June is African-American Music Appreciation Month, an observance of the black musicians and composers who have created or contributed to the rich history of music in this country. With school coming to a close and black music being played at backyard parties and festivals throughout Chicago, it seems only right to use African-American music to enhance students’ academics. Below are several lessons that incorporate black music and may improve your child’s proficiency in reading, geography, social studies and writing. 

Reading and hip-hop

Rap music may strengthen students’ reading skills, because it allows them to draw conclusions and describe characters. These skills are both heavily utilized in reading comprehension and reflected in Common Core learning standards. To put these skills to the test, first identify songs in which artists tout their own abilities. Many rap songs fall into this category; however, make sure that you listen to the song in its entirety in order to check for explicit content. Next, get both an audio or video version of the song and a print-out of the song’s lyrics. You may find the audio/video and written versions, respectively, on YouTube and Lyrster. With a pen or pencil in hand, have your child listen to the song while underlining words in the song that tell about the artist’s character. If there is a video of the song, have your child identify actions, mannerisms, reactions, and movements of the artist that give insight into his or her character. For example, if the rapper has a soft tone and only nods his head to the beat throughout the video, it may indicate that he is cool and calm (it may be helpful to brainstorm various character traits before implementing this lesson to better help your child determine the personality of each artist). Finally, have your child write the character traits they concluded about the artists on the print-outs of the rap. Store these song sheets with character traits in a folder, so your child may refer to them when drawing conclusions about characters in books and other readings.  

Geography and R&B

Although we live in a global society, many of our children cannot name locations 50 miles from where they live. Our children need to be able to identify geographic locations on a map beyond these points for travel purposes and for the purpose of discussing events and situations taking place throughout the world. One way to motivate students to learn about places in the world is to have them find the hometowns of their favorite musicians. To do this, you will need to obtain a wall map of the world. You may purchase one at a parent-teacher store, buy one online or create one electronically or in print. When a map is secured, provide your child with a list of famous rhythm-and-blues singers, both young and old (you should find artists from both in and outside the United States). Then, have your child locate each artist’s biography online or at the library to find her birthplace. Once your child has a list of artists and their birthplaces, give them three inch by three inch Post-its and have them write the name of each artist on a Post-it before sticking them on the places on the map in which they were born.   

Social Studies, writing and house music

Chicago house music was birthed in the late 1970’s. Black artists like Steve “Silk” Hurley created house songs we still hear on the radio today. Because Chicago house is so young and so close to home, it would be wise to have your child use his or her social studies and writing skills to explore this genre. Have your child compose a research paper on a topic within house music (e.g., its history, its impact on youth, famous house artists, etc.). Your child may find credible, online sources related to the topic as well as interview local house musicians. Since the annual house music picnic (The Chosen Few Old School Reunion Picnic) is held in July, your child may interview attendees. Then, have your child use their research to write a paper on what they discovered and cite their sources within and at the end of the paper.  For citation help, see Purdue University’s Online Writing Lab.

In honor of African-American Music Appreciation month, take some time to not only celebrate black music, but be open to the rich possibilities it offers to educate our youth.

To find out more

Lyrster: http://www.lyrster.com/

The Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL): https://owl.english.purdue.edu/