Posted by: Michel Baker | October 29, 2015

Contextualized Chanting

Before TPRS found me, I used to chant and act out everything I wanted my students to know.  I got some results, provided that students would start chanting their words in order to activate them.  But, how conversational is that, anyway?  Not at all.  The chanting was outside of context and for the purpose of having my students “know” each vocabulary word.

After 12 years of teaching hundreds of words that way through rote chanting, I got to see another way, unconsciously, at Carol Gaab’s TPRS training in Columbia, SC in 2007.  But, I could not knowingly see it, yet, as we were all taking in so much.  A few years later at a National TPRS Conference, I raised a question in class about the kind of chanting I had done for so many years prior with my students, and Carol told us all not to chant that way because it was not contextualized.  The students would easily zone out, if all we were doing was chanting the colors, for example.  I still did not fully understand, I guess because I was busily working on other skills, and I tucked this information away.  I trusted Carol with this instruction, and I stopped the rote chanting.  Meanwhile, I always kept the question of chanting in the back of my mind.

With all the skills we have all been working to hone over the years, it took hearing this once again, this time from Jason Fritze, at this past summer’s National Conference, as he asked us to sometimes chant our Circling Questions.  I wondered about this, as I had stopped chanting altogether.

In order to provide a Brain Break, to rescue floundering attention spans, to drum up student enthusiasm, Jason challenged us to stop in the middle of whatever story we are asking, and chant for fun whatever question we are asking at the time.  His example for us was, “¿Dónde, dónde, dónde está? [Where, where, where is it?]”  He chanted it with us over and over, as we were to act it out with our hands on our foreheads.  I participated, took notes on it and tucked them away into my suitcase until I could process them at home.

This week, while reviewing the notes and deciding how and where I might put into practice the things that we learned last summer, I came upon once again Jason’s chanting challenge.  While Storyasking, just when student attention spans were starting to wane, I got them up onto their feet and we started chanting the structure that we were targeting, within the context of the story we were asking:

One story was about a student we’ll call “Bob,” who doesn’t want the Kleenex; everyone except for “Bob” had to get up onto their feet to chant softly with me, while gesturing and walking in tiny circles, as I chanted aloud, “Bob no lo quiere [doesn’t want it].”  Everyone got a physical jolt to their attention span, and we all had fun doing it.

In the next class, we acted and chanted “Alex se llama Alex [Alex is named Alex],” in order to drive home the point that the kid in class whose name is Alex really is named Alex, not the other kid “Freddy,” who was playfully claiming that he is named Alex.  We all had a great time doing this, and the Affective Filter went way low.

As I experienced the joy of Contextualized Chanting for the very first time this week, my thoughts immediately rushed back to the many times that Carol Gaab had demonstrated this in her training dvd’s and in person with us at workshops and conferences.  Not all the time, but every so often, Carol stops in the middle of her Storyasking and chants whatever we are talking about at the time, over and over with us the students, just as a quick Brain Break and in a playful way, even clapping her hands in front of her body and then again behind her body, over and over, just for fun, saying “Ha ze’ev ratz le bayit. [The wolf runs to the house.]”  And now I fully understand one reason why I remember that phrase in Hebrew to this day, 8 years after my first Carol Gaab workshop.


  1. Love this, thank you so much for sharing!

  2. You make my whole week every time you write a blog post. I love this idea and I feel so happy right now. You’re awesome.

  3. […] you heard of contextualised chanting? Read this blog post by Michel and learn about it. What a great way of having a brain break and getting some bonus […]

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