Puppets in the Multigrade class 

As a teacher trainer I encourage teachers to experiment with puppets because many practising primary and pre-school teachers have told me of the success they  have had with them. This article is  a practical account of:

a) Why I use puppets in class, 

b) Inexpensive puppets your students can create for themselves

c) How to introduce your students to using puppets

d) Classroom procedure for two activities using puppet

For the purposes of this article I will refer to the teacher as “she” and students and puppets as “he”. I will also assume that the teacher holds the puppet in her right hand, a minor but important detail for those of you who wish to visualise the teacher/student, puppet, prop interchange.

Why Use Puppets in the Primary Classroom?

Two fluent English speakers in class are better than just one

Puppets introduce another proficient English speaker into the classroom for the teacher to speak to. This is important,  as one natural language learning strategy adopted by children is that of observing and then imitating conversations conducted by the people around them. Small children can often be heard rehearsing dialogues with their toys. The puppet allows this 3 dimensional dialogue modelling to take place in the classroom.  For example, imagine that the teacher wishes to demonstrate how to ask for a coloured pencil in English. She places a red pencil and a blue pencil to the right of the puppet ( Out of reach of her left hand to neccessitate  the pencil being passed to her by the puppet) , then turns to him and has the following dialogue:

Teacher             “Homer, can I have a pencil please?

Puppet                          “Yes, what colour?”Teacher                        “Red please”

Puppet (Handing over pencil    “Here you are 

Teacher                                    “Thank you”   The pencils are then placed on the far left of the teacher and the roles are reversed. Homer asks for the pencil and the teacher passes it to him.  After modelling the dialogue again the teacher invites a child to come to the front and take one of the roles, whilst the teacher speaks for the puppet.In my experience, young children are very keen to do this. They rarely experience performance anxiety and any embarrassment they do have is greatly reduced by the fact that they view the puppet as a being half way between the teacher and themselves.

Puppets help create a genuine information gap 

A key tennet of the communicative approach to language teaching  is that genuine communication involves a purpose such as giving someone information or getting them to do something. Real communication centres on an information gap  for when we genuinely communicate we usually do not know everything that the speaker is going to say. We may be able to predict a percentage of what they will say, but there will always be attitudinal information that is new to us. This “genuine information gap” is difficult to create in a classroom of elementary learners who have worked together for a period of time because 

a)      the students have discovered a lot about each other through observation and through conversations in their mother tongue

b)       the students have a limited number of patterns and lexical sets at their disposal restricitng topic variety.

Therefore, an alternative to asking for and giving persoanl information about classroom members is to get the students to exchange  information about their puppets as the puppets can come from anywhere in the world, have any name their creator wishes and have a whole gambit of likes, dislikes and hobbies.

Hands on is minds on

Children learn experiencially through getting visually, aurally and kinaesthetically involved in a subject. Puppets are bright and colourful, tactile and moving. They engage the child as a whole person bringing in several of Gardener’s multiple intelligences( Modern English Teacher Vol 10/1 January 2001: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences, Mustafa Zülküf Atlan )especially emotioanl, spatial,interpersonal and intrapersonal. This increases the childrens’ interest in the lesson and leads to deeper learning.

Children can feel more confident when talking through the puppet.

Some children feel hesitant to speak in English because they are unsure of the pronunciation of certain words or of exactly how to express themselves. In such cases puppets can act as a psychological support for a child. When a child speaks through the puppet , it is not the child who is perceived as making errors  but the puppet and children find this liberating. Hence, puppets can encourage your students to experiment more with the language and “have a go” when they may have otherwise remained silent.

Inexpensive puppets your students can create for themselves

Plastic plate puppets and cardboard triangle puppets

Children draw or stick  a face on the top half of the plate or triangle and clothes on the bottom half. Make a stick from a rolled up newspaper or a strip of cardboard folded in half lengthways to provide extra support. Attach the stick to the back of the plate or triangle.

Tube puppets

Cut a two centimetre slit in either side of a toilet roll tube and from a separate piece of card cut a circle at least 7 cms in diameter. Children draw the puppet’s face on the flat circle and its body on the toilet roll tube. Finally, children slot the face onto the body using the two slits cut previously.  

Card strip hanging puppets

Photocopy a character from a book, cut a character from a colouring in book or draw a character. Stick the paper on card for support if the paper is thin. Cut a strip of card approximately 20 cms in length and 2 cms in width. Stick the bottom of the card strip onto the back of the puppet, at the top. Children hold the top of the card strip so that the puppets hang down in the same fashion as string puppets do.

Children need to be gradually prepared to use puppets in class in much the same way as they need to be warmed up for writing or roleplay. I have learned through experience that it is not enough to simply give each child a puppet and say “ have a conversation.” Here is a gradual  process through which the child- puppet relationship can be established and strengthened over several week

Step 1: work in the private sphere

1a. Aim: to encourage the child to view the puppet as a special friend who he can talk to in English

We all know that a teacher should never ask students to do what she will not do herself. Therefore, have your own puppet as a special friend. Introduce yourself to the puppet in front of the class. For example, I would say “ Hello, my name’s Denise. I am a teacher. I have  two children called Melisa and Tamara. I live in Istanbul and I love gardening. Next, have the children introduce themselves to their  puppets from the privacy of their own seats. No one will be listening to them as everyone is talking to their own puppets at the same time. It should be regarded as a fluency activity, with no need for teacher correction. With real beginner students this stage can even be carried out in L1. 

1b. Aim: to help the child give the puppet a unique identity.

Have your puppet tell you about himself in front of the class. My puppet usually says “Hello, my name is Lucy. I come from Brasil. I am seven years old. I have a brother called Carlos and a puppy called spot. I love going to the beach.”  As with step 1a, allow all of the puppets to speak to their own puppeteer simultaneously.

Step 2. work in the public sphere  using fixed roles

Choose a well known action song such as”10 green bottles hanging on the wall” or “head shoulders knees and toes”. Have the children make their puppets dance and do the actions as the class sing.For example, when singing “ ten green bottles hanging on a wall” I have ten children stand up and hold their puppets up high. As we sing the line “and if one green bottle should accidently fall” the child I point to lets his puppet fall down

Step3.Working in the public sphere using original roles.

Aim: to use puppets for communicative language work.

Tell the children that they are taking their puppets to an international holiday camp  At the camp they will meet puppets from all over the world. Brainstorm the language of giving and asking for personal information e.g. “what’s your name?”, “where are you from?”, “how old are you?” etc. Give the class planning time so that each child can recall or invent the necessary personal information about his puppet. Finally, the children walk around the classroom introducing their puppets to other puppets and collecting as much personal information about them as possible. If your children need more practise producing the language patterns they need to carry out this fluency based mingle activity, extend the planning stage by getting the children to copy down the personal information questions you brainstormed earlier. The children then answer the questions using the “I” form , as if they were their puppet.