Here’s your chants!

Long ago in ancient Persia a wise old King received a present of three china dolls. The dolls were beautifully crafted and appeared identical in every way, but the teacher who had presented them to the king assured him that they were not. ‘My challenge to you,’ he said, “is to work out how they are different.”  The king enjoyed a challenge and he lifted them up to the light, inspected them, measured them, weighed them and even smelt them, but, as hard as he tried, he could not find any differences. As quick as a flash, the teacher pulled out a hair from the King’s beard and started pushing it into the left ear of the first doll. The hair disappeared but then began to come out of the right ear. ‘Look!’ said the teacher. “Just like our students when we don’t teach them in motivating ways. It goes in one ear and out of the other!” Suddenly the teacher pulled out another hair from the King’s beard and started pushing it into the left ear of the second doll. This time the hair just disappeared inside the dolls head. “So” said the teacher. “This is like our students when we manage to engage them and motivate them. They absorb everything that they are told.” Before the King could stop him, the teacher had pulled out another hair from his beard and was pushing this one into the left ear of the third doll. This time the hair disappeared for a while before coming out of the doll’s mouth. And there was a change; the hair had been straight when it went in but now it was curly. “This,” said the teacher, “Is what happens when what we are doing as teachers is really working. The students learn what we teach them, and then it comes out of their own mouths, but in their own personalised way”


I can’t remember where I first heard this story but I included this version of it in the introduction to the Stories Alive material, and its central message about the power of personalisation in learning has always resonated with me.   I wasn’t really thinking about personalisation though when I wrote the chants for Stories Alive.  In fact I saw them more as quite a controlled activity which would enable learners to internalise certain high frequency chunks of language, as well as to practise connected speech and the rhythm of English. What I hadn’t bargained for was the way that learners in Palestine would take hold of them and perform them in their own personalised way, even turning them into songs.

As far as I know, it was Sahar Tawfeeq who started all this by giving out one of the chants to her class and then organising a competition to see which group of students could come up with the best interpretation of it; an inspirational idea, and since then I’ve seen so many different creative versions  of the chants that I’ve almost forgotten that it was me who wrote them.

I love how nine year old Razan performs this one for instance, as if it’s the closing number of a musical. She sings the line, ‘I’m not going to do as I’m told’ so that you really believe that she isn’t ever going to do as she is told again. 🙂


And I love how this one goes from two soloists to the whole class joining in in chorus. You can really feel the energy in the room. I think it uses the tune of a traditional Arabic song. Is that right?



And these three chants from Farah Sabah and Hala Salah are done in their own beautifully unique and very creative way. Are there any record producers reading this? 🙂


8 thoughts on “Here’s your chants!

  1. Hello Mr Nick. Firstly I would like to appreciate your hard effort and precious work. The training course that you gave us about story telling put us on the right road and helped us to follow the correct techniques. I had many experiences in applying the story telling in teaching the students. But to be honest I applied this as a project on the higher achievers students. Actually I did it spontaneously because I didn’t study about it,but now I am following a systematic procedures and I am more confident in my techniques. As well as I can use the story telling technique in teaching grammar and the other skills.every time I finish one session I try to develop myself more and get new ideas. Many thanks Mr Nick for being with us. And I think you can touch that and see how this course is fruitful and successful and i can imagine happy you are when watching these videos and pictures because you share us this success and of course you deserve it.


    1. Thanks for your comment Sirin. You’re right -I am really happy to see videos like these. It’s always nice to see something that you’ve written being used enthusiastically by students, but mostly I’m happy for the reasons that I mention above. That is, that students are really personalising this material and making it their own by doing it in their own style. And this is what I wanted to ask you about: how did your students Hala and Farah come up with these ways of doing the chants? Are they based on the kind of music they like themselves? Did they try different ways of doing them before deciding on these ways? Did they practise and learn them during class time, or out of class?


      1. In fact Farah and Hala are crazy about English songs they keep by heart many English songs, that’s why they are professional in singing. They practiced these songs together and tried to have suitable tunes and rhythm that suit both of them .And I asked Farah to help the other class and to train the students to sing the chant of Jbene to do as a rounding up activity in my training lesson.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Haaaay Mr. Nike 🙂
    Great Job actually… Your efforts are highly appreciated to all of us..

    For me, I really liked the way each girl has personalized the chants, the way they’ve sung them and the way they’ve created the music for each one. I mean each person is gifted and has sth hidden inside, I mean that heavenly, magical and musical gift, which is waiting for the suitable situations and occasions to appear.

    Through ((Kids Read)) programme, we are opening the space for our students to be creative, active and persuasive, to bring their maximum out and even to be themselves and not to be shy of what they have got. Students need to feel free to go where they can find themselves.

    What I did in my class was simply like this: I conducted a competition between the groups of students in the class and I asked them to work on a rhyme can fit the words. Then I asked the groups to sing the chant individually in front of the class. It was up to other students to decide upon which one is to be the “CHOSEN ONE” for the whole class to sing. Well, to some extant, the groups’ rhymes were close to each others, may be because I sang the chant to them first :(. I -for sorry- admit it I was mistaken, I should have given them the lyrics only..
    For sure, each one of them is talented in a way and has sth needed to be discovered….

    I liked all of the chants here but I’m so sad that my class’s chant is not uploaded 😦
    ((Just kidding 🙂 ))

    Thanks for all teachers who has contributed in discovering students’ talents
    And Thank you for all what you did 🙂


    1. Hi Sahar, Thanks very much for your comment. I like what you said….

      ”..we are opening the space for our students to be creative, active and persuasive, to bring their maximum out and to be themselves and not to be shy of what they have got. Students need to feel free to go where they can find themselves.”

      The activity you did of getting students to work out their own ways of performing the chant certainly fulfills this. I guess the next logical stage would be to help them to create their own chants and drama scripts. Do you think that would be possible?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. For sure 🙂
        I mean, recently, we have been working on the water cycle and the correct use of present simple. I wanted them to save the stages of the water cycle by heart. Then, I was completely shocked when four students wrote me this chant….

        sun rises up
        over till the top
        water gets hot
        vapour in a pot
        vapour is proud
        it becomes a cloud
        turn turn again
        and cloud will rain

        Of course, I did some modification for example the rhyme, I added some words and I omitted others…

        Our kids have too much to give, but they need to live a normal life and to be given suitable living circumstances, Which is exactly we are trying to do in schools 🙂 🙂

        Evening Mr. Nick


  3. Hi Sahar, That’s great. It sounds like your students have caught the chanting bug! Chants are such an effective way of making things memorable; it’s with good reason that school children all round the world have used them to memorise such diverse things as times tables, how many days there are in each month, and even religious texts.
    Working with kids in Gaza has shown me how right you are. They do have a lot to give and it’s wonderful what you’re doing as school teachers to make their lives as normal as possible.

    Liked by 1 person

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