ESL materials


These days, publishers are putting out loads of new, internet-based material.  One such publisher has recently started creating internet-based material called “Groove Me,” which bases its lessons on the music of popular artists such as One Direction, Shakira, and Katy Perry.  Its users are enthusiastic because the children enjoy singing popular songs, they learn what the songs mean, and it’s easy for teachers to use.

The growing popularity of this music-based material indicates that there is a desperate need for new, modern material that connects with the children’s life experience.  Popular music is hot, and therefore a logical means of connecting language lessons with the children’s own experiences.

Not all popular music is useful for the classroom, however.  When selecting music for the ESL lesson, it’s important to keep a few things in mind, such as appropriate language use and topic.  Unfortunately, numerous songs out there make sexual references that many teachers don’t catch on to – but their pupils might, and many do.  Other songs – which shall remain unnamed – employ a notably scant breadth of vocabulary, constricting how much they contribute to the language development of the listener.  Yet other songs are too fast or too slow, again, making them less than ideal for use in the class.

The ideal song for the ESL lesson meets certain qualifications, including but certainly not limited to the list below:

  1. the topic and the vocabulary used is appropriate for the children – not too childish, but also not too adult
  2. breadth of vocabulary – not too little, but also not too many new words at one go
  3. tempo – not so slow as to make everyone fall asleep, but certainly not too fast for young ears still learning the sounds of the language

Over the years, I’ve collected a number of favorite songs, some of which I’ve collected on this symbaloo page.  There is a range of songs, and I’ve used a number of strategies to find them.  I’ll share these strategies with you, so you can find (and share, please!) songs you enjoy using.

Strategy #1:  Search terms ESL + song + topic got me pretty far.  Most often, however, I’ll find many songs for the very young learners, leaving the older grade schoolers out in the cold.  (young learners being about 4 – 8 years old, and the older learners 9 and above)

Strategy #2: find a useful channel on youtube, for instance Sesame Street.  The American version of Sesame Street has a lovely knack for picking up on the latest pop music, and getting the actual artist to come in and sing a child-friendly version of their music.  One such example is Katy Perry singing “Hot and Cold” with Elmo.  It’s amazing how many artists have found their way to Sesame Street, happily adapting their sometimes questionable lyrics for the younger audience targeted by Sesame Street.  Sesame Street also has, incidentally, a way of turning their songs into social lessons, a nice side-effect many teachers can appreciate.

Another useful channel is Super Simple Songs, good for the younger learner.  What I’v done in the past is had older children listen to a song, then ask them to create another verse that they can teach the younger learners.  That way, they get the pleasure of listening to something easy without getting the feeling of being babied.

Strategy #3: try out this site:  Songs for Teaching.  It’s got links through to various subject areas, listing topics and finally songs that you can listen to and order online.

Other music worth finding out about:

Hap Palmer: very old-fashioned, slow, and therefore perfect for the young ESL learner.

Tumble Tots: hipper, space for moving to the music, and therefore perfect for young ESL learner.  With a bit of enthusiasm, you can push this into the older grades, but don’t overdo it.

Alain Le Lait (It’s so good): simple, funny songs with just enough repetition to allow children to sing along and even make up their own verses.

Jim Cosgrove (Stinky Feet): funny stuff that any child can relate to and sing along with.  Good for the somewhat older ESL learner.

I’m sure there’s more out there, so feel free to share your favorites!

Raz-kids review my favorite site! my favorite site!

Reading was always one of the most difficult things to teach during my ESL lessons.  Not only were the lessons too short to allow any time for reading instruction, but the ability range within each class easily spanned two to three years, making group instruction impractical.  One can hardly imagine the relief when I finally found out about an internet-based reading instruction site.  I went on a thorough tour and was immediately hooked.  I soon convinced my director of the need for this material, and she readily agreed to pay for a number of classroom subscriptions.  Why was I so enthusiastic?  Let me share a few reasons with you, dear reader.  But be aware, before you continue: you just might become an avid enthusiast of this on-line material and find yourself subscribing to raz-kids.

Why is this the perfect material for the ESL class?  Here is a list of reasons, in no particular order.

Reason one: it allows the child to work at his own pace, at his own level.  The teacher can easily adjust the given level, or “assignment” for each child.  Children who are more advanced readers can be given a higher level assignment, and children needing a lower level of reading instruction can be given a lower-level assignment.  The easy books start with simple one picture, one word, per page.  The difficulty increases to two- and three-word sentences, then gradually makes its way to short chapter books.

Reason two: the books are read aloud to the children.  As the story is read aloud, the accompanying text is highlighted.  The easier books are read one word at a time.  As the stories develop in difficulty, the highlighted text increases to short phrases, short sentences, then finally it highlights a paragraph at a time, as it is read aloud, reflecting how the reader views the text as he develops.  The animation provided is instrumental, illustrating and clarifying the text.

Reason three: the books are complemented with quizzes and worksheets.  The quizzes provided cover a wide range of comprehension skills and levels of thinking.  The child’s progress is recorded, and teachers can easily see how each child has been progressing and what reading skills need extra training.

Reasons four and five: for the children, there are free apps available, so they can access their raz-kids account from anywhere, at anytime.  For the teacher, there are lesson plans, worksheets, reading assessments and smartboard materials.  What a time saver!

Reason six: there is a wide variety of topics, fiction and non-fiction, so that every child can find a book that interests him or her.  And with this, the only drawback I have managed to find so far after years of use: many of the books include topics covering American history and culture.  For those of us outside of the United States, it’s a bit strange to read about Thanksgiving, George Washington, and the Fourth of July.  However, raz-kids is constantly updating its material and adding new books about current topics such as President Obama and space exploration.

Raz-kids goes further than just reading, however.  For the online materials enthusiast, there is writinga-z, sciencea-z, vocabularya-z, Headsprout….  and the list grows longer with each passing year.  Normally, I’m not one to give free advertisement space to other folks’ material, but this stuff really is the best thing since the invention of sliced bread.  But you don’t have to take my word for it…

Happy reading!

And your fortune is…

It’s been a long time since I last published, and for that, dear readers, I apologize.  Please don’t let me make you wait that long again!

It’s time, I decided, to share one of my favorite activities for ESL learners.  It’s easy, it’s fun, and it gets children of all ages speaking English with their classmates.  It’s the “origami fortune teller”.  I made a few examples of different kinds of dialogues that can be exercised with these.

Here’s one I’ve used with little people:

What's your favorite number?

One: What’s your favorite number?


Two: What’s your favorite color?


Three: Oh, I see you are feeling crazy!

Children have to learn how to follow directions… fold, open, corner, middle, carefully!

… and then get to practice their dialogues again and again and again.

Below is a sample dialogue that more advanced pupils can try out:

What day is it? (spell the answer)

One: What day is it? (spell the answer)

Where do you want to go?

Two: Where do you want to go?

Here's how you get there...

Three: Here’s how you get there…

Of course, it’s fun to have children make up their own dialogues and write the words themselves.  But if you’re cramped for time or have specific things you want them to practice, you can always make a (black and white) model yourself and make copies:

All of the clues are on one side of the paper

All of the clues are on one side of the paper

When deciding on what to put on the fortune-teller, you can do different things, of course.  For the little ones, for instance, I simply used the words we would have been learning during the last few units.  For the older ones, I decided to create short dialogues that included the concepts we would have been learning during the unit.  Any combination of the above is also possible.  How about weather and clothes?  Counting by tens?  Family members?  Rooms in the house?  Any topic can be adapted for use with this conversation tool.

Of course, it’s always handy if children can work independently on making their own fortune-teller.  To give my students – future teachers – a help with this, I created instruction sheets, like this:

A step-by-step how to. The students take turns giving each other directions. Words they might need are provided.

A step-by-step instruction sheet. The students take turns giving each other directions. Words they might need are provided.

In this way, the students learn different things.  First of all, how to teach young children to build a fortune teller, and how to structure the information so that all children can join in the fun.  Secondly, they learn how to create different levels of conversations for their pupils.  Thirdly, they learn how to create a fun and simple speaking exercise that will encourage their pupils to step out of their “shy shoes” and put on their “conversation hats”.

In my book, that constitutes a win-win for everyone.


For instructions on how to make your own fortune teller please follow this link:

Usborne Quicklinks, here we come!

In my very first year as an ESL teacher, the student teacher in my class taught a theme about castles.  We have quite a few castles here in The Netherlands, so I was quite interested.  That’s when she showed me the book she used as her basis: See Inside Castles.  

I perused the book, captivated by the colorful, detailed illustrations, the readable bits of text, and the child-friendly layout.  But what really got my attention was the back cover.  It was here that I found a concept I’d never seen before, but would be sure to use in the years to come: the internet-linked book.  

At home that evening, I looked up more information about this concept.  A quick google check showed more than 2,000,000 hits – all of them belonging to Usborne publishers. Not only that, but Usborne had already linked hundreds of books to the internet, and was going to be linking more books to the internet in the years to come.  

I continued my search for information, surfing through a number of sites I knew the children would love to visit, and decided that these books were going to be my new best friend for my CLIL lessons.  CLIL is, in short, content and language integrated learning, a.k.a. learning in English, not necessarily about English.   

An internet-linked book is – generally – a non-fiction book in which one finds a link to the Usborne quicklink site.  Once there, the visitor types in the so-called “key words” (usually the title of the book).  After that, the visitor is guided to a series of internet sites that are:

  1. in English
  2. age appropriate
  3. interesting and/or fun
  4. easy to use

For instance, if we have a lesson about wild animals, I pull out the books on sharks, snakes, tigers, and dolphins, and check the quicklinks attached to each book.  Usually, these links provide a nice way to introduce the lesson, along with some useful learning activities for the children.  For the children, when they have to do a presentation, it’s easy for them to choose one of these books as their basis, striking out into the quicklinks for extra information. 

Since my discovery, I have gotten my hands on dozens of Usborne non-fiction books, from books about dinosaurs to dogs, from China to Diwali, from firefighters to fishing.  The books are leveled into easy (Beginner series) and intermediate (Starting series), and the children really enjoy reading them!  And I for one, really enjoy using them in my classroom.

Happy reading!

Please note: more information about Usborne quicklinks is available at the following site:

Sing-a-long Song Time!

In the English Corner, the kindergarteners sit, thinking about what they will do this time.  Will they work with a buddy on the computer?  Will they play a game in a small group?  Or…. will they color a song card for their song book?

The child chooses which picture he wants for his song book, and the songs go inside.

The child chooses which picture he wants for his song book, and the songs go inside.

A song card, as you can see here, is simply the lyrics for a song we have recently learned, along with (part of) a picture illustrating what the song is about.  We sing the song together, and the children identify what parts of the song are already on the song card.  They have to fill in whatever it is that they’re still missing.

In making a song card, I keep the following in mind:

1. the print is large and simple

2. the illustration is a black-and-white line drawing (thanks google images!)

3. the illustration clarifies the meaning of the song

4. the illustration is “incomplete”.  In other words, the children have to add something of their own to complete the picture and illustrate the song.

The song books are personalized with a cover picture of their choice.

Differentiation: less of the complete picture is provided for the older children, allowing them to draw the rest of the song themselves.

It’s not unusual for children to practice singing the song as they color, re-inforcing the song and its meaning as they go.  If they are ready, we play with the song, substituting words as we go, or using different voices.  Some children even start identifying the main words of the song and start “reading along” as we sing.

The children love having their work collected in a personal book like this, and when they leave kindergarten, their book goes with them as a special gift.


Thinking back to my first years as an ESL teacher, memories of textbooks and workbooks come bubbling to the surface.  While I wrestled with error-ridden textbooks, it turned out that workbooks would be a particular disappointment.

I thought about this for some time in the years that followed.  How was it that such a widely-used “method”, as we call textbook materials here in The Netherlands, could be so troublesome?  Was it just me, or was there really something wrong with the material I was using?  I inventoried my complaints and came up with a number of expectations I decided to use in order to judge the usefulness of learning material in any form.

Expectation #1:  the material had to be in English

Expectation #2:  the learning activities must contribute to achieving the learning objectives

Expectation #3:  there must be space for differentiation

Was I just kicking in open doors with this list of expectations?  It would seem so, and yet,at the time, virtually every single workbook published in The Netherlands gave directions for the exercises in Dutch.  This required the children to switch linguistic gears multiple times during the ESL lessons, where “English Only” was Rule Number One.

I failed to see the need for directions in Dutch, since it was, and still is, my opinion that simple directions such as “tick the correct answer” or “fill in the blank” can easily be learned during class time.  Giving directions for learning activities in English is an efficient means to that end, while not giving workbook instructions in English is simply wasteful.

A critical look at the activities offered in the workbooks proved that many of them could not be directly linked to the learning objectives -if indeed the learning objectives were listed anywhere at all- in the teachers manual.  In fact, many of the activities seemed to be simple busywork.  In my limited time, busywork was not something I had the luxury of assigning children.  I decided that if I couldn’t explain what the children should be learning from the exercise, it didn’t get assigned.

It was a rare thing that a workbook assignment withstood the first two expectations.  However, it was expectation #3 that put the final nail into the workbook’s coffin.  Never, in all my years of teaching, have I found a workbook that actually allowed for differentiation, and this has proven to be the most frustrating of all.

In any given class, the children’s abilities in English range from basic (child can copy words from the board) to proficient (child can write short stories using correct verb tense and spelling).  In order to meet all of these different needs, I found myself creating worksheets with varied gradients of difficulty, adapting the workbook exercises or other things I found on the internet.  This time-consuming process wasn’t really the way I’d hoped to spend my free days, building something no-one else would ever profit from.  There had to be a better way.

The answer lay in a simple magazine in the teacher’s lounge: The Praxis Bulletin.  I paged through it, and this time I struck gold: the project notebook.  The project notebook, simply put, is a notebook with lined pages on one side, faced with blank pages on the other.  I found myself excited by the idea that this simple notebook just might be the answer to my problem.  Would the directions be in English?  Of course!  Would the activities be related to the learning objectives?  Yes!  Was there space for differentiation?  Yes!  My list of expectations was met.  Now for the next part: figuring out this new way of working, as I didn’t know of anyone else who used project notebooks in their lessons.

A word web helps activate the child's existing vocabulary, and offers space for new words to be introduced.

We started simple: word webs, labeling pictures, and illustrating short sentences.  I took pictures of the children, and printed them, so that the children could stick these into their notebooks and label all of their clothing or body parts.  Children in the older groups wrote short stories about their summer holidays and illustrated these.  Other times, I asked children to draw 4 pictures on the blank page, and then write sentences to match on the lined page opposite.

Here, the pupil connects images to writing.

Of course, it took some thinking out and experimentation, but in the end I can say I’m quite pleased with the work that children have been producing in their notebooks.  What I enjoy most, however, is the ownership that children take of their notebook.  Everything that is in it, they made themselves.  Every drawing, every photo, every collage, every word.  None of it is pre-printed or fill-in-the-blank.  It is their own work.

A nine-year-old wrote sentences to match the pictures he drew in each box.

The blank pages allow space to combine artistic and linguistic expression

Besides the standard project notebook setup, I’ve been experimenting with my own formats.  The reason for this was that some children – especially the younger ones – enjoy having a certain framework for their language activities.  The structure facilitates easy participation in the learning activity.

These are four basic pages I designed for use in the project notebooks.

Project notebooks require a different mode of thinking.  Instead of letting the publisher decide for me what the children do and don’t need, I have to decide that  myself.  That said, the basic formats allow me to vary the exercises, while giving children the structure they need.  The notebooks easily allow for differentiation.  I can model work for the weaker children, while allowing space for the stronger children to experiment.  Besides that, it allowed the school to save enormous amounts of money, since project notebooks can be bought or made for a fraction of the cost of workbooks.

What more can I say?  I love project notebooks!

 Flashcards are my best friends

Flashcards-L“Alright, guys, where is the sun now?”  Hands all around the circle shoot into the air, while others point to one of the flashcards we just turned face-down.  “There!  It’s there!” The little ones shout, unable to restrain from shouting out the answer.

We’re in the middle of a basic memory game I use for introducing new vocabulary.  We’ve already looked at the words one by one, saying the words with happy voices, robot voices, and big voices.  We’ve clapped out the beats in each word, and had a chance to find the word and turn it over.  Now the cards are on the carpet, face-down, and the children have to remember where everything was.

A child comes forward, and turns over the card.  “Is that a sun?” I ask the class.  They answer as one, “Yes, it is!”  Everyone is happy that their friend got it right.  The next child comes up, looking for the cloud.  “Is that the cloud?” I ask, and they answer, “No, it’s not!”  I continue, “What is it?”  “It’s rain!”

While the children are remembering their new vocabulary, they are placing them into short, simple question-and-answer structures.  Next, they combine the cards with sentences.  A child picks up a card, and says, “It’s sunny today,” or “It’s cloudy today.”  This exercise allows a child to practice short sentences using vocabulary he feels comfortable with.  After a card’s been used two or three times, I turn it over and they are no longer allowed to use that word.  For now, at least.

As the children get more confident with their speaking, I challenge them to combine cards: flashcards with colors, numbers, and clothing litter the carpet, and children receive points for each correctly used card.  The very young ones get a point for each correctly named card, while the older ones have to put the word in a sentence.  And yes, the children may help each other, but only when the child in question asks for it.

We start with a warming-up: children seated next to each other get one or two minutes to practice using the words on the cards.  The classroom starts buzzing as children point out cards to their neighbors, naming the words, helping each other with the correct pronunciation, and using them in simple sentences.  In the meatime, I pull out a box of blocks, our scorecard for the duration of the game.  I clap for silence, and ask who would like to give it a try.  Various answers follow, and every correct answer earns another block on the tower.  “There are two red shoes” counts for three points.  “Hat,” from a four-year-old, adds another block to the tower.  When a five-year-old gives a single word as an answer, I ask if he can put it in a sentence.  Classmates give him hints, and he tries again.  “It’s a hat,” earns another block on the tower.

Eventually, the tower gets quite high, and the stakes even higher: who can make the sentence that will cause the tower to fall over?  When it finally does collapse, we count the blocks and decide whether or not we want to try to break our record.

Sometimes, I’ll put the cards in order, and ask the children what it says.  “Two blue t-shirts,” they’ll read aloud.  I mix up the cards, and ask what it says now.  “T-shirts two blue,” they say.  “Is that good?” I ask.  They correct me, I fix the cards (silly me!), and we try again.  This way, the children learn basic reading (left to right) and put words into short phrases.

What kinds of games do other teachers play with flashcards, I wonder?

Hurricane Andrew and ESL


In 1992, Hurricane Andrew raced through Florida, flattening towns and destroying everything unlucky enough to be in its path.  Weeks later, the Girl Scout councils sent  out a cry for help: all of their materials had been washed away, and they needed supplies.


I, a fellow Girl Scout leader, wanted to help, but as a college student I was also quite broke. What to do?  It took some thought, but finally it struck me: design some easy, low-to-no material activities, and package it in a useful, compact manner.  And so they were born: the pop-can-games and pop-can-songs.  The “pop can” I refer to is the tube-shaped can one buys Pringles chips and tennis balls in.  I don’t remember why this shape seemed so important, but I have kept to this format ever since.

What did I make?  In essence, it was quite simple: I made a number of tagboard strips that fit into the pop-can, about 2 inches (6 cm) wide, and 8 inches (20 cm) long.  For the games can, I wrote the directions a low- to no-material game or activity on each strip, and put it in the can.  For the songs, I wrote out the words for well-known Girl Scout songs in my very best handwriting on one side, the title on the other, and put the cards into the song can.  Then I sent them off to Florida, where I never heard from them again.  No matter – I also made a set for myself, typing out the words this time and making them look that much more professional.  I used them for years, not only as a Girl Scout leader, but also as a starting classroom teacher in The Netherlands.

Years later, I taught at a Dutch grade school, and found myself wanting to find a way to structure the music lessons with my children so that they could have some choice in which songs they wanted to sing, while giving me the chance to stop singing St. Nick songs once January had come and gone.  Also, I didn’t know that many Dutch children’s songs, so I needed a way to remember the words while teaching the children.  I decided it was time to pull a good idea back out of the hat.  I made a few changes, however.  This time, instead of writing a title on the back of the card, I drew a picture, depicting what the song was about.  On the reverse side, I had the words to the song.  This way, the children could choose the song based on the picture, and I could use the back of the card to remember the words.  The cards were a great success, needless to say.  Later  on, when I made the change back to ESL, I gave my old Dutch song cards to a fellow teacher, where they are still in use.

The song cards I make these days are a far cry from the first edition, over 20 years ago.

The song cards I make these days are a far cry from the first edition over 20 years old.

Nowadays, I still use song cards, and the design has only gotten better and more professional-looking.  I still have the picture on one side, and the lyrics on the other.  I now mount the stips of paper to a strip of colored paper, color-coded to match the theme: animal songs are often on brown paper, St. Nick and Christmas songs are often on red, and so on.  The reason for this is because I now have so many, it’s easier to sort them quickly based on color.  Another change is that instead of drawing my own pictures, I find  pictures on the internet and paste them into my own document.  It saves me time and the children like them just as well.

The lyrics are on the back of the cards.

The lyrics are on the back of the cards.

When I do music with the children, I share a number of cards with them – usually between 2 and 4 songs at at time.  I review the titles, and for new songs I sing a little bit of it, so that the children can remember what the song was about.  A child – often a non-speaker – gets to choose the song, and we sing it.  If it’s a new song, I’ll show them the back of the card, so they get an idea of how long the song is going to be.  They are often quite impressed when there are lots of words!  They also tend to choose the prettiest / most colorful cards first.  Once we’ve sung it through a few times, the children get to choose a different song.  

With these cards, the music lessons allow the children to choose which songs they want to sing and in which order (The new one first?  Or the one we already know?), while allowing me the chance to remove the ones I’ve gotten a bit tired of, or introduce new songs to the class.

Note:  I’ve put a number of my song cards on (seller’s name is MissAmyK), if you’re interested in having a closer look at a number of the cards I’ve made.

I wonder what other teachers do to introduce new songs to the class?

The cardboard curriculum

On the very first day with my new ESL kindergarten class, we had 9 tables, 9 chairs, and a cardboard box.  Not just any old box, mind you, but a refrigerator box.  A child or two could easily fit inside.  I put the box in the middle of the circle, and the children stared, wondering.  What were we going to do?

I took a marker out of the holder, and drew a large rectangle on one side, and smaller squares on the three other sides.  I left the top and bottom as they were.

I pulled out a knife, and carefully cut out each of the squares.  I proceeded to the rectangle, and cut it so that it could swing open.  I stood the box upright, holding open the rectangle.  Suddenly, the rectangle became a door.  “Hajime, look!  Sit here!” I said, pointing inside.  Hajime sat in the box.  “Look!  A house!” I said.  Hajime was delighted.  Eight other fingers pricked into the air, held aloft by arms stiff with excitement.  Everyone wanted a turn in the house.  They soon found out the magic words: “I want house!”  Any child who said these magic words got a turn.  In the end, everyone got a turn.

Soon we were exploring other words: door, wall, window, floor, roof, in, and out.  The rest of the day, we made curtains, wallpaper, flowers, bricks, a chimney, and a beautiful floor.  We found that two children could fit in the house, and in the days that followed, we also found that four could also fit, walls bulging as children giggled, waiting to see when Miss Amy would discover the children in the house so they could be counted yet again.

A fellow teacher passed by, and one of the boys shouted to her excitedly, “Look!  Two children are in the house!”  She was quite impressed with this child, as no-one had ever heard him speak before.

When the house finally gave in, the children discovered the wonders of duct tape, and we repaired the house again and again.  Until one day, when it finally collapsed for the very last time.  It was time to learn a new word: recycling.  The entire class carried our precious house down the hallway to the caretaker, who brought us to the big blue paper bin outside.  We stomped on our house and smashed it up before carefully tipping it into the bin.  Saying our good-byes to the house, I promised to bring in a new box.  Tomorrow.

Periscope up!

Now you can’t see me! Kindergarteners explore how a periscope works.

The next day, a new box appeared in the classroom.  And this time, we built a submarine, complete with periscope.

In the submarine

Inside the submarine! It’s quiet and dark here, a perfect place to rest.


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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