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Rap Genius Close Reading Exercise

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Screen shot of the first chapter of "The Great Gatsby" by F. Scoot Fitzgerald, with an example annotation and the cover of the novel.
Brief Assignment Overview: 

This close reading assignment uses “Rap Genius”, an Internet annotation website, to connect each student with multiple audiences while also creating a forum where the entire class can pool their knowledge together in order to better analyze and understand the work of a specific author.

Type of Assignment: 
Assignment Length: 
Pedagogical Goals - Writing: 
Pedagogical Goals - Digital Literacy: 
Required Materials: 

A computer for each small group, ideally for each student in the group. A media consolae/projeftor for the small groups to present their completed annotation project. 

Timeline for Optimal Use: 
Full Assignment Description: 

In this assignment, students practice their close reading skills in small groups of three or four students. Each group is given a different poem or a short story by the same author. While discussing the text together, they must identify and analyze important passages or lines. After their discussion, they will annotate a copy of their text—a copy which has previously been posted by the teacher on the Rap Genius website—using the analysis they produced in their small group. 

When each group has completed their annotation of their text, the class will reconvene as a whole to share their close readings. Each group shares their analysis of the text using their annotated copy on the Rap Genius website. After each group’s presentation, there should be an opportunity for anyone in the class to add an annotation to the poem or short story. Because the same author wrote each text analyzed by the small groups, the students should better be able to use their knowledge of the author’s style, biography or evolution as a writer to expand on the original analysis of the poem or short story.

This assignment provides the students with multiple audiences—the individual members of their small group, the class at large, and the Rap Genius online community. It also encourages the students to learn from each other. The exercise offers multiple points where class participation shapes the analysis of the text, and the diverse readings of different texts by the same author are able to inform each group’s close analysis as well as the larger appreciation of the author’s body of work.

Suggestions for Instructor Preparation: 

This assignment works best after the fundamentals of close reading have been established in the class. Ideally, the teacher will have first modeled the close reading of a passage from a poem or short story, as then lead a collaborative close reading with the class of another text. Once the teacher is confidant the class can lead their own close readings, he or she can use this assignment as a platform for allowing the students to execute a close reading without the direct guidance of a teacher.

Please note that this assignment requires the instructor to upload each text that the students will analyze to Rap Genius prior to the closer reading exercise. It is easy to post a text; there are detailed instructions on the website and it requires you to paste a copy of the text onto the website. (And if there are any questions, do not hesitate in asking Jeremy Dean, the head of “Education Genius Department” for Rap Genius and a University of Texas alum! His contact info is

Instructions For Students: 

1. Each group of students (3-4) will be handed a different text, either a poem or short story, written by the same author. (Note: This can either be done at the beginning of class if it is a short text, or before the beginning of class if it is a longer text.)

2. Each group will discuss the text and identify important passages (Usually 6 – 8).

3. Each group will then analyze these passages, providing insight on the style, historical context or thematic value of the passage. Each analysis should be 1 – 4 sentences long. This analysis can either be done on paper or on a computer, but if it is done on a computer it will be easier for the students to copy the analysis and paste it in their annotation.

4. Each student will make an account on Rap Genius (, which will allow them to annotate texts on the website. An email, a username and a password are all that are needed for an account.

5. Each group will then find their text on the Rap Genius database.

6. Once the text is found, they should add their analysis of each passage as online annotations to the text

a.     To add an annotation:

i.     Highlight the passage you wish to annotate

ii.     An option “Annotate” will appear. Click this button.

iii.     Add analysis to the text box.

7. When the group's annotations are complete, all of the small groups should reconvene as a whole class.

8. Each group can now present their analysis of their text, going through each annotation and explaining the importance of each passage.

a.     For example:

i.     How does each of their annotations analyze the author’s use of rhetorical style?

ii.     What are the central symbols or themes present in the selected passage?

iii.     What historical context did the group add in their annotation to help the reader better understand the passage?

iv.     What biographical details from the Author’s life or career might help deepen our understanding of the passage?

9. After each group finishes the presentation of their analysis, allows other students in the class the opportunity to amend or add to any of the annotations.


Evaluation Suggestions: 

This exercise is perhaps best assessed as component of the student’s participation grade. A specific number of annotations should be required form each group (6-8 usually works well). Their presentations should also be clear.

However, the Rap Genius annotation platform could be used in a version of this assignment that is completed by each individual student, and not as a small group exercise. Or the teacher could add an annotation component to a student’s essay on the close reading of a passage; the student could have to submit both a short essay and export a certain number of annotations from his essay onto the Rap Genius website.

Notes on Reception, Execution, etc.: 

Students generally reacted well to this assignment, especially to the fact that their final analysis was posted on Rap Genius, available to anyone on the Internet. It was also a good way to incorporate the computer classroom into a English literature class. Furthermore, some students continued to annotate other texts on the Rap Genius website after the exercise was completed, as Rap Genius is continuing to expand their inclusion of literary texts. A few students were especially interested in annotating texts from the extensive list of Rap, Indie Rock and Pop songs on the website.

Course Description: 

This assignment is designed for an English Literature course with access to a computer lab. It has been used effectively in Ethnic American literature classes, where it is important to consider both literary style and historical context when close reading passages. The assignment is also good for analyzing poems that are influenced by historical events, where the students can identify in selected passages how authors directly engage political and cultural touchstones from their respective eras. The exercise is also designed for class with 25 or less students. 

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