Last year, Drs. Anne Charity Hudley and Christine Mallinson published a book on how to address language variation in the classroom (Understanding English Language Variation in US Schools). One of their suggestions: having students translate the language of hip hop or rap songs into the kind of language you typically see in the classroom. Of course, the subject material in the songs you use for this project would have to be appropriate for the age of the students, but the activity is great.
In fact, there are lots of ways that you can use song lyrics in the classroom. Many of my colleagues at Old Dominion University, for example, use them as an introduction to poetry. Last week, I used song lyrics to talk about the gender roles in my graduate Language and Gender class. In my 200 level writing class, I have two students doing similar analyses on songs by Jay-Z and the Ying Yang Twins.
Song lyrics (and people’s reactions to them) can tell us a lot about language and society. Here’s a link to an academic conference on this very issue at the University of Texas San Antonio next month:
Check it out for even more ideas.