The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame + Museum


This lesson will help students to better understand and appreciate the epic poem Beowulf by comparing it to a modern rap song. All learners, and at-risk students in particular, learn better when they are able to find relevance and meaning in the curriculum. By establishing links to contemporary issues, students will have the opportunity to demonstrate an understanding of this important work in terms of its cultural and literary significance.


The student will be able to: 

  1. identify cultural values expressed in Beowulf and “Wild Wild West.”
  2. identify the use of the kenning and appositive phrase in both works and evaluate their usefulness as literary tools.
  4. identify and demonstrate the use of rhythm in poetry and rap.
  5. compare and contrast Beowulf and “Wild Wild West” (in terms of #1,2,3).
  6. research a figure from this century appropriate to immortalize in song/verse.
  7. create rap or poem in the style of Beowulf based on the research.
  8. critique fellow students’ poems/raps (peer review)
  9. present the work to the class.


This lesson is an example of an interdisciplinary or thematic approach to students learning in an alternative high school classroom. As such it addresses competencies in language arts, research, writing and current events. It could easily be used in the traditional high school course offerings of British literature and world or American history.

Time Frame

This lesson would take an average of five to seven class periods of ninety minutes. This time frame allows for all assignments to be completed and evaluated during supervised instruction and for presentations of five to ten minutes.


Copies of Beowulf and “Wild Wild West” for each student, CD/tape player, copy of Time magazine’s “Persons of the Century”, instruction handout for writing assignment. 


Depending on the reading level of the students, the literary materials may need to be read aloud by the class. Students should also be familiar with the concept of cultural and personal values. Students will need to know basic research techniques and these should be reviewed prior to the research assignment. The Time “100 Persons of the Century” list can be found in the 6/14/99 issue. Specific information on the individuals featured can be found in the issues of 4/13/98, 6/8/98, 12/17/98, 3/29/99, and 6/14/99.



  1. Play the rap “Wild Wild West” performed by Will Smith. If available, you might also show the music video. Comment on the rhythm and rhyme. Hand out the lyrics to the rap and ask students to listen again paying attention to the values they hear expressed and why they would be important in the old West.
  2. Read together Beowulf - I generally have students take turns reading aloud. As you read, discuss the values expressed in the epic and why they were important to the Geats.
  3. Explain the literary terms kenning and appositive phrase. Have students find examples of both in Beowulf and “Wild Wild West.” As a class, create kennings and appositive phrases for some of the students or school personnel.
  4. Define rhythm, rhyme. Discuss the value of both to oral tradition. Elicit examples of things we remember well because of these devices (nursery rhymes, months of the year, etc).
  5. Assign groups to discuss/report on similarities and differences in the two works using specific categories (plot, hero, heroic feats/abilities, villain, evil acts/powers, setting, values, literary devices-figures of speech).
  6. Discuss some of today’s heroes and their values. How do they influence or contribute to our culture? Who or what are the “monsters” they face?
  7. Hand out the Time magazine “100 Persons of the Century” list. Discuss why some of these individuals appear on the list. Are there some omissions? Do you disagree with some of the names included? What does the list “say” about the culture of this century?
  8. Hand out instruction sheet for research assignment/creative writing.
  9. Review techniques for investigation/research as they apply to this assignment.
  10. Allow at least one class period for students to investigate their subjects. If possible provide the magazine articles noted in the background section of this paper. I would also suggest a class trip to the library.
  11. Review the instructions for immortalizing the subject in a rap or poem. Allow the students at least one class period to compose the assignment. I generally allow some collaboration at this point.
  12. Have students peer edit classmates’ work. Hand out sample rubric.
  13. Students present revised poem/raps to class.


poem/rap =30 % 
presentation =15% 
Research =10% 
Interview = 10% 
Essay =10% 
Peer Review = 10% 
Class discussion/participation 15%

Selected Recordings

“Wild Wild West” recorded by Will Smith (album title, label, date). Written by Robert D. Fusari, Willard C. Smith, and Stevie Wonder, Black Bull Music, Inc.

Enrichment/Additional Resources

For additional models the teacher could introduce some of the American folk heroes such as Davy Crockett, Daniel Boone, or John Henry and the corresponding ballads which have been written about them. From the British tradition there is Robin Hood. Musical selections such as U2’s “Pride” and Elton John’s adaptation of “Candle in the Wind” to honor Princess Diana, or his “Empty Garden” salute to John Lennon, as well as Dion’s 1968 tribute to “Abraham, Martin and John” would also be appropriate. For additional credit, students could be encouraged to share other appropriate musical tributes to individuals and to explain how the subject personified the cultural values of our country.

Contributed by

Karen Waggoner, Fort Worth, TX

Research Project

Using the list compiled by Time magazine, select one American icon of this century about whom you would like to know more. This person will eventually become the subject of a poem or rap you will compose in his or her honor. You will conduct a brief investigation of this subject to include the following: 

  1. Read the Time Magazine article about your subject. Take notes (using notecards) about his/her accomplishments, challenges, contributions to public life, background, and lifestyle.
  2. Locate a second source and add any additional information noted there. *Remember to note your source on the notecard
  3. Interview two (2) people to learn their reactions to your subject. Try to select people from your subject’s generation or who have strong opinions about the subject’s contribution to American life. Write out your interview questions and the responses you received. Please include the names of the individuals interviewed and their signatures.
  4. In a three paragraph essay, explain why you have selected this individual for tribute and what you believe to be his or her contribution to American culture and values. What is his/her legacy?

You will be evaluated for completeness, documentation form, originality of interview questions, reasoning and, of course, clarity of written expression.


Evaluation for poem/rap assignment


  1. Subject: Is subject appropriate to the tribute? Does he/she personify cultural values? Is there sufficient information to chronicle the subject’s accomplishments? Challenges? Legacy?
  2. Style: Is there evidence of the use of literary devices such as kenning, appositive phrases, personification, metaphor, simile; imagery, hyperbole? Is the rhythm of the poem/rap regular? Is there use of rhyme? Refrain?
  3. Creativity: Has the author/artist enhanced the piece with background (music, sound effects)? Are the phrases, comparisons, descriptions original or trite? Is the approach unique?
  4. Unity: Does the piece “hang together”? Is there a clear beginning, middle, end?
  5. Mechanics and expression: Is the selection free of: grammatical errors, spelling errors, unclear references or inappropriate word choice or usage?