Tap and learn to the rhythm: Jazz chants in the young learner classroom

Now that UNESCO International Jazz Day is coming up this weekend, we get to think about jazz and music in our classrooms. Think of your earliest language learning memories. When I think of my first experiences of really fun activities, I can still chant the rhymes, sing the songs and recite the poems. Another first memory many of us have is chanting the English alphabet to some rhythm. How are chants and jazz chants such powerful resources? How can we make use of them in the young learner classroom?

There are a few simple but powerful characteristics of jazz chants that allow them to do the magic they do. They use rhythm, natural and approrpiate langauge, repetition and there is a strong element of play in them. They rely not only on listening through rhythm, but they also involve movement and words. Not only do they let us have fun, they also give opporunity to a shared experience and encourage less confident children to join in.

Jazz chants in Hebling Young Readers

If you open any of our young readers, you will see jazz chants in each of them. They are built around a vocabulary item, a grammar point or a language function that features in the story. If you don’t feel comfortable chanting on your own, use the CD that comes with each book, play the jazz chant and clap along. Any time we try them with children, we are amazed how easily they connect to the rhythm.

When you are building up to a shared reading session, we recommend that you do these jazz chants with your groups several times. They are also fun warmer activities, and you can go back to them any time you want a memorable activity that reminds your students of the story you read. You can also close a reading lesson with them in an energetic way.

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The story of jazz chants

Where do jazz chants come from? If any of you have been lucky enough to see Carolyn Graham, the creator of jazz chants, you have had an experience that is impossible to forget. I had the chance to take part in one of her workshops at the 2016 IATEFL conference in Hungary, and it is a memory I cherish. She developed the first jazz chants in the 1970s in New York, and since then she has published several books that have become excellent resources for teachers of all ages and levels. Here you can watch a video with her in which she shares the story of jazz chants.

Jazz chants in course books

In our Hooray! Let’s play!, our 3-level course for 3 to 5-year-olds by Herbert Puchta and Günter Gerngross you will find other examples of chants and songs. Watch this video of chants and songs in the series with Herbert Puchta demonstrating an activity.

Finally, we recommend this video to learn more about repetition in music. Repetition in music, storytelling and language learning is powerful activity. In this TED-Ed video you can learn more about it.

Chant, clap and tap along with us!

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