Chanting isn’t just for religious weirdos

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.

Temple of Doom Heart Ripped Out
Kali maa shakti de!



Musical Chairs

A staple of children’s classes, I’ve seen adults play musical chairs and love it. Music, movement and lots of spoken English, what’s not to love? The only thing that could go wrong with this activity is one student giving another a forearm shiver as they wrangle over the last remaining chair.

First, find the target language. Question and answer is what you’re looking for. For instance: ‘What did you do yesterday?’ ‘I went to school.’

Have 20 students? Take away one of the chairs so there are only 19 available. Play a song while the students walk round in a circle. Stop. Students scramble for a chair. Those who are sitting ask the question while the lone stander answers perhaps based on flashcard you show. Swap it. The stander asks and the sitters reply. Rinse and repeat.

Introduce them to some Western culture with a tune, or grin and bear a few minutes listening to a song they’ve chosen. Maybe your school has modeling clay. Perhaps a project making earplugs before the song?

Hot Potato

Fun for kids, teens and adult classes alike, hot potato is just like what you remember playing as a kid, only this version puts an emphasis on focused speaking practice.

Hot potato is perfect for when there’s a simple question and answer you’re practicing. It’s even better with flashcards which function as the potato. In effect, it’s a substitution drill, but it’s fun enough that students won’t mind the repetition.

Suppose the theme of the lesson is food, the question is ‘what do you want?’ and the answer is ‘I want soup.’

Put you students in a (standing) circle and give your instructions. You will play a song while they pass a ‘soup’ flashcard. When you stop the song, everyone who isn’t holding the flashcard will ask the holder the question ‘what do you want?’ The holder must respond, ‘I want soup.’

Put another flashcard in the mix and play the song again. Stop. Now there are two questions and two students answering. Next time there are three and so on.