Making Stuff Rhyme with Rap

This event is great for:
Making writing less intimidating using rap in the classroom.

Front man of Scottish hip hop group Stanley Odd, Dave Hook describes his experiences as one of the lead artists on the Edinburgh International Book Festival’s Graphic Lyrics project. Then, describes how you can replicate some of the activities in your own school.


Dave Hook shares his experiences of the Graphic Lyrics project:

“A 4th year class of Slovakian, Romanian and Iraqi pupils from Shawlands Academy began working on a project called Graphic Lyrics with myself and graphic novelists Metaphrog. Part of Edinburgh International Book Festival’s Booked! series of community-based projects, we used hip-hop and graphic novel art as a means to develop language, expression and understanding, within the environment of an English classroom.

“The project involved examining fairytales across cultures, rewriting them as raps, then creating graphic novels of the stories with Metaphrog.

“The output from the pupils was phenomenal. Folk stories and fairytales were updated, retold and reset in Shawlands, with great writing and fantastic artwork. The final product is a full colour graphic novel of their stories and a USB drive containing the finished songs. They had a performance of their work at The Glad Café for friends and family and should be very proud of what they’ve made.

“As the entire class were non-native English speakers from a range of cultural backgrounds, a number of challenges presented themselves ranging from developing language skills, to working on instilling the confidence required both to write and perform the lyrics. Many adults that grew up in Scotland have trouble expressing themselves or writing creatively, so for these young adults to do such a brilliant job in their second language is amazing. For me as a writer, language isn’t a fixed thing that never changes; it is constantly evolving into something new. This linguistic evolution is something that young people, both native Scots and those from other cultural and ethnic backgrounds, are constantly contributing to. Whether it is terminology for new technology, slang or subversion of existing language structures, youth culture has a significant impact on how language develops over time.

“The project would not have been as successful without the time and effort of the staff at Shawlands Academy, who spent many hours outside of the scheduled classes working with the pupils on developing their raps, encouraging and supporting them.

“Hip-hop and rap are excellent tools for education, being used more and more frequently in the classroom. The brilliant Word War events created by English teacher Peter Kelly are a perfect example, where a number of schools in South Lanarkshire now hold annual inter-school rap battles on socially relevant topics, developing pupils literacy, performance and debating skills. Community projects have long included rap workshops, yielding very positive results for young people in places within the community that often leave them feeling marginalised and neglected by society. Its efficacy as a creative tool for expressing social, cultural and personal frustration while also helping to build confidence and self-worth has been proven repeatedly both within Scotland and more widely around the globe, providing an alternative outlet for communicating these frustrations to violence or further social isolation.”

Activity – Rap in the Classroom

This practical activity involves word association and storytelling. It includes group participation, encouraging collaboration and making writing less intimidating. The activity may take up to two hours.


  • Brainstorm a sizeable list of words with your class and write them up on a board
  • Split the class into groups of four and give each group eight random words from the board
  • They must then write a 16-line rap using the words they have been allocated

This exercise requires pupils to look at ways that the random words they have received could be used to make a coherent story. It helps to develop an understanding of rhyme schemes, starting with rhyming couplets for each word and of song structure (16 bars in a verse). There are a number of different ways that participants can approach the task.

For example:

  • Lay out the eight words in front of you on strips of paper and try to tell a story using them all (storytelling approach)
  • Count out 16 lines and place a word on every second line, then write a first line that makes sense and rhymes with each word (punchline approach)


Each group should decide on a name for their rap group and perform their raps to the rest of the class. This would be a more daunting task if a solo activity but by doing it in groups pupils can rely on each other for support.

If possible, invite an artist into the class to perform a freestyle rap using all the words on the board. This is a fun activity that really focuses the pupils when they see a story being improvised live.

Dave Hook performs at the Graphic Lyrics Event

Further information:
Graphic Lyrics was a multicultural and cross-disciplinary project and formed part of Edinburgh International Book Festival’s Booked! outreach programme. For more information on this project, visit the Booked! blog: