WORD up - an English teacher has turned to the world of rap to spark an interest in poetry in his pupils.

Peter Kelly from Holy Cross High School in Hamilton has started to use rap battles between pupils in S2 to develop literacy, wordplay and a sense of rhyme.

The format is taken from classic stand-offs between American rappers who trade insults and abuse until one is declared the winner.

Under the classroom format developed by Mr Kelly, no abusive language is allowed and the battles are used as debates to explore topics such as bullying and the use of violence.

Mr Kelly said the response from pupils had been very enthusiastic with a particular impact on boys who are known for switching off in the early years of secondary.

"It is undeniable that rap has a fairly negative image, especially from a parental point of view, but there is another side which often does not get explored," he said.

"As teachers we are met with young people from all sorts of different backgrounds who may have confrontational attitudes towards the process of learning.

"The idea of repackaging a lot of the traditional elements of English in a way that would engage otherwise disengaged pupils was at the forefront of my thinking."

Mr Kelly said there were many parallels between the work of rappers and the poetry that is more commonly associated with traditional English lessons.

"There is the wordplay and the rhythm of the sentences and the rhymes themselves, but beyond that there is a sophistication to the best of rap which sees metaphor continued beyond any shallow insult.

"Rap battles themselves also need to be looked at again because those who are occupied with that activity are very clever, very witty and able to create a form of poetry on the spur of the moment. That is the sort of thing that young people should be encouraged to do and which will help them grow their confidence and allow them to tap into other poetry."

Mr Kelly said he had never seen such a positive reaction to poetry in the classroom before he started the rap battles in his past 11 years of teaching.

"This seems to have a resonance, particularly for boys. It is very difficult to approach the subject of poetry with boys because they see it as a bit soft, or flowery or romantic, but putting poetry into a rap context with a competitive element is a good way to raise attainment. Having said that, girls are involved as well and enjoy it just as much."

Craig Munro, strategic director for the Education Scotland quango, which helps develop the curriculum, said the project was a good example of innovation in the classroom. "Under the new curriculum teachers are being encouraged to think outside the box and use innovative practice to motivate their pupils and open them up to new experiences," he said.

Mr Kelly will be appearing at the Scottish Learning Festival in Glasgow next week where he will discuss the impact of rapping on his English lessons.

Rapping, also known as "spitting", refers to spoken or chanted rhyming lyrics often performed in time to a beat.

Although the format of chanted words exists in many cultures over centuries the birth of modern rapping is associated with the late 1970s in New York.

Kool Herc, a Jamaican immigrant, started delivering simple raps at his parties, inspired by the Jamaican tradition of toasting - also using spoken words over music. Rap is now a multi-million-pound worldwide industry.