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Just What Is A Chant?
Sonja Dunn

Excerpted from All Together Now: 200 of Sonja Dunn's Best Chants.

Can't stop

Yell some words
that make you dance
That's the way
you make your chants

There¹s a lot of truth in this chant on chanting. When you chant lines aloud, you get caught up in rhyme and rhythm. You begin to keep the beat, gesture and sway, play with sound, and even dance. It¹s a very physical experience.

Yes, you can read chants, like the one above, just as you can read play scripts. But to realize their full potential, to create more excitement, plan to go well beyond silent individual reading. Just as a play script provides the heart of a full-fledged theatrical production, a chant in print provides only the breath of an engaging rhythmic experience. To create theatre, a director interprets a script and works with a host of creative people to present the drama; to produce chanting, you must explore the possibilities of the chant¹s words and perform them aloud. Both activities call for an audience.

But you may not think of yourself as a performer. You¹re a conscientious teacher, or perhaps an enterprising parent. You suspect that chanting is a good thing. You understand that it offers an integrated approach to learning. You believe it meets curriculum needs, letting your class experiment with language patterns and respond creatively to stimuli such as poetry. You¹re sure that your students would enjoy the activity. All the same, you wonder where to begin . . .

You have help when you chant. Chanting, like theatre, involves the audience. The students in your class will respond to the chant¹s catchy beat, as well as to your energy and sense of fun in delivering the words. They will need little encouragement to be drawn into the beat, listening actively, snapping their fingers, clapping their hands, slapping their thighs, and stomping their feet, as suits the chant. Invite them to join in on specific lines, such as the refrain..

Chanting is a cooperative language-sharing moment. In the supportive, non-threatening environment in which it takes place, even children who are shy, speak English as a second language,are developmentally delayed, read reluctantly, or speak poorly can contribute fully. Chanting also works well with multi-age classroom groupings, allowing children of different ages to take part in different ways. You will find that all participants can speak in unison fluently and take part in mime and rhythm setting. They also practise listening and, with more rehearsal, can take small individual roles.

Chants as Playful Poems

Just what is a chant? What distinguishes it from other types of poetry? You need to understand this before you can work with one well.

A chant is a rhythmic group recitation. So, think of yourself not so much as a performer but as a creative leader. You interpret the words just as you would those of a formal poem, but you¹re looking for opportunities to involve your listeners, often younger children who are learning to read and work with words. The pattern of the piece will lend itself to your explorations.

Chants, akin to nursery and skipping rhymes, are characterized by repetition. For example, children can readily take part in the chant "Sh, sh, sh" with its consistent repetition of the title phrase.

Sh, Sh, Sh

Out come the stars
Sh sh sh
Bright shines the moon
Sh sh sh
Sweet sings nightbird
Sh sh sh

"Go to bed
Sandman said.
"Sh sh sh."

In "Rain," with its heavy use of the word "listen," participants can play with volume, as the rain gets softer or louder, and tempo, as they interpret where the rain falls faster. Here, words are treated chiefly like sounds. Repetition lets children get into the flow faster than they otherwise would. It also enables them to take ownership of the chant and any extensions from it. Chants are accessible.


listen listen
listen to the rain
listen listen
listen to the rain

softer softer
listen to the rain
softer softer
listen to the rain
listen listen listen listen
listen to the rain

louder louder
listen to the rain
louder louder
listen to the rain
listen listen listen listen
listen to the rain

Chants are also rich in musical qualities. You can reinforce the beat of chants not only by using the body as a "beat box" but by introducing simple musical instruments. Improvise sound makers, using sticks, rattles, graters, washboards, comb and paper, and more. Or, work with cowbells, tambourines, shakers, triangles, and drums.

The unpretentious nature of a chant frees participants to experiment with it. You can repeat parts, cut verses, add new ones, reinforce the lines with clapping or finger snapping, use the chant as a model for new chants, and more. Unlike a carefully crafted, crystallized poem, a chant is a dynamic thing that can be shaped to suit the leader¹s purpose a springboard into language and other learning.

Excerpted from All Together Now: 200 of Sonja Dunn's Best Chants.
Published with permission. © 1999 Pembroke Publishers.

Sonja Dunn is an educator, storyteller, performer, author, actor, and poet. Known for her story skirt and story hat, she has delighted thousands of teachers and children at workshops throughout North America. The author of numerous books, many of Sonja's poems are included in the major language arts poems.

A popular personality for student and in-service programs, Sonja may be contacted
for appearances through Mary@PembrokePublishers.com


See more of our Cheers, Chants, Raps, and Poetry 


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