Rhythm helps your two lips move

Rhythm is the longest word in English without a vowel, and because of this it can be a tricky word to spell. Generations of schoolchildren have remembered its spelling through the mnemonic ‘Rhythm helps your two hips move’. Rhythm does help your hips to move of course, but it can also help your lips to move, or rather it can help us to use spoken language in ways which are fluent and natural.

Ever since reading Implementing the Lexical Approach (Lewis 1997) in the late nineties, and being strongly influenced by the book’s ideas, I’ve tried to incorporate rhythm, in the form of chants, into my classes to get the lips of my learners moving.

‘Phonological patterning is one of the ways we store items in our mental lexicon; it is easier to remember a tune than a sequence of notes…Devising chants -several similarly patterned lines and a contrapuntal last line..- is lexis made memorable and fun’   (Lewis p. 129 )

One thing about chanting is that is encourages use of connected speech: it challenges learners to speak in chunks, rather than in isolated words. This is a central idea of the Lexical Approach. When chanting words flow into each other, and pauses occur naturally between chunks of language, rather than after each word (as often occurs in the speech of beginners). Using chants and songs can also give lower level learners the experience of sounding fluent in English, and this can do wonders for their confidence.

Chants are also very memorable and can even get stuck in our heads so that they become ‘ear worms’. We may get fed up of having the latest Kylie Minogue song going round and round in our brains day and night, but for learners of a language this can only be a good thing. It means that what we focus on in class is being processed by the learners long after the class has finished, and this, as teachers, is exactly what we want.

A few years ago I was teaching a group of adult beginners, and I taught them this simple chant to practice the chunk “I’d like a…’ as well as food quantifier chunks like ‘a cup of…’, ‘a plate of…’ and ‘a glass of..’

One, two, three!   I’d like a cup of tea.

Four, five, six!   I’d like a plate of chips.

Seven, eight, nine!  I’d like a glass of wine.

Several months after the class had finished, I bumped into one of the students in the street. The chant seemed to have stuck with him. In fact, the very first thing he said to me was ‘One two three. I’d like a cup of tea’ Perhaps this was the only thing he remembered from my classes! 🙂

In the videos below (one version with subtitles and one without), Sahar, one of the teachers from Gaza who took part in the storytelling course in Ramallah, is demonstrating her interpretation of the chant that goes with the traditional Palestinian story,  ‘The farmer who followed his dream’. I wrote the chant to accompany the story, but also as a way to activate a range of useful chunks of language (Last night, when I got there, just had to wait, it’s just a.., leave me here, have some fun etc). However, the way of performing the chant, with the gestures and rhythm, is entirely Sahar’s creation and is far more engaging than anything I could ever come up with.

So my question to you is this. Could you use this chant (or other ones) with your students? If so, what would you do with it, and for what purpose?

Reference: Lewis, M (1997) Implementing the Lexical Approach ; LTP

9 thoughts on “Rhythm helps your two lips move

  1. Greetings Mr. Nick 🙂
    First of all, I’m really thankful that I had the chance to work with you along with the amazing staff of teachers, and I’m pretty sure that the huge amount of knowledge that we had during this course will be very beneficial for us specially because we are teaching in very difficult circumstances…
    As you’ve mentioned in your article, students ((kids in general)) tend to learn songs or rhymed speech by heart so why don’t we try to make an advantage out of this. Always try to connect words together in a simple, easy and interesting way…
    For me, I use this strategy a lot with my students in and even out of the classroom. For example; I taught them how to differentiate possessive adj. (his – her) through this statement:
    His ل / for عز / Ezz ((boy))
    Her ل / for سهير / Sohair ((girl))

    And Also another example is that the one I used to teach the colours..
    عد فلوسك عد… (( count your money, count))
    red أحمر يعني ((red))
    يا أبو الملايين (( calling for a person who has millions))
    green أخضر يعني ((green))
    right بص يمينك ((Look at your right))
    white أبيض يعني ((white))

    I really enjoy teaching them this way, and believe me it works 🙂

    Regards Mr, Nick


    1. Thanks for your interesting comment Sahar and for widening the discussion to talk about rhyme as well as rhythm. Rhyme is also a difficult word to spell in English and maybe we could remember it using the mnemonic – Rhyme Helps You Memorise English (which is also true of course, as your examples illustrate).

      I think helping students to make simple rhyming poems can be good way to make language memorable for them. Here’s one with a lot of schwa in it….

      He’s Barack Obama
      He doesn’t like drama
      Now he works as a farmer
      He wears his pyjamas
      It makes him feel calmer
      He’s Barack Obama

      and here’s a much simpler one for Snow White….

      She’s Snow White
      She doesn’t like the night
      She likes the light
      If she has a fight
      She’s always right
      She’s Snow White

      To get students to make their own ones they might need access to a rhyming dictionary like this http://www.rhymezone.com/

      Another thing we can do is get kids to draw pictures of as many things as they can on a single piece of paper which rhyme, or which start with the same letter etc. We tend to link words which are similar in meaning when we teach, but perhaps linking words through form like this is just as effective, if not more so.

      Actually my written Arabic is non-existent so I’m not sure of the meaning of your ‘colour song’, but I think I get the idea and I’m sure that the vast majority of readers of this blog are fluent Arabic speakers so they’ll understand.:-)

      There is a technique similar to the one you’re referring to called the Key Word memory technique. I use it myself to remember new words in languages. So the Arabic word for fish ( سمك ) sounds a bit like the English word ‘smack’ so I imagine someone smacking another person with a fish. The Arabic word for chicken ( دجاج ) sounds a bit like ‘The judge’ so I imagine a judge with a chicken head. It really works and I’m sure I’ll never forget how to say those words in Arabic.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. What an absolutely wonderful chant and a brilliant performer! I recognise that story. Young learners will love chanting particularly when it’s embedded meaningfully in a good story.


  3. Thanks for your comment ‘Anonymous’ 🙂 Yes – there are different versions of that story in different parts of the world. There’s an English one I know called ‘The Pedlar of Swaffham’. The Palestinian version used here is based on the one in the book ‘Ghaddar the Ghoul and other Palestinian stories’ by Sonia Nimr. And Sirees is a real place which is in the Jenin area of Palestine – about a four day walk from Jerusalem!


  4. Hi Nick

    I loved the post, Sahar’s chant, and your added ideas in the comment above. This was a reminder to me of how much I love chants, and use them with young learners, or with teachers I work with. A couple of thoughts to add to what you already shared:
    1) love Carolyn Graham’s books/recordings – they give a great source of inspiration to create own chants, using the familiar/meaningful context for the students
    2) enjoy grammar chants for the same reason – adding fun into practice tasks, helping students to remember things (way longer than we plan, sometimes, as in your example)
    3) love creating chants myself, or with students – the ‘do it yourself’ aspect of tasks adds ownership.
    4) Specifically about this chant: perhaps some more verses could be added into the song, in the middle (‘making’ the farmer visit more places before the box of treasure is found, for example) A lot depends on the language proficiency and age of the students, of course.

    Thank you for the inspiration to think about this!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Zhenya,

      Thanks a lot for your comment. I do a huge disservice to Carolyn Graham by not even mentioning one of her books in my post, so thanks for redressing the balance. I remember attending her closing plenary at the IATEFL conference about 15 years ago. There were over 1000 people in the audience and she had half of us chanting ‘I’d like a tuna salad sandwich on wholemeal bread’ and the other half chanting ‘and a large bowl of chicken soup’. It sounded amazing. (the catering staff must have been worried 🙂

      This is something else I really like about chants. They’re one of the few language teaching activities which actually work better the more students you have (as long as the teacher in the next room can put up with the noise of course)

      I really like your idea of getting students to create their own chants. I sometimes do this as a way of ‘throwing back at them’ the language that has ended up on the board. Here’s one on the topic of food that a group in Pakistan came up with…

      A little bit of cheese
      I didn’t have that
      A little bit of curry
      I didn’t have that
      A little bit of cake
      I didn’t have that
      I didn’t have that
      A glass of orange
      I had some of that
      A glass of water
      I had some of that
      A glass of apple juice
      I had some of that
      A bowl of fruit
      I had some of that
      I had some of that
      I had some of that
      I’ve had enough of that and now I feel fat!


      1. Thank you for the reply, and for adding new ideas, and the new chant. Really like how you are continuing the topic in the comments and sharing more ‘chanty’ activities. This is something else I learned from reading your blog. Thank you!

        Liked by 1 person

  5. What a nice chant . Good job Sahar.
    Chants are very useful in the learning process specially with young learners.
    They improve students’ pronounciation and fluency. Also, they make the lesson interesting , attractive, and active. They also help students to remember things very well because the chants stick in their minds.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the comment Amal. Chants are very memorable – yes. Because of this I’m trying to use them to remember chunks of language in Egyptian colloquial Arabic.
      Here’s one that I made up. Can you understand it? (I don’t know how to write it in Arabic so I’ve written it in the Roman alphabet)

      Ana mish ‘arif nadartak fayn?
      Ana mish ‘arif nadartak fayn?
      Ana mish ‘arif nadartak fayn?
      nadartak fayn? nadartak fayn?
      Homa mish ‘arfin nadartak fayn?
      Homa mish ‘arfin nadartak fayn?
      Homa mish ‘arfin nadartak fayn?
      nadartak fayn? nadartak fayn?

      etc etc


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s