From TPRS in a Year! –
Skill #20: Chants
The repetition of chants can burn new language into the kids’ minds better than practically anything else! If you can just get the words into the kids’ bodies via a good gut-based chant, it will, via the repetition, work wonders for retention. In my view, chants are better than songs because they are shorter and more visceral.
How do you know what to chant? You probably want to chant high frequency words, to reinforce them. If the word a quitté (left, went away) – a very high frequency word – comes up in a story or during a reading session, stop everything for a few moments to reinforce it. Do anything that pops into your mind.
I once put a kid in a corner, whispered to the kid to stay there until I gave the signal, and started this chant: “Quitte! Quitte! Quitte le coin!/Leave! Leave! Leave the corner!” We chanted loudly, slowly, romantically, angrily, etc. The student, following my instruction, refused to leave. The tension built. The kids started to snap their fingers between the words.
As the chant died down and the student left the corner, it was easy to process the verb in the past tense, which was then back in its original form in the story: “Class, did Eric leave the corner?” After processing that, we just jumped back into the story and went on. It was a little “chant break”.
For those young enough to remember this one from the golden age of television, the Adams Family theme song has been mentioned a few times on the TPRS listserve as a great basis for a chant. It is a real winner.
For example, the structure il tombe par terre/he falls to the ground can be chanted with appropriate Adams Family thumb snaps after il tombe:
Il tombe (snap snap)… il tombe (snap snap)… il tombe il tombe il tombe (snap snap)… The ability to recognize the rhythmic connection between a song and a line of language is a gift, but one that can be developed.
If you are working with food during a story, ask the class if the food that the hero wants is a certain kind of pie. In French this would be “Est-ce que c’est une tarte aux fraises?/Is it a strawberry pie?”
This is chanted to the military “I don’t know but I’ve been told” chant, and the answer would be to the rhythm of the military response. Thus, “Est-ce que c’est une tarte aux fraises?” would be enthusiastically answered with “Ce n’est pas une tarte aux fraises!”
“Est-ce que c’est une tarte aux fraises?” becomes “Est-ce que c’est une tarte aux pommes (apples)?” and so on. It is best to have a basket of little plastic fruits to pull out each time a new one is mentioned to avoid the use of English. Reviewing the new vocabulary by writing the new food words on the board after the chanting is optional, but a good idea for district outcomes assessments.
One teacher who uses this military chant adds a twist – she tells me that she can’t remember to use this chant enough and so has taught herself to use it whenever abeverage comes up in class. She says that when a beverage comes up in a story her mind remembers it, and so off to the races she goes. An excellent chant if properly done!
The key thing about chants is that they can occur anytime, and that they are rarely pre-panned. They are a gut reaction of the instructor to a certain quality of language, one lying deep in the recesses of the human experience, one connecting words and rhythm together in an almost unconscious way.
So try to become aware of any moments when you and your students can take a nice break from the story, allowing the students to connect with their bodies during the school day by cutting loose with a chant for about 30 or 40 seconds. The alert teacher will pounce on the right phrase at the right time. Again, we must mention Joe Neilson’s name – he is the king of chanting, and, as he often tells his classes in case they forget, a great singer.