The Other Kind of Chanting: Little Chanting

Chanting certain expressions in class is a powerful way to acquisition. Meaning is simply hammered in deeper with chants. However, when we are told in workshops about chanting, we walk away feeling funny about actually doing it and then we rarely do them in our classes.

We feel funny because our perception of chanting is one of getting the class all riled up in a big cheering kind of activity. Though that is sometimes possible, most of us were not cheerleaders in high school and we already feel as exposed as we want to be in our classrooms just doing stories. Therefore, we need to explore the other kind of chanting. What is that?

The other kind of chanting is when we pick up on a phrase that has a little humor or rhythm in it, and explore it in class for the humor and/or its rhythmic value. If we find a phrase that has one or both of those qualities, we can start repeating it, not as a loud class chant, but as a kind of quiet repetition for a short amount of time – 20 or 30 seconds or so.

We can repeat a phrase that catches our attention with its humor or because of a certain rhythm that it has. We may only end up repeating the structure four or five times, and then we would simply move on with the CI. This kind of chanting doesn’t have to be yelled, it can be tasted. Watch the kids, they will be moving their mouths in spite of their everpresent need to hide and protect themselves in school settings.

When we do the other kind of chanting, we get good reps on the structures, and the kids hear the structures repeated more than once, and accent is taught at the unconscious level, and we don’t have to feel like a fool. In this kind of chanting, we are not trying to get a big chant going at all. We just say it almost to ourselves for the fun of it, but loud enough for everyone to get in on it if they want to.

I have noticed that when I do this, my own mood goes up. I feel the mojo of just playing with language while I model for the kids how to relax and flow and enjoy the sounds of language, of words, just for the fun of it, just for the play. If they see a teacher having fun while teaching, maybe they will relax a little and learn to have fun themselves while learning.

It’s too bad teachers have beaten all the fun out of our kids. Can languages even be learned if they are not learned in a positive setting? Those of us who take the chance in those little moments of class to do “little chanting” when the opportunities arise, when the sounds of certain structures present themselves in totally unannounced fashion to us, by accepting the invitation to playn in the sound of the words, are happier and better teachers and so our kids learn more.

In my opinion, it is more important for us to be happy in our instruction than that our kids learn a lot. If students sense that we are not happy in our instruction, they won’t learn much at all.

When we accept our own invitation to play, we are lucky, because we get to enjoy ourelves more, and we teach our kids to explore play – even in school – as well. Then we and our students don’t have to think that school is not all about pure mental drudgery and that learning and life itself can be fun.

It’s important for us not to forget that we can be happy in our jobs, and that if we are, then that will carry over into our regular lives, because there is no separation between our lives and our jobs – they are totally interconnected and cannot be separated. If one sucks, the other will suck.

It is in unconscious enjoyment of language that kids acquire language. If kids in our language classes can just be allowed to feel like kids in neighborhood pools on a hot summer day in the summer, just swimming and laughing and having fun, then they will learn the languages we teach them.

Just because concepts of play like “little chanting” can’t be put into lesson plans or pacing guides doesn’t mean that they aren’t the most powerful ways to learn languages, because they are. Play is everything.



3 thoughts on “The Other Kind of Chanting: Little Chanting”

  1. “In my opinion, it is more important for us to be happy in our instruction than that our kids learn a lot. If students sense that we are not happy in our instruction, they won’t learn much at all.”

    Words to live by in the classroom. My inner tyrant is always suspicious of too much fun or happiness in the classroom. It is that insecurity that we won’t be respected by the students. Also, it is the constant suspicion of student motives. If they respond positively to something with (even appropriate) laughter or enthusiasm, it must be stopped, because they are trying to derail the class. I am also battling the instinct to “get back to the lesson” that is, to get back to the stuff they don’t enjoy, but is part of MY plan for them.

    “If one sucks, the other will suck”

    I think that we are in one of the few professions where we can really spend much of our work day playing, but we choose not to, because we have been told that it is not okay, it is a waste of our time and our students’ time. But the opposite is actually true. If we’re not playing, that’s when time is wasted. Also, we have the research to back us up when we remind ourselves and parents and administrators: if there is no play and no joy, there cannot be any language acquisition either.

  2. Here is an example of a Little Chant:

    Let’s say I use the verb has in French in a discussion. Even though they have heard it used over a thousand times in context and can process it unconsciously as long as words surround it, if I ask them what “a” means in English, they get stymied, tripped by the rude pulling of unconscious sound out of their deeper minds and having it pointed to as a hard question from the teacher who is asking for a conscious response from them, a translation.

    So when they trip over the question, “Class, what does ‘a’ mean in French?” I do a little chant as per:

    A -TIENE – HAS! A -TIENE – HAS! A -TIENE – HAS! A -TIENE – HAS! A -TIENE – HAS! A -TIENE – HAS! (the tiene is because 98% of my kids’ first language is Spanish).

    I don’t care if any of them go with me. I’m doing a little chant and I am going to let my freak flag fly. Some go with me. We get a rhythm going. After the seventeen seconds it takes to little chant that sound input into their deeper minds, we go right back into the CI. The little chant blipped in and blipped out.

  3. This is one of the greatest parts about teaching another language is the fun we get to have chanting, singing, acting and really making fools of ourselves in front of our students (at least I do anyways-they think I’m nuts in a good way.) I am constantly blown away by how often the students play and sing along with me. I sometimes forget to play with the 8th graders, thinking that they might not want to play.

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