Friday, May 11, 2007

The Drummer Boy

Jazz chants (originally developed by Carolyn Graham) are the way I often start conversation classes at the universities where I teach. They’re a great way to get the energy going, especially in morning classes, and it’s also a way to get all the students speaking in English.

Naturally, they also help with (American English) pronunciation, particularly, stress, intonation, and linking. An additional asset is that they develop the students’ listening to spoken English. On class evaluations, students often list jazz chants as one of their favorite class activities.

This morning we were doing the “Banker’s Wife’s Blues,” which has some especially tricky rhythm. Sometimes I have students clap the rhythm, but today I decided to have them use pens or pencils to tap out the rhythm. hoping it wouldn’t seem too childish for college freshmen.

One of the boys pulled a set of actual drumsticks from his bag. It took him a couple tries, but once he got the rhythm down, I had him lead the whole class in our drumming session. All the students really got into it. Of course, when we read the jazz chant after that, they all had the rhythm down perfectly.

It’s the sort of spontaneous moment one can’t plan for but, when it happens, the level of enthusiasm in the class increases remarkably. I only wish I had a drummer in every class where I use jazz chants.

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