If you’re like me, now that it’s August your mind is filling up with all the things you love about teaching. The relaxing days of June and July have erased the stresses of the end of last school year, leaving me refreshed and excited for the new year ahead. I’m busy making lists of everything I can’t wait to do with students again. One of the things at the top of my list every year is chants and songs.
Chants have been one of my favorite teaching strategies since my first years in education as an elementary newcomer classroom teacher. My students were multilingual learners (MLLs) from a variety of language backgrounds in the beginning and intermediate stages of English acquisition. Chants continue to be highly effective in my current dual language school where all students from a variety of language backgrounds learn in both Spanish and English. Chants provide a safe way for MLLs to practice language. Since everyone’s voices blend together, MLLs do not have to worry about their voice being singled out. Furthermore, the words and language structures are provided by the chant, lowering the cognitive load for producing language.
The best thing about chants, though, is that they are beneficial for all students, MLL or not. Our brains are pattern-seeking devices, and chants set language to a rhythm or tune that our brains can more easily remember. This makes them an excellent teaching tool because students easily recall the content of a chant. Chants develop fluency and automaticity of language through repeated reading and chanting. They teach vocabulary, especially when paired with visual supports like photos, sketches, and gestures. And most importantly, they are engaging for students and teachers alike. Chants are just plain fun!
Most often, I see chants used in the content areas like science and social studies, but they can be utilized in any subject area. When it comes to writing workshop, the chants I use fall into three different categories: routines, conventions, and craft. Here are explanations and examples of chants in each of those categories:
Routine chants help students internalize how to move through the writing workshop. These chants teach expectations like using materials appropriately, how to gather for the minilesson, what to do next, etc. These chants are especially useful now at the beginning of the school year. Here are some examples:
Convention chants help students remember writing conventions. You can use them to review conventions that students have been previously taught, or to teach new conventions as their writing develops. Here are some examples:
Craft chants teach students about the structure and development of a specific type of writing. They help students learn about specific aspects of the genre they are engaged in writing. Here are some examples:
Tips for using chants in writing workshop:
- Add visual supports like sketches, photos, and gestures to the chant to make the language and content more comprehensible. Engaging with the chant using multiple modalities (audio, visual, and tactile) will strengthen neural networks, improving learning. Watch this short video to see how I add gestures to a conventions chant.
- Repeat, repeat, repeat! Students need to hear and practice the chant repeatedly over multiple days in order to learn and internalize it.
- Post chants on the classroom wall or give students copies to keep in their writer’s folder or notebook for easy reference. If you missed Melanie’s post earlier this month on the importance of using physical charts over digital charts, be sure to check it out here.
- Write your own chants to the tune of common children’s songs (I’m a Little Teapot, If You’re Happy and You Know It, etc.), the chorus from current pop songs, or common chant templates (Marine Cadence, You Bet).
- Search Google and YouTube for chants and songs about specific topics
- Don’t worry if you can’t sing–just do your best. If you are enthusiastic and positive about chanting, your students will be, too!
Whether your classroom includes MLLs or not, try adding chants to your writing workshop strategy list. Start with one, and I’m confident that when you see the high levels of engagement and positive results, it will become a strategy you look forward to each new year as much as I do. If you already have writing chants that you use, or if you come up with new ones, share them in the comments below. Happy chanting!