Teaching Young Learners

The energy chants & rhymes bring to teaching

Rhymes and chants bring energy and joy to the learning experience of kids, add variety to our teaching materials and practices and help the class bond. Rhymes usually tell very short stories in verse and are the bread-and-butter of early child literature. When children act rhymes out, they imagine the characters and paint pictures in their minds of the actions and emotions generated by them.  

Students memorize the verse, become passionate in enunciating clearly and articulating in the right tone of voice.  Also, rhymes provide building blocks for creative dramatics. To  act them out and dramatize them while saying them, children use gestures, movement and their whole body. Sometimes rhymes become finger plays or role plays, or dramatic presentations or recitations. Children make drawings, use realia, finger or glove puppets and other attention-grabbing props to accentuate their message. 

Text by: Zafi Mandali

The emotional power of rhymes carries students along and boosts their confidence in their speaking expression. Oftentimes they turn rhymes into mantras which they whisper for emotional support when they feel lonely or sad.

There are things that I can do, all by myself. 
I can comb my hair and tie my shoes, all by myself.
I can bath and brush my teeth, all by myself.
I can stretch and touch my feet, all by myself.
I can wash my hands and face, all by myself.
I can even put the toys in place (book away/ chair in place / etc.) all by myself.

How we introduce rhymes and chants.

Rhymes require little pre-teaching and can be used anywhere, at any time. They are the most transportable forms of play. We use gestures and mimed actions to create mental imagery and visual associations of their meaning. We enunciate the chunks clearly and once the first chunk has been practiced, the next bit follows. Students repeat sound and movement, get the central idea and internalize it fully as they sing, gesticulate, jump or dance along in a coordinated way. We don’t let students drawl the rhyme when in chorus. We get them to clap or click their fingers so that they maintain rhythm and brisk pace.  

Language, sound and rhythm merge in Chants and Rhymes

Chants prove that language is rhythm and rhythm is language. Rhymes, traditional or not, plant new vocabulary and help develop basic structures and patterns in students’ brains in a fun way thanks to their repetitious and captivating language.  Rhythmic melody corresponds to the phonemes of the words contained and so phonemic awareness a steady beat develops in children. Language, sound and poetry merge. Rhymes support reading and particular aspects of vocabulary, structure and syntax.  Rhymes help students realize that a sentence makes sense only when words organize themselves in certain order.

Students use their reading and memory skills to understand the story sequencing of a rhyme; The rhyme “My body” for instance, illustrates how retelling rhymes reinforces our sequencing strategies and our remembering the order of what happens.    

Now all stand up, straight and tall, chins up high, one and all!

Hands on hips, hands on knees, put them behind you if you please.

Touch your fingers, now your nose, touch your ears and now your toes.

Raise your hands up high in the air, down at your sides, now touch your hair.

Now, if you please, touch your elbows, now your knees.

Raise your hands up high as before,

Now sit down, hands quiet once more. 

Eyes to the front, feet on the floor.

Total physical response

Most chants and poem like rhymes encourage total physical response and involve children in hands-on activities.

Chants appear in tongue twister form and can effectively clarify the role of parts of speech.

“I thought a thought, but the thought I thought I thought, was not the thought, I thought I had thought”.

“Whether the weather is cold, whether the weather is hot, we’ll weather the weather, whatever the weather, whether we like it or not “

“If practice makes perfect and perfect needs practice,   I’m perfectly practiced and practically perfect!”


Chants in elastic type of sentences for higher levels of learning.

 Chants are not only appropriate for early beginners. Chants can evolve into “elastic type of sentences” and help students verbalize, comprehend, recall and practice higher order thinking. (Bell, 2007).  The chant “This is the house that Jack built” starts with a sentence which is forever growing. Likewise, “The football story”, by John Foster is a similar example.  

This is the foot.
This is the foot that kicked the ball.
This is the foot that kicked the ball that scored the goal.
This is the foot that kicked the ball that scored the goal that won the cup.
This is the foot that kicked the ball that scored the goal that won the cup the day that the final was played in our yard.

This is the ball.
This is the ball that was kicked by the foot, that scored the goal, that won the cup the day that the final was played in our yard.
This is the ball that flew over the fence when kicked by the foot that scored the goal that won the cup the day that the final was played in our yard.
This is the ball that flew over the fence and smashed the window of next-door’s kitchen when kicked by the foot that scored the goal that won the cup the day that the final was played in our yard.

 In a nutshell,  when students repeat rhyme, they memorize basic structures and patterns, learn syntax and experience the rhythm of language. They practice pitch, volume and voice inflection and learn to pronounce words without effort or pressure.

Further Reading

  • Grammar chants for Kids/LearnEnglish Kids – British Council.
  • F.(Senior Speech-Language Pathologist). Nursery rhymes, songs and early language development. Rhymes are readers.
  • Motivational Strategies in the Language Classroom. Dornyei, Z. (2001). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • The Mother Goose Pages. On reading nursery rhymes with children. Anderson, P. F. (2005).




Note: Zafi Mandali is the director of the Department of English, Ellinogermaniki Agogi, an active teacher and a teacher trainer. She has given a number or presentations, published a number of articles, authored “English Grammar Exerciser”, “Absolute Must in Composition Writing” and “FCE Training”, E.A. Publications. She holds a BA in English Language and Literature, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki and an M.A. in Applied Linguistics, University of Essex. Her soft point is storytelling in education and samples of her work are uploaded on  www.eltstorytelling.com   &  Eltstorytelling , facebook group.