George Lucas Educational Foundation
Student Engagement

Using Cheers and Claps to Motivate World Language Students

Students can build a sense of community and practice language skills by coming up with claps and cheers related to the course content.

January 12, 2022
High school students clap during class
FatCamera / iStock

Who says cheers and claps don’t have a place in learning? In world language classes, cheers and claps are exciting ways to make learning fun and harness better student engagement.

Since the start of the pandemic, I’ve been using cheers and claps to foster interaction among my Tagalog students, and these bursts of energy will work with other world languages. Aside from the excitement they create, cheers and claps help foster a positive and supportive learning space whether classes are online or in person.

Let me share with you the different ways I utilize cheers and claps to invigorate in-person and online world language classes.

Generating Excitement for Learning

1. Create fun cheers and claps that are relevant to the target language and culture. The key here is fun. An entertaining cheer or clap is something different than the usual—consider a word that resonates in the target language or the target culture. Instead of using English adjectives (e.g., good, excellent, fantastic), I use Tagalog words that mean the same. I created the Magaling Cheer (Excellent Cheer) to commend or congratulate students for a job well done. This cheer consists of three steps (represented by Tagalog words), with students saying ayos (“all right”), aprub (“approved”), and then magaling (“excellent”).

I also came up with the Manny Pacquiao Clap, a reference to one of the most popular and successful boxers of all time, Manny “Pacman” Pacquiao, who is from the Philippines. Students clap their hands three times and throw a fist bump into the air, like the gesture of a boxer. Teachers of other world languages can think of a word, an icon, or any component from the target language and culture to create fun cheers and claps. To generate excitement, incorporate gestures and movements as students say or shout a word while cheering and clapping.

2. Use kinesthetic cheers and claps as warm-up and brain-break activities. Get students ready for the day’s class using cheers and claps that include upbeat music and more movements. I usually ask learners to prepare their creative cheers and claps when they’re in groups—imagine a bench cheer during a sporting event.

For instance, in my virtual class, students created their cheers and claps prior to the start of our virtual Laro ng Lahi (Game of the Race). As a warm-up activity and to get the energy going, I asked each team to present their combined cheers and claps and to use a Filipino dance beat that’s typically heard during Ati-Atihan, one of the more popular festivals in the Philippines. I also asked each team to incorporate Tagalog words and phrases they’d previously learned. This strategy can be equally successful with any world language and helps students learn more about the culture while learning the language.

I use the same kinesthetic cheers and claps as brain breaks. Every time I feel like my students are getting bored or their learning is starting to plateau because they’re taking in too much information, I ask them to perform the cheers and claps they created (30 seconds up to a minute long) to relax their minds, to refocus their attention, and to get them physically moving. As their teacher, I also make sure that I actively participate in the performance.

3. Build camaraderie among learners using cheers and claps. When students spontaneously clap and cheer for their peers, they inspire empathy, concern, and other positive feelings. In my Tagalog class, we motivate and root for students using the Kayang-Kaya (You Can Do It) cheer and the Laban Lang (Keep Going) clap. When I started including these strategies, I noticed that students became more appreciative and supportive of one another. It melts my heart every time I see students affirm and celebrate the victories of their classmates without reservation. This also lowers students’ anxieties and avoids other negative feelings.

A warm and welcoming classroom environment is essential for effective language teaching. Nurturing the affective domain is as important as strengthening the cognitive facets of learning. The article “The Importance of Affect in Language Learning” is a good resource for world language teachers who would like to better accommodate students and really connect with them.

In a virtual classroom environment, where rapport and camaraderie can be challenging to nurture, my students and I use cheers and claps to connect to one another emotionally. Cheers and claps can provide positive feedback and foster an encouraging virtual classroom environment—one where students trust and consider one another, not as competitors but as real friends.

Creative cheers and claps, when incorporated conscientiously into the teaching-learning process, can help in the development of students’ social and emotional competencies. One caveat, though: Don’t overdo it, and don’t make it a mandatory action and reaction in class. Encourage, but don’t impose. When students begin to see how these simple techniques work in an in-person or virtual classroom for world languages, they’ll likely clap and cheer spontaneously with sheer enjoyment. 

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  • World Languages
  • 6-8 Middle School
  • 9-12 High School

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