ESL material: puppets

puppetAll my life, puppets have played an important role in my life.  From Sesame Street as a young person, to puppets during my German 101 class at the university, they helped express ideas that “real” people couldn’t do as well.  I suppose that’s because – in my humble opinion – children identify with puppets better than with adults, no matter what shape, color, or size they may be.  And for me, as an adult, my puppets are allowed to do things that I as an adult would never be allowed to say or do.  Puppets break down barriers for shy children, and help channel speaking activities for for the more gregarious ones.

In this blog, I will describe some of the ways pupppets have assisted me in teaching ESL during my  years as a teacher.

Pass the puppet

This is a circle activity.  During the lesson, we practice various answers to a certain question, such as “what is your favourite fruit?” or “what is your name?”  The puppet goes from hand to hand, and the children say their answer to the question.  Shy children, of course, may simply pass the puppet on to the next child.  There’s no need to pressure them into speaking before they are ready; they’ll be rattling away soon enough.  The advantage to practicing in this manner, is that the children are mentally preparing their own answer as the puppet makes its way over to them, and they are listening to the answers other children give as well.  In a circle of 21 children, this means that each child has mentally prepared his own answer 20 times, while comparing his own answer with that of the others 20 times as well.  That’s a lot of practice!

Sometimes the puppet must also do an activity.  If, for instance, we are learning prepositions, they children will say whether monkey is going over, under, or behind the chair, while making monkey go over, under, or behind the chair.  Other times, they will say what he is doing.  For instance, “Monkey is sleeping.”  Then he lies down and starts snoring, to everyone’s delight.

The very shy hermit crab

The very shy hermit crab

I use a large variety of puppets: the hermit crab, too shy for introductions; the very hungry caterpillar, based on Eric Carle’s book; the kangaroo mom and her baby for simple questions; monkey for action-related vocabulary; grumpy monster for talking about feelings, and many, many more.

Finger puppets

The easiest model of finger puppet, I have found, is to take toilet paper rolls and cut them into 3 or 4 rings.  The children draw a figure on thick card, cut it out, and then staple it to a ring.  They put 2 or three fingers through the ring and there it is, the instant finger puppet.

These puppets are easily kept in a small box for use in our storyscapes, where it jumps, sits, dances, and plays hide-and-seek.  Even though much of the speech used during free play is in Dutch, I encourage the use of the vocabulary we’ve been learning and regularly hear sentences employing both languages.  Free play is ideal for developing fluency and self-confidence in a new language!

Stick puppets

Every year, I have a class of children learning more advanced words for clothing.  They then make stick puppets wearing all sorts of clothes, and practice saying a short blurb about their puppet.  The stick puppets are very simply made by drawing a figure onto paper, coloring it in, cutting it out, and sticking it to a wooden kabob skewer.  I videotape the puppets while the children are talking about what they are wearing, and put the videos into their portfolios.  I also assemble the bits of videos into a larger, class-broad video, that we watch later on as a class.


These are only a few of the ways I use puppets in my lessons.  I wonder if you have any other ways you use puppets?  Please feel free to share!


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