In most any classroom focused on helping students learn language, phrases such as “repeat after me” are commonplace, as teachers know that students need to practice saying words and putting words into sentences in order to develop language skills. In some classrooms, you might even hear phrases such as “Say it with me…” or just “Say ____.”

All of these phrases and the practice of having students chorally respond will enhance language learning by providing practice opportunities and building engagement.

What are Choral Responses?

While the answer might seem obvious, the practice of chorally responding in classrooms is sometimes non-existent, too limited, or lacking in several key aspects. Chorally responding is characterized by students orally responding to a prompt, or saying something, all at the same time.

Students might say a word such as an academic vocabulary word, or a phrase that includes a complex language structure, or read a sentence or paragraph together. The critical word in the previous sentence is together. Each student should say the word or phrase, or read together, all at the same time.

It is critical that all students respond at the same time. If only a few students respond, then only a few students are verbally engaged, while the other students are passive. If one or a small number of students blurt out a response before others, then the other students are not responding themselves, necessarily, but repeating what others have said.

While this is not necessarily an issue if students are practicing saying a new vocabulary word, it certainly is an issue when they are reading the word, as some students read the word while others only repeat what another student read.

In addition, accountability can be an issue. If students do not respond when prompted, the teacher is essentially saying that responses are not required, and that following the directions of the teacher is not required. If students do not respond when prompted then they are not practicing saying or reading the word, which is the most important aspect of choral responses.

Why Should Students Chorally Respond?

As previously mentioned, the primary purpose of chorally responding is language practice. As students learn new vocabulary, language structures, or new spellings of words, students can practice saying, reading, or spelling the words as a group.

By practicing chorally, we are having students respond in a way that lowers the affective filter. In other words, it provides an opportunity for students to practice in a way that lowers anxiety and is safe, as no one person is on the spot to produce. This is not an assessment, wherein we want to know what a particular student can do, but rather an opportunity to practice together.

Choral responses also provide a way for students to stay actively engaged. Choral responses provide an opportunity for students to produce language, rather than passively listening to the teacher. As students say the word, hear the word, read the word, and write the word, you are providing multimodal instruction that engages students in a variety of ways.

How and When to Elicit Choral Responses

Of course, we begin with instruction. Multilingual language learners need to be taught in a way that is comprehensible, and that makes content concepts clear. In addition, teachers will need to emphasize the academic language that students are learning through the content and explicitly teach the vocabulary and language structures that students will need in order to be successful.

Through explicit instruction, the teacher provides the vocabulary, syntax being studied, or shares the spelling of a new word or sight word, for example. Explicit instruction includes telling students, showing students, and explaining to students the vocabulary, syntax, spelling, or reading that is being learned. Be cautious in your instruction to not talk too much, as it is easy for students to tune out if there is too much talking. Be direct and as clear as possible.

Prompt students to chorally respond during and after instruction. There are a variety of ways to prompt students, and which you use may depend on where you are in the instructional sequence as well as your instructional purpose. For example, the first-time students hear a new vocabulary word or syntactic structure, you might use “repeat after me.”

This provides the students the opportunity to hear the word first. To have the students repeat the word several times, or after they have learned the word but want to provide additional practice, you may use “say it with the me.” For repeated choral practice, wherein you want the students to say the word several times to practice with pronunciation, you can direct the students to say the word to an object in the room or to another person.

In this case, instruct students to “say it to…” and include an object, for example. Here are some examples.

Say that to (objects in the room):

  • the floor
  • the ceiling
  • the window
  • the projector

Say that to someone (a person with a characteristic);

  • wearing green (or another color)
  • with glasses on
  • with longer/shorter hair than you

Say that to someone/something (location):

  • on your left/right
  • in front of you/behind you
  • near you/far away from you

Once students are familiar with the word, you can prompt them to “read it” or “say it.” For example, when discussing a concept and a student shares a more informal word for a vocabulary word they have been learning, you can remind them that they have learned another term for that concept, and have the students say it chorally.

Usually, a short pause is enough to have the students respond chorally when using one of the above prompts. However, it can be helpful to provide an additional cue to students so that they know when to respond.

A hand gesture, for example, such as dropping your hands is an effective way to ensure that students all respond at the same time. Adding the written word and then sweeping our hand or finger under the word as students read it is an effective method.

Through choral responses, we can more effectively help multilingual learners practice language skills as they learn content. When prompting students to respond chorally, remember the key components of this practice, including limiting teacher talk, ensuring each student responds at the same time, and providing the appropriate prompt depending on your purpose and point in the instructional sequence. Choral responses can be a fun and engaging practice for both teachers and students alike.