Using Chants o Help Improve Rhythm, Intonation, and Stress

Charlotte Means, Shimane International College


  • Key Words: Pronunciation
  • Learner English Level: Low intermediate through advanced
  • Learner Maturity Level: Elementary school through adult
  • Preparation Time: Varies
  • Activity Time: Varies; usually 15-25 minutes

In learning to speak another language, one needs to learn the rhythm, intonation, and stress in the language, not just vocabulary, pronunciation, grammar, etc. If words and sentences are not spoken with the correct rhythm, intonation, and stress, they may not be comprehensible to a native speaker. Chants, such as Graham's 1978) jazz chants, can be helpful in learning these components of a language through the physical response of lapping, through the oral response of saying the chant, through the aural sense when listening to the beat and the rhythm, and through the visual sense when the stressed syllables of a chant are underlined.

Every language has a distinctive rhythm and the rhythm of some are very different from others. In Japanese, the rhythm is like a beautiful bubbling brook, with the water making constant noise, with little change in the pattern of the beat, i.e. regular patterned pulses. Basically, every syllable is given the same amount of time to voice, e.g., O na-ma-e wa nan desu ka. _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ In English, the rhythm is like a river that speeds through narrow channels where the syllables and words are spoken rapidly; tumbles over and swirls around irregularly spaced rocks where the syllables are spoken with irregularly patterned pulses; and flows into slow-moving, wide areas where the words and syllables are elongated. Although these varying rhythms in natural speech change back and forth rapidly, often stressed syllables fall on beats within the sentences, for example, "What's your name?" _ _ __

Ways to Demonstrate Rhythm

Rhythm can be demonstrable various ways. Some examples demonstrating the question,"What do I do?" are:

The teacher can use visual aids by writing or drawing on the board:

  1. What do I do?
  2. The beat and rhythm by using lines:
  3. A musical staff:

The teacher can also use auditory aids by:

  1. Clapping out the rhythm.
  2. Blowing on a kazoo.
  3. Saying, " Dooo do do doooo."

Introducing a Chant

Before handing out a chant, I set the scene, tell story, and explain new vocabulary. I begin to c in 1,2,3,4, then start saying the chant as I continue clap. After passing out copies of one of my chant which has the syllables that are stressed and fall beat underlined, we clap and say the chant tog several times. Then I ask the students to keep to keep clapping the beat, and I tell them I will clap out the rhythm of each syllable so that they can hear the varying rhythm found when speaking English. As we do this together, the students get four kinds of reinforcement for understanding the beat and rhythm as well as intonation English: visual (as they see the underlined syllables), oral (as they say the chant), aural (as they hear it), and physical (as they clap the beat).

I remind the students that in English the important words are longer (spoken more slowly), louder (volume), and higher (intonation). It is not necessary for students to hear each word in a sentence in order to comprehend the meaning. If they listen for the longer, louder, and higher words, even if they don't hear the lesser stressed words, they probably will be able to understand the meaning of the sentence (of course, providing they understand the meaning of those stressed words).

Practice saying the chant as you clap the main beat, and then as you clap the regular and irregular rhythms. Teach your students the varying rhythms of the English language and that the important words get stressed, that is, they are louder, longer, and higher, and therefore land on a beat. Sometimes it is necessary to insert an underline to indicate a rest or unvoiced beat, as in the examples at the end of this article.

Suggestions for Writing Your Own Chants

When writing chants I keep the beat constant throughout, e.g., 4 beats to a line, or 3 beats to a line. I keep it simple with a concentration on one theme, keep the verb tense constant, and focus on one main grammar point. Try writing your own chants as the needs arise in your classes.



Graham, C. (1978). Jazz chants, Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.

Crystal, D. (1991). A dictionary of linguistics and phonetics, Cambridge, MA: Basil Blackwell, Inc.

Random House Webster's college dictionary. (1995). New York: Random House.


Chants I Have Written That You May Use

Here are 13 chants that I have used successfully in class. Please feel free to use them.

1. You need to say it many times

(Reminder about the importance of repetition and of reading, writing, listening and speaking in learning a language)

Just because you say it once

Doesn't mean you know it. ___

You need to say it many times

Before you really know it. __


Say it. ___ Read it. ___

Hear it. ____ Write it. ____

Say it again, again and again.

Say it. Read it. Hear it. Write it.


You need to say it many times,

Many, many, many times,

Over, and over and over again.

Repeat it. Repeat it. Repeat it. Repeat it.


Just because you say it once

Doesn't mean you know it. ___

You need to say it many times

Before you really know it. __


2. Weather I

(If clauses)

If the weather is cloudy, I'll take an umbrella.

If the sun is shining, I'll take my sunglasses.

If the wind is blowing, I'll put on a hat.

If the snow is falling, I'll wear a heavy coat

If the day is hot, I'll take a big fan.

If it's dark outside, I'll carry a flashlight.

If the stars are out, I'll look for the Big Dipper.

If the moon is shining, I'll think of my true love.


3. Weather II

(Yes/no questions)

Do you like hot weather?

Do you enjoy the wind?

Do you like to watch the clouds race across the sky?

Do you love to play in the snow?

Do you like the rain?

Do you jump into puddles and splash your friend?

Do you like to look at the sky full of stars at night?

Do you ever make a wish when you see a falling star?

Do you look at the moon and think of your true love?

I do. I do.

Do you?


4. What did you say?

(Asking for clarification)

This is difficult.

What did you say?

This is difficult.

Pardon? ______

This is hard.

I don't understand.

This is not easy.

Please repeat.

This is not easy.

This is not easy.

This is difficult.

This is hard.

Right! ___

Now you understand!

Yes, I do.

This is difficult.


5. How to say "L"

How do you say L?

L, L

Touch the tip of your tongue

Behind your top teeth.

Hold it there and say

L, L.

Little Lenny

Licked a yellow

Lemon Lollipop


6. I gave my friend a gift

(Past tense; adjectives)

I gave my friend a gift.

I gave my friend a special gift:

A sweater, a sweater,

A purple fuzzy sweater

In a box, in a box,

In a large green box.

It was her birthday

So I gave her a gift.

She opened the box.

Her eyes got large,

And she said, "0, wow!

It's a purple fuzzy sweater.

She was delighted

With the purple fuzzy sweater.

I was happy

That my friend liked the gift,

The verv special gift

Of the purple fuzzy sweater.


7. My dog is large and black

(Opposites; possessive adjectives)

My dog is large and black.

Your dog is small and white.

His car is new and shiny.

Her car is old and dull.

Our street is dirty and noisy.

Their street is clean and quiet.

Your sister is funny and friendly.

My sister is serious and unfriendly.

His uncle is thin and sad.

Her uncle is fat and happy.

My book is difficult and boring.

Your book is easy and interesting.


8. Who is taller?

(Comparison of people in your family)

Who is taller, you or your mother?

Who is thinner, your mother or your father?

Who is older, you or your brother?

Who is friendlier, your aunt or your uncle?

Who is younger, your mother or your aunt?

Who is more cheerful, your brother or your sister?

Who is more serious, you or your cousin?

Who is funnier, your brother or your sister?

Who is healthier, your grandmother or grandfather?

Who is stronger, your brother or your cousin?

Who has longer hair, you or your mother?

Who runs faster, you or your sister?

Who sings better, your father or your uncle?

Tell me. Tell me. I'm interested to know.


9. This is dangerous

(Warnings; commands)

Watch out! Watch out!

Look where you're going.

Where? Where?

Over there. Over there.

Be careful! Be careful!

Look where you're going.

Where? Where?

Over there. Over there.

It's dangerous. It's dangerous.

Don't go there. Don't go there.

Why not? Why not?

It's very dangerous.

I'm falling. I'm falling.

Help me! Help me!

Why didn't you listen?

I said it was dangerous.


10. Which tastes better?

(Comparison of things)

Which tastes better, coffee or tea?

Which is larger, an elephant or a horse?

Which is more expensive, fish or beef?

Which is friendlier, a dog or a cat?

Which is prettier, a diamond or a pearl?

Which is more difficult, Japanese or English?

Which is higher, Mt. Everest or Mt. Fuji?

Which is bluer, the sky or the sea?

Which is safer, Tokyo or New York?

Which is faster, a rocket or a plane?

Which is brighter, the moon or the sun?

Which is longer, a train or a bus?

Which is easier, math or art?

Which is more fun, soccer or baseball?

Tell me. Tell me. I'm interested to know.


11. Where do I go?

(Asking for clarification; use of irregular verb ending with 3rd person singular)

Where do I go?

I don't know.

Where do you go?

I don't know.

Where does she go?

She doesn't know.

Where does he go?

He doesn't know.

Where do we go?

We don't know.

Where do they go?

They don't know.

What shall we do?

What shall we do?

Let's ask.

Let's ask.

Good idea.

Good idea.

I go here.

You go here.

We go here.

He goes there.

She goes there.

They go there.

Now we know

Where we go.

Now we all know

Where we go.

Hurrah! ___

Hurrah! ___


12. What are you going to do for vacation?

(Questions; future tense)

What are you going to do for vacation?


Where are you going to go for the holidays?


When will you leave? How will you travel?

Will you return to your home town?

Will you be with your family?

What are you going to do for Christmas? ____

What are you going to do for New Year's? ___

Are you going to have a party?

Are you going to give gifts?

Will you cook special food?

Will you drink special drinks?

Will you wear special clothes?

Will you meet special friends?

Will you go to a church?

Will you go to a temple?

Will you travel to the mountains?

Will you relax in a hotspring?

Are you excited? ____

Are you happy? _____

Tell me. Tell me.

I'm interested to know.


13. What do I do?

(Asking for clarification)

What do I do?

I don't know.

What do I do?

I don't know.

What do you do?

I don't know.

What does she do?

She doesn't know.

What does he do?

He doesn't know.

What do we do?

We don't know.

What do they do?

They don't know.

What shall we do?

What shall we do?

Let's ask.

Let's ask.

Good idea.