A modern twist on an ancient text

The beats from the Boehly Upper School were loud enough that it drew the attention of several teachers and students in the hallways. But Form III English students weren’t playing music to disrupt class – they were performing a rap based on Oedipus Rex by Sophocles, and assignment that demonstrated active learning, creativity, and critical thinking skills.  

“The project was really fun and engaging,” said Justin ’27. “It offered a modern perspective of the play.” 

“Oedipus is a classic Greek tragedy that students find a bit shocking when they hear the plot,” said Meredith Josef, a Form III and Form VI English teacher. “Oedipus kills his father and marries his mother all while trying to avoid a prophecy he eventually fulfills. Once students get past the storyline, we make the text accessible by framing it as a murder mystery that only Oedipus can solve, while we, as the audience, are in on the plot. It is engaging to read in class with students taking on different roles as Oedipus uncovers the clues.” 

Students learn the key elements of a tragedy, complete character studies, and practice vocabulary words. And while they also spend time on persuasive, reflective, and analytical writing, the students’ final project is a creative one. The project involves turning a key scene from a character’s perspective into a modern-day rap or poem about a Landon experience performed in front of classmates. 

“Students are more invested when they write about something they know, so it worked well,” Josef added. “Most chose to rap about the dress code, lunch, homework, sports, or friends – all subjects they are passionate about! They also enjoyed the choice of working with a partner or on their own.” 

“This project really helped me get a better understanding of the text, because when you’re reading it in its original form, it can be confusing and hard to apply it to your life,” said Gage ’27. “But we were able to kind of break down a specific part and that helped me understand it a whole lot more.” 

“We spend a lot of time in the beginning of the unit on point of view and perspective, and we return to that distinction regularly, so students understand how people see situations differently given their background, experience, motivations, and/or beliefs,” Josef said. “We also focus on summarizing and paraphrasing, which are necessary not only to understand the text but also to develop valuable communications tools for life. Those critical thinking and writing skills are what they use to create the rap.” 

Josef credits fellow English teacher Stephanie Wooten, who has used the rap assessment in her classes, for giving Josef the idea and framework for Grade 9 students. This year, with the ascent of ChatGPT, Josef turned to Educational Technology Specialist Nicole Maggio and Upper School Learning Specialist Anne-Marie Bobart to personalize the assignment so students could not rely on AI (Artificial Intelligence) alone to produce their work. It was Maggio who suggested that students write a rap about a personal experience at Landon. 

“We have an amazing collaborative spirit among the faculty and specialists,” Josef said. "As we adjust to the world of AI in English writing, I am grateful I can ask my colleagues for creative, thoughtful ideas on how to engage the students in the craft while not making it a chore.” 

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