Chanting has always scared me. Whether done in religion or a protest ruled by mob mentality, chants have always conjured in me images of irrational masses calling for blood. Like that scene in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom where the priest rips the still-beating heart out of a sacrificial victim to the delight of a chanting, brainwashed cult. Yikes.
But this unthinking nature of chanting that disturbs me is its strength in an EFL classroom. Mastery only comes through repetition, and chanting ingrains language in a way that allows students to focus on sounds rather than meaning. Chanting lends itself well to absorbing intonation and sentence stress, and phrases that are difficult to pronounce are often rather easy once a rhythmic component is added.
Suppose your target structure is ‘I want _________’, and the vocabulary is fruit. Have one student leave the room so he/she can’t see as you hide a flashcard (e.g. apples). Invite the student to come back in and look for the flashcard while the rest of the class chants ‘I want apples.’ The group chants louder if the student is approaching the flashcard and quieter if walking away from it. They keep on chanting until the student finds the flashcard.
For added fun, put the class in teams and time the students as they look for the flashcards. The team with fastest time wins. The winning team can then rip the hearts out of the losers, chanting all the while.