Teaching: WW1 conflict poetry and Teacher-Student well-being (via HiphopEd)


So I’ve been studying conflict poetry with my year 8s this half term. Because they’re doing a project on WW1 across Humanities and Art, I decided to let the unit sprawl into WW1 poetry.

All fairly standard fare to begin with – until, of course, I found myself listening to Eminem on youtube while planning a lesson on Wilfred Owen’s ‘Dulce Et Decorum Est’.

Who would’ve known that you can read Dulce, perfectly in rhythm, alongside the instrumental for ‘Like Toy Soldiers’? Because you can.  A few powerpoint slides later, that was the basis of the next lesson.


It was cool to have this as an entry into the poem, getting the kids to just make it flow before wrestling with language, form and meaning. And, of course, starting with rhythm led to some compelling early conclusions as to the form, language and meaning of the poem, which, in turn, gave the kids a sharp sense of ownership.




(Note: Video footage exists of me having a go at rapping Dulce with my class, but you’ll have to imagine it ‘cos I’m not posting that up here. Yet.)

A few lessons pass and we get into the swing of things with Owen, a timed essay comes and goes and we wind down in preparation for the next unit on London.

Bearing in mind that the theme of our poetry study was conflict, it made sense to start with that angle, hence the essential question for our opening lesson:

Are you at conflict with LONDON?

I teach in East London, so it was an easy flip to introduce Dizzee ‘E3’ Rascal into the mix. I played the instrumental to the opening track off ‘Boy In Da Corner’ (‘Sittin Here’) and distributed lyric sheets to the kids. Task 1: how many problems/ conflicts can you spot?

The results were scintillating. Even as a card-carrying convert to hiphop pedagogy, I was taken aback by the engagement and relevance this had to these year 8 Londoners. The conversation started with some notes, and ballooned into a full and rich debate as to the subjects and subtexts being explored by Dizzee.

WP_002007 WP_002004


As a footnote to this little anecdote, it’s worth noting that I’d recently had a pretty major blow-out with one kid in my class, which we hadn’t quite patched up yet. It had reached a bad place, sort of, whereby I wasn’t really engaging with him beyond a strictly functional basis. This, in effect, meant him coming into my classroom in a huff, refusing to do much by way of thinking, and essentially seeking to show me how disinterested he was in the whole deal.

Likewise, I had a pretty crap strategy up my sleeve of sending him outside to do some drudgery exercise book work, if he refused to engage. Messy stuff, this teaching business.

Anyway, within seconds of his hearing Dizzee and being presented with the song-sheet, he was in. And by the end of the session, he and I were sharing ideas, nodding and listening and doing all those things that the TDA would have you believe happens daily in healthy classrooms. Here’s a blast of his notes:

notes notes2



Moral of the story?Every now and again, the classroom can be a context that reconciles those three otherwise disparate identities of the Road, Home and School. Hiphoped, can implicitly pull these strands together, and it can be fun to explicitly use hiphop as a hook for doing so.

So, next steps. Obvious: I’ll get the class to synthesise all of these ideas before we move on to the London unit, by writing…

  • a comparative essay between Wilfred Owen and Dizzee Rascal
  • a remix of ‘Sittin Here’ from the perspective of a WW1 conscript
  • a sonnet dealing with the issues raised by Dizzee Rascal’s first album
  • something else (the kids can decide)


It’ll be fun.

Until next time,

-Unseen Flirtations (aka ‘Sir’)


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