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How Chants and Rhymes Benefit ESL Instruction

How Chants and Rhymes Benefit ESL Instruction | ITTT | TEFL Blog

Many research articles demonstrate the effectiveness of chants and rhymes and list the reasons why they should be an important element of ESL instruction. Through the use of chants and rhymes, students get to increase their vocabulary, improve rhythm, intonation, pronunciation, as well as memorization skills. Chants and rhymes are important in language teaching because:

"...the literature has recognized the role of nursery rhymes in paving the way for the learners, particularly young ones, in developing their language learning skills." (International Journal of English Language and Translation Studies, Jan-March 2017)

Most importantly, chants and rhymes allow for implicit/unconscious language learning that is similar to learning the mother tongue. Such implicit and unconscious vs. conscious/analytical language learning is situated in the right brain hemisphere. Although the left hemisphere is where most language tasks are processed, recent studies reveal that the right hemisphere has an important part in specific language tasks. Rhythmic and communicative aspects are the most important factors when processing chants and rhymes, and that corresponds with the way the young children learn by first using the language structure as a communicative tool and later being able to analyze that structure.

Improvement in Language Skills through Chants and Rhymes Possible?

Incorporating chants and rhymes in the language learning process allows the teachers to create a motivating learning environment and enhance their listening comprehension skills. Listening competence is very important for young learners, and rhymes/chants give them the opportunity to familiarize themselves with the rhythm, sounds, and patterns of the English language. Since English is a language where some syllables have a longer duration than others, young learners can grasp that concept through listening to chants. They offer an effective way of teaching where stresses lie and which syllables have less emphasis.

Chants/Rhymes can also be helpful in teaching daily routines, or communicative situations, while also teaching sentence structure and grammatical points. The incorporation of chants and rhymes into language teaching creates a dynamic learning environment, which allows young children to benefit from peer interaction. There is motivation and enthusiasm created by such group participation and interaction, indispensable in learning a second language. Instead of the conventional techniques of language teaching - explaining and drilling, which tend to be discouraging to students- English language learners acquire language skills in a positive and engaging way.

Concrete Examples of Chants/Rhymes and Teaching Applications

Chants and rhymes are more than fun - they offer language learning in action. Listening to and practicing the English sounds is great preparation for reading, and it builds the students' confidence to use their speaking skills.

  • Hey Diddle Diddle: Students practice action words and past verb forms, pronunciation of "D" sound
  • Humpty Dumpty: Past verb forms, word families
  • Pat-A-Cake: Action verbs
  • One, Two, Buckle My Shoe: Review numbers 1-10, vocabulary, verbs.
  • 5 Little Monkeys Swinging in the Tree: Practice numbers, rhyme recognition, Present and Past Tense
  • Row, Row, Row Your Boat: Pronunciation of "R" sound.
  • Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star: Teach students how words that do not look the same can be homophonic (pronounced the same)
  • Sing a Song of Sixpence: Pronunciation, accent formation
  • One Two Buckle My Shoe: Teach numbers, nouns, adjectives, and phrasal verbs.
  • Jack and Jill: Practice Past Tense forms

Using those (and many other) chants and rhymes allows ESL teachers to combine different learning modalities- auditory, kinesthetic, or tactile- and offer a fun learning experience. Teachers can easily find Nursery Rhymes at the local library or rely on the plentiful online resources and lesson materials.

For example, if an ESL teacher working with young English learners decides to use one of the most famous and well-known rhymes- Jack and Jill, he/she has a great selection of materials online. From Powerpoint presentations of Jack and Jill to story sequencing cards for knowledge assessment, downloadable stick puppets to recreate the rhyme, or coloring pages and art projects for added motivation. Young ESL students would be able to learn a variety of unfamiliar vocabulary words such as fetch, pail, tumbling, or multiple words meaning like "crown." The teacher could use realia -in this instance, a pail- to demonstrate the word's meaning and have students' recreate' the storyline while reciting the rhyme. The students would gently tap the top of their heads in the culminating moment. They would be learning new nouns, verbs, syntax formation, and enhancing their language skills through the process of read-aloud discussion, i.e., "Why do Jack and Jill go up the hill?" or "What happens to Jack/Jill?".


It is clear that rhymes and chants are an essential component of language learning in a preschool ESL environment because they enable young learners to hear new vocabulary and grammar structures in a way that grasps their attention. Thanks to being repetitive and incorporating actions while reciting the rhymes, learning happens on an unconscious and implicit level through social interaction. Language teachers should not downgrade the importance of chants and rhymes or think of them as being outdated. They can still play a tremendous role in language learning and provide confidence in their students' confidence to speak and eventually read in English.

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