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NYS TESOL Publication: Idiom

Current Issue of Idiom (Fall 2003):
Theme: Language and Cultural Diversity
Featured Articles
The ABC’s of Family Involvement.....1
Goals in Teaching Cultural Awareness.....3
Celebrating Twenty-Five Years of Jazz Chants.....4
The American Landscape.....6
Early Interventions.....8

Special Supplement
Trapped Between 2 Languages.....13-16

Regular Features/Special Announcements
From the President’s Desk.....2
SIG and Regions Leadership.....17
Book Review.....18
Promising Practices.....20
Editorial Notes.....22
Upcoming Idiom Themes.....22
Meetings and Conferences.....22
Membership Form.....23

is a quarterly publication only for members of NYS TESOL. Please become a member in order to recieve a copy with full articles. The membership information can be found at the NYS TESOL membership page.

Celebrating Twenty-Five Years of Jazz Chants
by Frank Tang and Dianne Loyet

   In late 1960, Carolyn Graham was an ESL teacher at the American Language Institute of New York University and a ragtime jazz entertainer at a piano bar. One evening she had just finished a performance when someone said, “Gee, it’s good to see you. You look wonderful!” She automatically responded, “So do you!” and suddenly it dawned on her that there was an obvious connection between the rhythm of spoken American English and the one-two-three-four beat of American jazz. Her instinct as a teacher and a musician led her to listen more carefully to the language around her and to focus more on the underlying beat. She began to notice rhythmic language in all sorts of contexts: ordering food in a restaurant, saying goodbye on the street, arranging a date over the phone, and making apologies in a crowded bar. Recalling these exciting moments, Graham said, “I heard potential chants everywhere. Almost everything began to sound like a possible jazz chant.” Soon Graham began to write chants based on spoken American English and to use them in her classes. Thus were born the famous jazz chants!

   Since 1978 Graham has produced one jazz chant book after another. Oxford University Press alone has published Jazz Chants (1978), Jazz Chants for Children (1979), Small Talk: Functional Chants (1986), The Electric Elephant Chant (1982), Jazz Chants Fairy Tales (1988), Grammarchants (1993), Mother Goose Jazz Chants (1994), Holiday Jazz Chants (1999), and Jazz Chants Old and New (2002). Graham’s chants also appear in other ESL books and dictionaries, for example, the Side By Side Workbooks and the Children’s Picture Dictionary (Pearson Publications, 2002). She also shared her technique for writing jazz chants with teachers in her book Singing, Chanting, Telling Tales (Delta System, 1998).

    Throughout the ’80s and ’90s Graham’s jazz chants spread far and wide along with the ESL teaching methods and techniques that sprouted like bamboo shoots after a spring rain during the same period. Today jazz chants can be heard in hundreds and thousands of ESL and EFL classrooms around the world. Why do jazz chants survive methodological shifts and remain one of the most popular techniques in English teaching? Why are they so effective? How do jazz chants attract millions of learners worldwide? Let us examine some of the characteristics of jazz chants.

  • Jazz chants stimulate and appeal to multiple senses of learning. Students speak, sing, tap, stomp, and move while chanting. Thus jazz chants, coupled with music and songs, offer students an enjoyable way to learn English. Children can also perform their chants, songs, and poems at a children’s concert. When teaching ESL Level 2 students at NYU, Graham did not consider the chants an end in themselves; she asked students to create their own chants, write poems, and tell their life stories, thus creating a learning atmosphere in which learners were encouraged to use the language in a creative way.
  • The rhythmic presentation of the natural language is the key to success for jazz chants. “Jazz chanting is a rhythmic presentation of natural language, linking the rhythms of spoken American English to the rhythms of traditional American jazz” (Graham, 1998, p. 3). The rhythm of jazz chants is “a powerful memory aid” (Hara, 2003). The strong beat and the meaningful lines make the chant stick in one’s mind. The effect doubles and triples when music, movement, and role play are added.
  • Jazz chants are meaningful and communicative. Chanting resembles pattern drills in some ways because it is based on a combination of repetition and learner response. However, it avoids the pitfalls of mechanical drills because it is meaning-based and communication-based, and, more important, its language use is often authentic.
  • Jazz chants are interactive. Although jazz chants lessons involve a great deal of repetition, the repetition is always in response to other students or the instructor and always ends with activities such as role play. With jazz chants, language learning is no longer a painful and boring repetition and memorization process but a natural and interactive process.
  • Graham has provided teachers with an effective way of presenting jazz chants. She has created the following five-step model: listening to and imitating the chant; simple choral repetition; group response (three- or four-part exchange); role-playing in a situational context; individual response.
  • Jazz chants can be used to teach multiple aspects of language: sound and intonation, rhythm and rhyming, structure, vocabulary, idiomatic usage, language function, and American culture.
  • Jazz chants can be used with students of various proficiency levels. Richard-Amato (1996) points out that although jazz chants are generally oriented to beginners, “intermediate and advanced students are exposed to idiomatic expressions through this means . . .” Subtle forms of humor, decisions about the appropriateness of utterances, and symbolic content are only a few of the things to which students at higher levels can be introduced (p. 160).
  • Finally, jazz chants reduce anxiety and motivate learners. The use of music relaxes many students, and the opportunity to practice common phrases with an authentic model helps students feel more comfortable using those phrases in conversation. Students also respond more positively to lessons made enjoyable by activities that involve music.
   Analysis of a few of Graham’s chants will help us better appreciate the art and magic of the jazz chant approach. Below is “Boxes of Books” from Grammar Chants:
Boxes of books and boxes of books.

   Big books, small books,
   Old books, new books.
   Books on the bookshelf.
   Books on the floor.
   Books on the table
   Next to the door.
   Books in the kitchen.
   Books in the hall.
   Books in the bedroom,
   Big and small.

   This chant provides an opportunity to practice the sounds of “box” and “book.” It also focuses on plural noun forms, several prepositions (on, in, next to), adjectives (big, small, old, and new) and location expressions. Teachers can use this chant to practice both listening and speaking skills.
"Where’s Jack?” from Jazz Chants for Children is another versatile chant:

   Where’s Jack?
         He’s not here.
   Where did he go?
         I don’t know.
   Where’s Mary?
         She’s not here.
   Where did she go?
         I don’t know.
   Where are Sue and Bobby?
         They’re not here.
   Where did they go?
         I don’t know.
   Where’s Mr. Brown?
         He’s over there.
         Over there,
         Asleep in the chair.

   This chant introduces rhyming words—know and go, there and chair—presents the structures of “wh” questions, positive and negative responses, and two verb tenses (present and past tenses). The chant also teaches the function of asking for whereabouts and responding to questions. It is perfect for pair work and role play.

    "You Speak English Very Well” from Small Talk is useful for teaching pragmatics as well as syntax:

   You speak English very well.
         Oh no, not really.
   Yes, you do, you really do.
         No, I don’t.
   Yes, you do.
         No, I don’t.
   That’s not true.
         Yes, it is.
   You really do speak English very well.
         Thank you.
         You are very kind.
   No, I mean it.
   I really mean it.
         Thank you.
         You are very kind.
   No, I mean it.
   I really mean it.
   You really do speak English very well.
         Thank you.

   It is excellent for teaching the function in American culture of complimenting and responding to compliments. It is particularly effective for working with students of certain cultures (e.g., Asian culture) who tend to be modest in accepting compliments.

"Early Bird” from Jazz Chants Old and New is one of the new chants Graham created:

   I’m an early bird
   I love to get up
   very early in the morning.
   She’s an early bird.
   She loves to get up
   very early in the morning.
   I’m a night owl.
   I hate to get up
   very early in the morning.
   He’s a night owl.
   He hates to get up
   very early in the morning.
   I’m an early bird
   I love the sun
   She’s an early bird.
   She loves the sun.
   I’m a night owl.
   I love the moon.
   He’s a night owl.
   He loves the moon.
   She loves to get up.
   He hates to get up
   very early in the morning.

    This chant introduces the concept of early and late, the idiomatic phrases “early bird” and “night owl,” and the function of expressing likes and dislikes. It’s perfect for dramatization in class.

    Graham’s teaching career has extended from NYU to Harvard, to Teachers College Columbia University in Japan and other educational institutions throughout Europe, Asia, and Latin America. She no longer teaches ESL learners directly, but she is never far away from the classroom. She has organized children’s concerts in both Europe and the Far East. Feeling helpless after 9/11, Graham was haunted by the lines of one child: “Look teacher, the birds are on fire!” She knew that many children had watched the towers burn and fall, so she decided to do something positive to comfort their young minds. She adopted a class in PS 42 in Community School District 2 of New York City. She went into the classroom and chanted and sang with the kids. She also donated her books and tapes to the school.

Now Graham is devoted to training both pre- and inservice ESL teachers. At NYU she teaches a ten-hour weekend workshop in the fall and co-teaches a summer course. Her NYU classroom is equipped with a grand piano and a boom box. She also brings her own keyboard and lots of CDs. Recently she recorded a collection of early American jazz with The Mike Price Jazz Quintet in Tokyo (Jazz Baby in Tokyo); her latest CD is Jazz Baby in New York with the Jack Jeffers Sextet. All proceeds for these CDs are donated to Ashinaga, a Japanese charity for children around the world who have lost their parents in war or other disasters. Graham is raising money through concerts and CD sales to help the children of war. “I have gotten so much joy from children around the world,” she says. “This is my small way of giving something back.”

Graham’s workshop for graduate students and teachers is always brimming with chants, songs, poems, laughter, clapping, and movement. It was her gift for jazz and her English language intuition that produced jazz chants, but Graham’s interest in her students is the real fire of her creativity. As she put it, “The magic is in the students. I try very hard to show the teachers how to do that, how to get the magic from the class. You create your class from your students, by finding out who they are through poetry, through storytelling. You have to open the door for them.”

Hara, N. (2003). “Chanting teacher has still got the beat.” The Daily Yomiuri.
Graham, C. (1998). Singing, chanting, telling tales: Arts in the language classroom. Delta Systems Co.
Richard-Amato, P.A. (1996). Making it happen: Interaction in the second language classroom. Longman.
Ruston, L. (2003). “Graham Graham chants and enchants.” Easy English Times. NAFSA.

Frank Tang teaches ESL methods in the TESOL program at New York University. He co-teaches the Workshop in Teaching Foreign Languages with Carolyn Graham at NYU in the summer.
Dianne Loyet is a doctoral candidate in NYU’s TESOL program. Dianne served as the coordinator of NYU’s Training for All Teachers program 2001-2003.

updated on October 4, 2004