Lots of people ask me about where to start when creating a chant. It’s usually just in the language around you; the first line of a story or article, a phrase that would be useful for the learners, groups of words that collocate well. It’s how you put them together  that counts.

One of my favourite chants started when I was reading a story from one of my son’s books  (when he was 10). The first  couple of sentences were  ‘I shouldn’t have done it . I really shouldn’t.  And I found myself  just enjoying the rhythm of the of the phrases in my  mind’s voice…so much so that I started repeating them 3 times, getting more intense each time…then after saying them 3 times I looked at the next line…But it’s too late to be sorry now.  Try it now and say it out loud, and see.

I shouldn’t have done it. I really shouldn’t.

I shouldn’t have done it. I really shouldn’t

I shouldn’t have done it. I really shouldn’t

But it’s too late to be sorry now.

So, the next lesson I had with a group of 11-12 yr old boys I started with this chant. It didn’t matter that the structure was quite complex for their stage of learning, but they had enough vocabulary  and linguistic knowledge to work out the meaning, just from the intonation and stress pattern. How do I know?  Just as we were using this chant to predict what the story was about and what they thought the person in the story had done, one of the boy’s mobiles went off and he knew he wasn’t allowed to have it on unless I had given permission. I asked him to give it to me…and the rest of the class all turned to him and said…’You shouldn’t have done it, you really shouldn’t!’

So look at the pattern of the sentences.  Sentence A and B are repeated 3 times, and then concluded with sentence C.






It’s exactly the same pattern as one of my favourite chants

I like it. I like it a lot.

I like it. I like it a lot.

I like it. I like it a lot.

I l   o   v  e     it


Look at the post  about creating vocabulary chants:

Creating a Vocabulary Chant (based on an idea from Caroline Graham)

  1. Write a list of the vocabulary you want to use and categorise according to the number of syllables.Students as young as 6 or 7 can do this and it’s  a fantastic way to get adults to notice spelling and pronunciation.  It is also an additional way to get students to drill  lexis without  them realising.
  2. Name   2 syllable words (A),  3 syllable words (B) and  1 syllable words (C)
  3. Choose one word from each group, preferably that link in some way, and repeat using the following formula

(4/4 time)



apples, oranges, pears

apples, oranges, pears

apples, oranges, apples, oranges,

apples, oranges, pears

More suggestions

  • Try using  3, 4, 2  syllable words but remember to keep the same 4/4 beat
  • Choose words with similar sounds to make tongue twisters Eg carrots, cauliflower, corn
  • Get your students to make up their own chants and then teach the rest of the class

(give them the language to play with and enjoy)




When I tell people I do a lot of chanting in my English lessons, they automatically assume I mean Jazz Chants (as of Caroline Graham, Jazz Chants). However, I would like to remove the word ‘Jazz’ as it implies that there is some kind of singing involved.  I am not against singing, I enjoy singing and include a lot of singing in the classroom, so there is a definite place for singing in the classroom, and especially in the YL classroom. The objectives of a song are quite different to that of a chant. As soon as the voice is required for it to become a song, a significant portion of the class may be excluded. Not everybody enjoys singing, or indeed can sing. It requires more effort in terms of pitch and tone and being able to carry a melody as well as requiring more confidence to sing in public, which is what a classroom is.  It is also more difficult for teachers to lead a song if they too are not confident singers. Finding a song which suits the pitch and voice range of both teacher and children can also be a problem, as can relying on recordings of one sort or another.  When creating songs there is a tendency to make the words fit the tune, rather than the other way round, which means that often the stress patterns, intonation and indeed pronunciation in general,  become distorted. Although not everyone can boast a good sense of rhythm, they are more likely to have a go at a chant if a tune is not involved.

Chants are different as they focus on the rhythmic expression and sounds of natural language.  A chant should just be the exaggerated stress pattern and intonation of a simple phrase.


Can chanting help students feel the rhythm of English?

English is a stress-timed language rather than a syllable-timed language. This means the stressed syllables are said at approximately regular intervals and the unstressed syllables shorten to fit into the rhythm. This is why English has contractions and the most common vowel sound is the schwa. It also means that it is possible to fit in many unstressed syllables between each stressed syllable. A good example of this is the traditional poem, Three Blind Mice. The first line contains only 3 syllables and builds up to the penultimate line with 11 syllables.


Three Blind Mice (4/4)

Three blind mice (_).

Three blind mice (_).

See how they run (_).

See how they run (_).

They all ran after the farmer’s wife.

Who cut off their tails with a carving knife.

Have you ever seen such a thing in your life.

As three blind mice (_).


The ‘content’ words are usually given the main stress (shown in bold). This helps children identify and remember such words. Whilst the unstressed words are more ‘function’ words grammatically, and  these  maintain the rhythm. This is one of the reasons why English lends itself to Rapping.

Using these exaggerated patterns in class, not only leads to more natural speech, but helps learners remember target vocabulary.

The foundations of literacy are formed as familiarity of rhymes and chants increase an awareness of sounds, word patterns, rhythm and stress. ‘Poetry is easier to remember than prose because of the underlying ‘pulse’ which keeps going like a ticking clock’ (Lenneberg in Aitchison)


Can we define a chant?

  • A chant is a series of short, easy to remember phrases which are repeated in a memorable fashion.
  • The  chant should have exaggerated stress, rhythm and intonation.
  • The rhythm, stress and intonation patterns should resemble closely a native speaker in natural conversation.



Isn’t a chant a monotonous drawl?

Chants can easily become a nasal, monotonous drawl if the teacher lets it (think of school assemblies or church services). When it gets slow and predictable there is very little value to chanting. In order to stop this happening we first have to acknowledge why this happens (you cannot change what you don’t acknowledge).

  • It is natural to drawl when there are large groups of people saying something together
  • If the children are unsure about what they are supposed to be saying they start to mumble to hide the fact, which results in a drawl.
  • Just like an orchestra there needs to be a ‘conductor’- often teachers forget to ‘count in’ the students. Train your students to react to your gestures.
  • The energy in a chant can drain away (…but it can also accelerate and create more energy.)
  • The focus becomes on ‘getting it grammatically correct’ rather than sounding natural in English. So the model sentence may tend to have even stress on each syllable such as ‘They-are-play-ing-foot-ball’ rather than They’re playing football.
  • Teachers often lack confidence and comment, ‘I feel like I’m making a fool of myself’. This may be true, but the students need to see you doing it if they are going to be prepared to make a ‘fool’ of themselves too.


When I first starting teaching English to children, back in 1995, I soon became aware of the importance of stress and intonation as well as the children’s ability to pick up or acquire language from the teacher. Working in Portugal the children had lessons twice a week after school. Very often they would be in the classroom before me (I still had so much to learn!) and one day when I walked in to teach a group of 7-8 year olds I saw Rui sitting under a chair. ‘Rui!’ I shouted, and the rest of the class all continued ‘What /are you doing\?’ with a raising intonation on the stressed word ‘are’ and a falling intonation on ‘doing’. As they all sounded like ‘mini-me’s, I realised I had perhaps said this phrase a little too quite often but was really pleased at how natural they had sounded. Poor Rui was a bit shocked that the whole class had ganged up against him, but it wasn’t their fault, it was a conditioned reflex and I had supplied the stimulus by the way I had said ‘Rui!’. Since then I have been taking advantage of the fact that children love to imitate their teacher and have positively encouraged all my students to exaggerate the stress and intonation of phrases ever since.

As the Head of Teacher Training at International House Porto I had the opportunity to work with a lot of trainee teachers and observe many different types of classes. One of the courses we offered included teaching practice and so I organised free lessons for children at a local children’s home. As we provided all the materials for the lesson each week I observed the children asking in Portuguese to borrow pencils and pens. Each week the teachers got the kids to repeat the phrase in English (very often one word at a time) and, unsurprisingly, they were still unable to remember it 6 months later. I realised that as this phrase was needed every lesson, it really should be taught (or learned). There was a genuine need for communication and an ideal opportunity for the children to speak in English. With a few weeks between courses I decided to teach the children myself.  Using only the exaggerated intonation, rhythm and stress pattern of the question Can I borrow a pencil, please? the chant ‘da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da’ was created and repeated in a fun and lively manner, varying the volume, pitch and speed. Gradually the words were substituted into the rhythmic work (starting at the end/back-chaining) until the children could say and use the phrase confidently. By the end of the lesson the children were able to produce variations of the target language independently.  However, the following lesson it seemed as though we were back to square one. With a small reminder of the da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da chant to encourage them, they all soon started saying it and communicating in English using the structure Can I borrow a pencil, please?. The phrase was still produced using heavily exaggerated intonation and stress patterns. I questioned how long it would take for the children to take this language, presented to them in a chant, and use it naturally (if at all).  Approximately two months later, whist observing a trainee teacher, I heard one child saying in the most natural, fluent voice, with a continuous intonation flow, and unprompted, ‘Can I borrow a rubber, please?’.  Job done!

Walking on our way to school each morning my son and I would make up chants, or repeat ones we had already mastered. We had chants about being on time, chants about being late, chants about snails, chants about the date.  We had number chants, marching chants, fast chants, and challenging chants.  We even had a chant that taught him the square numbers. This was not only a valuable bonding experience but an opportunity to discover the sounds, rhythms and patterns of English which he might not have noticed as Portuguese was his ‘educational language’.

A Chant about Chanting (4/4 time)

There were chants about being on time,

There were chants about being late,

There were chants about racing snails,

And chants about the date.


There were number chants and counting chants,

Fast chants and  challenging chants.

Action chants and marching chants,

Animal chants and spelling chants.

There were chants  we repeated each morning,

There were chants we made up on the spot,

There were chants that helped us remember,

And chants that we quickly forgot. Continue Reading »


Whether you consider yourself to be in EFL, ESL or ELT our industry is littered with TLAs (Three Letter Acronyms) Before I introduce you to another, have a look at this list and see if you know what they all mean. (NB not all are *TLAs, some are TLAs and some FLAs- see below for definitions. )

  1. PPP
  2. TPR
  3. CLIL
  4. ESA
  5. TEYL
  6. SLA
  7. CEF
  8. TBL
  9. DH
  10. CLT
  11. CLL
  12. CALL
  13. CBLT


This list is only a fraction, and probably represents how language is mutating. (tbh, I could have listed hundreds more)

Having identified their meaning, are there some that mean more to you than others? Ones that you can really relate to?  You don’t have to choose one that is here, or even  a TLA, but think of an idea or approach that means something to you.  Perhaps Dogme was an eye-opener for you, or The Lexical Approach?

When did you first come across these? How have they influenced your teaching? Did you have any ‘Aha!’ moments with them? (‘Aha’ is not a TLA, but a term Oprah Winfrey uses when you (or your students) have a ‘light bulb’ moment, i.e.where the penny drops and everything seems to make sense.) Take some time to think about how  you responded to these new ideas. Did you use them and adapted them to suit your own teaching situation? How did you do this?

At what point did you feel you had ownership of the concept and a sense that it belonged to you? Did you ever feel that you wanted to share it with your colleagues?

At this point I would like to introduce you to MMM. The term was originally coined by University of Nottingham ITE team and I discovered it hidden away in The Primary English Teacher’s Guide; Brewster, Ellis and Girard (Penguin 2002: 47,48). It describes a more learner-centred, child-friendly view of PPP, but in fact is a more humanistic idea of how learners acquire language. For me, though, it has become  more of a life philosophy.

MMM; Meeting new language, Manipulating it and Making the language your own.

(Or, if you prefer it as a mantra to chant, like I do: meet it, manipulate it, make it your own.)


Meeting new language

The way new language is presented depends on the resources available, but it often involves a visual image along with the teacher providing a spoken example.

At this point the teacher is trying to provide comprehensible input in an interesting way so that learners use their hearing, sight and knowledge of the world to put the language into context.

This means the teacher is responsible for introducing the meaning, form and pronunciation of the new language correctly and also for checking the students’ comprehension. It is at this stage where learners could be corrected gently and given the opportunity to practise saying the new language as a group, getting used to hearing what their voice sounds like saying the new language.


Manipulating the new language

The teacher should try and support the learners in manipulating the new language in a variety of activities. First in a controlled way and then moving into more guided manipulation where the learners select the language they want to use from the range of new language they have just encountered. In this way the learners become more and more responsible for remembering the language, but always with some support, such as actions, CDS, charts, chants, pictures, etc. As the learners manipulate the language they are more likely to be divided into teams, groups or pairs.


Making the language your own

In this stage the students are likely to be in groups or pairs for activities with a clear purpose so they need to communicate. This should be much freer, less controlled practice where the emphasis is on getting their meaning across and understanding others’ meaning. Too much correction at this stage could be de-motivating and inappropriate as the focus is on ‘ownership’ of the language. Corrections could be highlighted at the recycling stage in the following lesson, or at the end of the session. It is unrealistic to expect children to use new language perfectly at this stage. This stage is important for developing students’ interactional skills, listening and speaking, as well as literacy skills, reading and writing. Finally, children should be encouraged to review what they have done and learned, and be given plenty of opportunities to recycle language through a variety of activities.


I was introduced to the MMM concept when I was studying for my MA in TEYL at York University. I soon started using it and adapting it as I was writing teacher training courses for teaching YLs. It forms a central backbone in the planning session I wrote for the IHCYLT. More recently I introduced the concept to a group of trainees on CELTA as it is equally applicable for teaching adults.  I certainly feel I have ownership of the concept. Recently I was invited to present a training session in Shanghai, China as part of an ICELT course at General Plan. I introduced MMM as an idea for how to approach lesson planning, and before the end of the session the course director, Simon Cox, had managed to manipulate the concept and incorporated it into  the assignment he was setting on that day.  Basically, I had demonstrated some pairwork card games where the participants had to make their own cards and then use them to play a series of activities which followed the basic MMM principles (see below).  The participants were then encouraged to take these ideas (which they had just met) manipulate and adapt them and make them their own for their individual teaching situation. Loop input doesn’t get better than that!

How do you feel about MMM? Did you help your students meet, manipulate and make language their own this week? Have you been MMMing with tasks and activities? (yes, we can use it as a verb) And yes, I think there definitely is room for one more TLA in ELT!

TLA Definition
CALL Computer Assisted language Learning
CBLT Content Based Language Teaching
CEF Common European Framework
CLIL Content and Language Integrated Learning
CLL Community Language Learning
CLT Communicative Language Teaching
DH Demand High
ESA Engage, Study, Activate
PPP Presentation, Practice, Production
SIG Special Interest Group
SLA Second Language Acquisition
TBL Task–Based Learning
TEYL Teaching English to Young Learners
TPR Total Physical Response
TTT Test-Teach-Test (or Teacher Talking Time)


This is a knife!

da da da

Yesterday I ate an apple 

Instructions for mini books

Engaging YLs with content,language and learning skills

What a fantastic session with some great teachers in Lausanne, Switzerland on Saturday 8th Nov 2014.

Here is the presentation. I hope it impacts on your teaching and you found the ideas and activities useful.

My 3 takeaways (from a presenter’s point of view)

Some teachers really picked up on the little things I said, which weren’t planned or one of the aims. Remember that this happens in class too. Learners will acquire the language they are ready to learn, which might not be the same thing that you have intended to teach.

A teacher with an MA in TEYL said that she learned loads of new things. It doesn’t matter how much experience we have, or what qualifications we have there is always room for more learning.

Feeding ideas to teachers breeds more ideas. There was so much creativity going on. I love the thought that they will go on and share the ideas with their colleagues, which in turn will influence their learners. There is something to be said for cascading knowledge.

I look forward to returning to  ETAS one day 🙂

Promoting learner Autonomy


Here is a power-point presentation summarising some sessions I presented recently

fostering learner autonomy

We all think to ourselves, and have an ‘innervoice’. To help or students improve their English encourage them to think about what  they could say to themselves. Set a home-learning task for them to  think in English for 5-10 minutes every day. They could do this while they are walking or travelling to work/college, while they are cooking, having a shower, or just before they go to bed! (Then hopefully they will dream in English…the ultimate goal!) 

Here is a handout you could use.

 Thinking in English jmhdr



Reflecting on Teacher Talking Time.

As with everything in life, you will be unable to make any changes unless you first acknowledge what it is that you are actually doing. It is much easier to make yourself aware of what is going on in your classroom if you take the time to reflect and make notes about what you think happened in your classroom today. As a teacher trainer (for the International House Certificate in teaching Young Learners – IHCYL) I used to record the lessons using an mp3 or smart phone. Without listening to the recordings myself, I would email them to the individual teachers to listen to and ask them to reflect on what actually took place in the classroom (as opposed to what they thought had taken place).


One teacher noticed how different her classroom voice was to her natural voice. It was higher in pitch and louder in volume. She was hardly able to recognise herself in the recording however, there was a vast improvement in her delivery in the following lesson. Another teacher realised that not only had she drilled the language for the students she was so focussed on completing an activity she was unaware that the students had not actually produced any language. Other teachers realised that their TTT (Teacher Talking Time) was vastly greater than that of the students, and that the lessons overall were far too teacher centred. Recording the lessons also helped teachers see how long (and sometimes how boring) some of the activities were, which resulted in an improvement in their planning and their overall expectations of what is achievable.


Most importantly, all of the teachers noticed their own classroom language and instructions. Some had made the instructions too complicated for the level of the students, while others kept changing their instructions which confused the students. As a result the teachers all started planning in more detail their classroom management and the language they wanted to use. Given that many classroom routines and teaching strategies are applied almost automatically, it seems to make sense to take the time to ensure that these habits are well formulated and considered good practice.


Self-reflection task

Make yourself aware of what you are saying and what your voice sounds like from the learners’ point of view. It is very easy to record yourself nowadays using a smart phone or mp3 player. Choose a lesson which is fairly communicative (ie not a long listening or writing)


  • How do you think you sound to your learners?
  • Are your instructions clear enough?
  • How much do you dominate the lesson?
  • Do you react efficiently to different situations?
  • Time how long you spend on each activity. Is the time appropriate? Is the timing of the lesson stages/ activities balanced? Do students get enough practice activities?
  • What phrases do you say or noises do you make repeatedly? Are they helpful? Could they be repeated by the students?
  • What could you do differently?


#IATEFL Glasgow

What a fantastic conference we are having here in Glasgow.

Here are the slides to my presentation…which are unfortunately mainly pictures, but will probably trigger some spark to help you remember. I will try to add some text  here as soon as I can ( when I return to the real world)

Singing, Chanting and Rapping Creatively in the