Sechelt, B.C., I introduced the concept of “Rap as Poetry” with Grades 5-7, and I started to see something incredible happen. Not only were students of this age writing amazing poetry, the boys in the class (traditionally a harder group to reach when teaching poetry) began to really produce poems! We wrote while listening to beats, did poetry performances, made our own (positive) rap videos using Green Screen technology, and began to look at literary devices as ways to increase our power as songwriters.

This year, I had the privilege of being hired as a Part Time Music Teacher at a school in my neighbourhood in Roberts Creek, British Columbia. The principal was open to trying some new ideas for performances and learning instruments, so we started off our year by learning a music production program called GarageBand.  We began making soundtracks for plays, recorded podcasts and instruments, and started with some basic beat production.  I am hoping that sometime in the near future, students will be a part of co-writing a whole album of Hip-Hop Music for Children with me, and will learn about the recording and production process that an artist goes through.

Johanna in the classroom

It is my belief that analyzing and creating Hip-Hop Music with children in the classroom is a way to stay current as an educator, and a way to use language to convey ideas that allows expression of one’s self.  Not only does it give a unique view of studying literary devices and storytelling structures, it gives an opportunity for students to participate in a culture outside their own that they might not have normally been exposed to. The success with this program so far is all due to the interest and engagement of my students, and I believe that our education system is ready for innovative teaching techniques. Hip-Hop can help with literacy, and rap CAN be poetry!

Johanna Marion, B.Ed.

Intermediate Music Teacher, Roberts Creek Elementary