I received some cool questions about chanting:

  1. Is the chant a part of the script?
  2. Where does it originate – with a student or the teacher?
  3. What is its purpose – to reinforce a grammatical structure?
  4. Do you have an example of a story with a chant?

I said:
I know that if I speak correctly to my students in ways that are interesting and comprehensible to them they will learn the language. Chants magnify that process.
Chants just happen. They express the joy or other emotion that we may feel in a certain moment of a story. I feel that chants originate from the suggested rhythms of certain emotionally charged word patterns that may arise in the story.
It is the nature of language to want to become a song, as all living things aspire to higher forms of expression. Language lets me know it wants this in a cellular way, by sending messages to my body. I feel the need to chant in my body. Some line in a story sends me a message that it can be chanted, and all I have to do is:

  1. listen to and act on the message.
  2. resist the urge to quit on the chant because of fear of looking foolish. I’ll fly my freak flag and if somebody doesn’t get me than so what?

So when I am in the FLOW of a story, and some (usually short) sentence comes into the play with a certain unidentifiable quality, I pay attention to it – it can be seized upon and repeated. Once I sense IN MY BODY that a certain phrase can be given the spotlight in this way, I simply point to the focus of the chant (usually an actor) and start chanting. The kids then join in because they can’t help it – it gets in their bodies too. And if they don’t who cares?
There is power in chanting. It is a high form of language acquisition. Or we could cut off the impulse when it occurs. I guess it’s up to us.



5 thoughts on “Chanting”

  1. Nathaniel demonstrated this masterfully yesterday: “El bombero fue, fue, fue al fuego…fue, fue, fue al fuego…fue, fue, fue al fuego…y el fuego…se fue!” (the fireman went, went went to the fire…and the fire went away!”). Laurie is going to write up his magical embedded story. Stay tuned 😀
    Chanting is a physical embodiment of sound. In traditional sanskrit chanting, there are different energetic resonances created by the placement of the tongue when certain syllables are pronounced out loud, etc. You can actually feel these in different parts of the body if you pay attention. This is why certain “seed mantras” are said to open various energy channels.
    WHAT?!?!?! Just connecting this to the real power of sound as vibration. It changes our cells! Am I gonna talk about this in class? NO. But there is “something” to chanting that is way beyond our intellect, as Ben describes here. It can take the form of one word that is fun to say (which one? the one that you or the class reacts to/ finds play in it !) or a phrase or sentence. Call and response! Cheerleading anyone?
    I have noticed that even my reluctant students spontaneously repeat phrases when I say them with emotion or whisper or use different voice inflections. Even when I say “don’t repeat; just listen.” They imitate the sounds more accurately when they are playing around. And I don’t even focus on accuracy because I hardly ever ask them to repeat anything. I need to remember this though. They want to use their voices! I could allow and tune into this sound play when I see/hear students doing it. Maybe this is a form of brain break that will help me in those moments when I feel chaos erupting. Just wondering out loud.

    1. Jen, you have made me aware of “private speech” in which my students imitate me saying certain words. I intentionally give my words a different tone and sometimes different accent. Sometimes they find it funny… I’ll definitely try the chant thing. I don’t care about appearing foolish.

  2. I like the way you said “just wondering out loud” jen. That’s really what trying to float a chant in a class is about, right? We try it, and if the energy is there, even if my own students stare at me like I’m crazy, if I feel the chant, I’m doing it and when I’m done I’m dropping the mike and walking away (or at least back to the story). Then when I’m done teaching and looking back at all this character building, I will know that I never left a single chant untested. That is called living.

  3. I LOVE chanting. Ever since I saw Joe Nielson 4 years ago at the TCI conference in Maine. I’ve tried to incorporate chanting in as many stories as possible. My students love it too. We have chants that go with certain structures, we have claps that go with others, we have singsongy-time chants as well and we get up and move around automatically to certain ones. I think chants are more powerful than gestures at times.

  4. That reminds me of a cool idea from Sabrina that I use every day:
    There are three fairly common words in French that mean “suddenly”:
    tout de suite
    Sabrina states:
    …in every story something happens all of a sudden, so we’ve been doing the following and it’s a lot of fun. I’ve trained my class – every time they hear tout à coup – to snap their fingers twice, thump their feet twice and say soudain…
    The chant in my classroom is “tout-à-coup! soudain! tout de suite!” clap clap or hit their desks with their hands twice. It just requires someone to start it and keep it loud so that is why it is a job, the Soudain Chant Leader.
    This job is much like the Mais Bleater job, where the purpose of the move is to freak out observers, because, with both the bleating (coming from one student) and the soudain move (coming from the entire class), the thing takes about five seconds and it’s over and the class is trained to act as if nothing happened and so the observer gets a little wigged out, which is always fun.

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