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Host a Gangsta Throwdown in Your Home or Office

March 21, 2011

Last week I finished my first trimester at the ESL teacher training academy. Teaching programs are inherently weird because the material is 100% hypothetical and theoretical, whereas the job it’s designed to train you for is 100% practical. Ergo, therefore, irregardless of your grades, you have (and your instructors have) absolutely no idea whether you’re any good at teaching until you actually get into a classroom. And of course no matter how much potential you display in your classes, you will very likely suck quite badly in your first teaching job until you’ve learned which of your character traits to exploit and suppress in a classroom, figured out time-saving techniques, determined what classes at different levels expect and are capable of, etc. etc. etc. Nobody walks into any job fully trained and ready to do it perfectly. I could use that statement as a means of launching into a rant about how employers these days are becoming more and more narrow-minded and screwing themselves and others over by expecting applicants to have a certificate or diploma in the exact thing they’re hiring for. They’re waaay too happy to feed and coddle the Hydra of Mistaken HR Philosophies, whose heads protrude thusly: (1) Having a degree or certificate in something automatically means you are more able to do it than someone who doesn’t and that means you won’t require as much training/guidance, and (2) Not having a degree or certificate in something means that despite the particulars of your education and work history, it must obviously be assumed that you don’t possess the skills and abilities necessary to excel at the position.

I could do that rant, and I have, but today I have something much more important to talk about, and that is collaborative rap throwdowns and how you can easily make them happen. I have no idea whether this would work for realsies in an ESL classroom, but I’m inclined to think it would, and meanwhile, it’ll also work pretty much any other circumstance involving a group of people and some free time.

Prep Time: 15 minutes max.

What You Need

  • a group of people who are ready and willing to temporarily become gangsta superstars
  • the ability to count and come up with words that rhyme with each other
  • a computer or a pen
  • paper
  • (optional) a ghettoblaster ready to pump out a standard hip-hop beat

What You Do

1. Figure out how many people will be involved in your throwdown. Multiply that by the number of rounds you’d like to have.

2. Now that you have your number, cut or rip a strip of paper for each . One piece of 8.5×11″ paper will make six decently sized strips. Or whatever. Just create a bunch of strips of paper, it’s not complicated. They don’t have to be attractive or all the same size. Each strip must be long/wide enough for someone to write a regular-sized sentence on it.

3. Write/type a number from 1 to whatever on each strip of paper. The numbers should be sequential.

4. Write/type a letter (A, B, or C) at the top of each strip. The letters can (and should!) be randomly alternated. When you do the activity, each participant will be composing a sentence on a topic that corresponds to the letter on his/her strip. So, on a different sheet of paper, assign each letter a topic and some instructions appropriate to the genre of gangsta rap. (You could definitely go past C with an advanced/enthusiastic group.)  For my class, “A” was Write something extremely positive about yourself or your abilities, “B” was Write an extremely mean insult toward somebody you dislike, and “C” was Write something positive about your city, your neighbourhood, or where you were born.

5. Write/type a straight line across the bottom of each strip. Then add a word at the end. Make sure it’s a common word that could easily come at the end of a sentence, because the participants will have to end their sentences with these words. Create rhyming couplets (the words on strips 1 and 2 rhyme, strips 3 and 4 rhyme, etc.) so that when everybody reads their lines, poetry will magically occur.

6. Distribute the strips. Explain that the numbers indicate the reading order and the letters indicate the topic of the sentence to be written. Write on the board, or hand out, the instructions for each letter so that everyone knows what to write about. Give everyone time to write a sentence in his/her blank. The sentences should be of a length that comfortably fits in the blank so that everyone’s contribution to the whole is roughly the same. Instruct the group that there should be no novels and no two-word sentences.

7. Ready the ghettoblaster (if applicable)!

8. Get everyone to stand up. Remind them to read with enthusiasm, like straight-up gangstas. Also remind them that their last word rhymes with someone else’s, so they should emphasize it in their delivery in order to bring out the poetry.

9. Press play on the ghettoblaster (if applicable).

10. Everyone drops their own beat! The disses and brags all weave together in a harmony of collective amazingness.

(11. Explain to your teacher, who was watching the activity, that profanity is a genre convention of hip-hop as well as an integral part of the English language, so teachers should teach that vocabulary and–at certain appropriate times, such as a gangsta throwdown–allow it to be used in the classroom so that students will become accustomed to it. Further assure her that if she wants to read up on the role of swearing in language, or the linguistics behind it, you will be thrilled to recommend some excellent articles and book chapters.)

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One Comment leave one →
  1. unterfeichtauerin permalink
    January 6, 2014 4:06 pm

    Great idea! I’ll try this right tomorrow!

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