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Interactive maths and whole class 'unison' responses

Thursday, 13 July 2023
Chanting activities involving a unison response can be a good way to practise aspects of maths that involve some sort of repetition. It is fun to do, but needs to be well managed by the teacher and this includes identifying the areas of maths it works best with and careful planning to include all abilities in this whole class activity. 

Effective ways to chant together

When chanting, it is easier if you have something to control the pace and rhythm - you can beat a drum, swing a toy tied to a piece of string, point to a counting stick, clap or use hand actions. 
Teachers I hear when observing a lesson often lead the chant themselves. Setting the speed and rhythm is important, but try to go quiet with the count. For example, after the first three or four goes to give an opportunity for you to observe your class and for them to take responsibility for the counting. With an action or sound determining the pace, you can drop chanting yourself and watch to see which children are chanting confidently or being left behind.
With hand actions I’ve found a beat of four works well and I particularly like ‘thigh, clap, snap, snap’. Slap both hands down on the legs, then one clap, followed by two finger snaps or clicks, left then right. If young children cannot click their fingers they can just wave each hand in turn or high five. The chanting is done with the two snaps, this is helpful as it gives the children thinking time while they slap their thighs and clap their hands. 

What maths works well with chanting?

This is an obvious area and regularly used by teachers.  From counting on and back in 1s and 2s for EYFS, up to counting in 10s, 2s, 5s, 20s, 100s, 100s and even fractions and decimals for KS2.
There are a few ways to challenge your class once they have mastered a counting sequence by counting backwards and having different starting points.  Counting in 2s from 33 or in 5s from 7 makes it far more challenging. Children will slowly begin to see the patterns that emerge in each of these two sequences.
Multiples and multiplication facts
Reinforcing the multiples of each times table is a helpful step towards remembering multiplication facts. This is most effective as revision to practise known facts in short sessions.
Repeating the multiples in order can be made more challenging by dividing the class in two, with each side saying alternate numbers. This is particularly good for x5 as it illustrates the patterns of the multiples ending in 5 and 0.
Calculation chains
This will involve you giving a start number and instructions on the beats as well as having beats for the children to answer. So instead of the children chanting you will say ‘add 3’ or ‘double it’ and the children answer to continue the chain. Here is an example with the children’s responses in bold. For thigh, clap, snap, snap, the questions and answers are given on the ‘snaps’ or finger clicks:
3          add 5               8          subtract 2        6          times by 4       24        divide by 10
2.4       add 0.6            3          double it          6          add 4               10
Always plan the first few steps of your calculation chain as it can be hard to listen to their answer and plan the next task within perhaps only 2 beats.  You can use whatever calculations you wish to focus on. A good tip is to put in a challenging calculation occasionally, which may only have some of the class continuing, but follow it up with an easy one to bring the whole class back in.

I use a ladybird on a string or a spider (children love it but teachers are a little wary!) to swing to set the pace and rhythm, with children answering each time the ladybird is at the height of the swing on each side. 
It is easy to control the pace by making the rope shorter or longer, alternatively children can answer only on one side of the swing.
Teaching points
The advantage of the whole class chanting is that it allows children to join in when they are ready. Chanting together and having a joint answer allows everyone to learn in different ways. Look out for the following in your class:
The ‘goldfish’
These are the children that haven’t quite got the confidence to join in, but want to look like they are taking part. They will open their mouths but no sounds come out. They need your support so give them a nod or a smile when you notice they have started to join in properly. 
The ‘echoes’
These children are listeners, they may not join in at all at first then gradually they will say the chant a second behind as they have listened to others to make sure the answer they have is correct. 

How can you differentiate with class chanting?

Listening is part of learning and for children that are not joining in the chant as they don’t know the number sequence this may be a valuable learning opportunity – time to listen and learn. So don’t see the ‘goldfish’ and ‘echoes’ as a problem if they are not confidently joining in, but do keep an eye on them and look out for their responses. There will be times when extra support would be beneficial and this can be done by providing number lines, even with the jumps marked on if needed, a 100-square, a list of multiplication facts or any other resources that will help.
With ‘Calculation Chains’ there is more scope to differentiate than with number sequences. If your focus is adding a single digit to 2-digit numbers for example, taking it over the tens number will be a challenge and some children will miss that answer, however make the next two instructions ‘add 1’ and then ‘add 2’ and you can bring back in the whole class. Alternatively, you can throw in ‘subtract 30’ and bring the chant back into single digit numbers and then add into the teens to target the lower ability children. If you really want to wake up the able children in your class, add 0.5 or a 2-digit number. Then you can return to adding smaller numbers to bring everyone back in. 

Altering the pace
One useful strategy to try when chanting is to alter the pace. You can slow the pace down to give the children that need it some thinking time and you can speed up the pace to challenge others. Most importantly mix it up, able children will be happy to chant slowly for a while if they know at some point they will be challenged to speed it up. Equally, as long as children have been successful at joining in for part of the chant, they will enjoy seeing everyone struggling (and probably giggling) to keep up with the faster pace.

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