Simple hand puppets for teaching English

I don’t really have a name for these, I generally call them ‘bichos’ (which is a generic term is Spanish for bugs or insects). What makes them really effective is their big googly eyes, when they look at you, you think they’re real. You can buy the eyes with the finger piece from the shop Tiger and the other eyes you can buy from craft shops or you can order in bulk cheaply from China via Ebay, but they take a long time to arrive. Think about actions that they can do and your class will happily shout "Jump" or "Walk", "Sleep" to see what they do. Remember that they are more effective when walking around on something, such as up your sleeve or (as in the photo below) on your hand.

googly eye puppets.JPG

Simple hand puppets for impromptu classroom assistants

These are great standby puppets if you ever need an impromptu teaching assistant in class with you. Your teaching assistant (your hand) models the language for the students. Use make up sticks (barritas de maquillaje) which have been dermatologically tested. The ones I use as called ‘Alpino fiesta’ and are relatively cheap and easy to find.

Students will be happy to draw on their own hands to make people, add feathers and bit of paper and string for the hair, or a headscarf to turn the character into an old lady. Structure the class so that students know what they’re supposed to be saying otherwise they’ll revert back to their native language.

DSCF7511 2.JPG

How to use hand puppet books with very young learners

One use of puppets I really enjoy, especially with pre-schoolers are hand puppet books. There are lots on the market, but one of my favourites is Playtime Teddy by Emma Goldhawk and Jonathan Lambert and is part of the Snuggle Book series. The key thing about using the book is to treat the puppet as if it's real, then it's much easier for the students to buy into the story. Like all of my puppets, when I'm talking to the class, the puppet looks at me to focus their attention on me. Teddy has a great face and is really cute - and it's easy to manipulate too, it's very easy for Teddy to wave, point, clap, shake hands and even tickle. The movements you make with Teddy should be micro-movements to give the impression that the puppet's alive, if you move it too much then it's a distraction. Depending on class size, you can either move around the class with the book, or the easier version, you can nominate students to come to the front to interact with Teddy. There are a lot more books in this series.

Another book that's lots of fun is  ‘Calm down Boris’ by Sam Lloyd. This ties in very well with subject such free time activities/food /hobbies/exercise e.g. Once you've finished the story you can follow up by asking the students their favourite food / what they like to do in their free time. There are 5 books in the series 

Using puppets to practise listening comprehension

Speaking puppets are useful for do-it-yourself listening comprehensions - as sometimes in the books the listenings are too easy or too difficult or not appropriate for your students. Tell the class what to listen for / write simple comprehension questions on the board. Then the puppet does its monologue and the students answer the questions that you've written on the board. e.g. Tommy uses his mobile phone calls for take-away food. You can use publicity that comes through the door and as a prop, he then picks up the menus saying something that's written below. He then chooses what he's g0ing to eat. Here is a sample script to give you some ideas - adapt to suit your class.

"I'm hungry, I'm really hungry - I don't know what to eat! (your puppet then picks up and looks at fast food flyers) Mexican? Chinese? Italian?  Yes, that's what I want...(looks at flyer and picks up phone and dials) 954421501's Tommy, I'd like a Margarita pizza please, extra mm, 6 euros, ok great, see you later"

 Possible questions could be
1) What number does he call?
2) What pizza does he want?
3) How much is the pizza?

and on the board, they are simplified to

1) Phone number ?
2) Food ?
3) € ?

You can have a similar conversation if Tommy’s calling a friend to arrange a time and a place to meet.

1) Phone number?
2) Place?
3) Time?

 Using puppets in the English language classroom for listening practice.

Using puppets in the English language classroom for listening practice.

Brown bear, brown bear what can you see? mp3 beat

The book "Brown bear, brown bear what can you see?" by Bill Martin, Jr. and Eric Carle is an excellent book for infants and primary. I also love this version of it by the fabulous Miss Nina   (and her YouTube channel contains a lot more action songs which can be adapted for EFL students) I think her version of the song/book is a bit too quick for EFL learners, so here's the link to the MP3 (the beat is a lot slower) which you can download and use in class (click where it says 'Download' on the black line below)

Also, here's a ton of links with ideas of what to do once you're read the book/rapped the story!

El libro “Brown Bear, brown bear what can I see? ” escrito por Bill Martin, Jr. y Eric Carle es un excelente libro para niños y alumnos de primaria.
También me gusta particularmente esta versión de la fabulosa Miss Nina (en su canal de YouTube hay muchas más canciones de juego que puedes adaptar para tus alumnos) : v=c091xxY1xZE
Sin embargo, creo que su versión de la canción / libro es demasiado rápida para estudiantes de inglés para extranjeros y, por eso, aquí tienes un enlace al MP3 (en el que el ritmo es mucho más lento). Puedes descargarlo y utilizarlo en clase simplemente haciendo un clic en "Download", en la línea negra. Además, aquí hay tienes un montón de enlaces con más ideas.



Hello, World!

Please Mr Crocodile - A lively warmer

Ask the class to stand against a wall - draw a line and then a river on the floor in chalk. Ask the students where they are, they'll reply on the river bank. Then walk around the river miming the action of a crocodile and ask the students what animal you are. Depending on their level/age ask the class questions relating to crocodiles ‘What countries do you find them? ’ ‘Are they herbivores? ’ ‘What colour are they? ’ ‘What do they eat? etc

Then stand in the river and pre-teach as a chant. "Please Mr Crocodile can we cross the river?" You respond to the class  " You can cross the river if... (choose one)you're wearing red/wearing glasses/ name begins with the letter N/you've got brown hair/blue eyes" etc. These students can now cross the river safely, once they are across the rest of the class try to cross without you (the crocodile) catching them. If anyone is caught, they become crocodiles and the game continues until everyone is caught.

Possible context/framing: To finish off a lesson on ‘dangerous animals’ / or reptiles. Students can discuss which they think are the most dangerous animals - here is a link to an infographic which clearly shows the most dangerous animals and how many people are killed each year.

Indica a la clase que se ponga contra una pared. Dibuja una línea y luego un río en el suelo con tiza. Pregunta a los estudiantes dónde están (ellos responderán que en la orilla del río). Luego, camina por el río imitando a un cocodrilo abriendo y cerrando su boca. Pregunta a los estudiantes qué animal eres. Dependiendo de su nivel o edad, lanza preguntas a la clase relacionadas con los cocodrilos como, por ejemplo: ‘Which countries do you find them?' 'Are they herbivores? ‘ ‘What colour are they? ‘ ‘What do they eat? etc. 

Mientras sigues situado en el río, enseña a tu clase la siguiente canción: 'Please Mr Crocodile can we cross the river?' Tú respondes con (por ejemplo) “You can cross the river if you’re wearing glasses”. Esto indica a los estudiantes con gafas que sólo ellos pueden cruzar el río con seguridad. Una vez que hayan cruzado, el resto de la clase trata de cruzar sin que el cocodrilo (tú) los capture. Si alguien es atrapado, se convierte también en cocodrilo y el juego continúa. Tu sigues cambiando ‘You can cross the river if you’re wearing blue/trousers', etc., hasta que todo el mundo es atrapado. 

Posible contexto de utilización: para terminar una lección sobre 'animales peligrosos' o reptiles. Los estudiantes pueden discutir cuáles piensan que son los animales más peligrosos. Aquí tienes un enlace a una infografía que muestra claramente cuáles son los animales más peligrosos que existen y cuántas personas matan cada año.

  Playing "Please My Crocodile" in the playground with 50 students from CEIP Profesor Ramiro Jover de V  alencia

Playing "Please My Crocodile" in the playground with 50 students from CEIP Profesor Ramiro Jover de Valencia

Explaining the activity to teachers at GRETA conference.

Rubber Chicken a warmer for a cold day! Un ejercicio de activación para un día frío

I love this classic warmer/energizer. I tend to do it of a winter time when the students are physically cold. Though you could do this anytime to wake your class up. Start by asking if the know how a chicken moves and walks...there is always one willing student. Then ask how a chicken would move if the chicken were made of rubber and what noise it would make too. Explain and demonstrate to the class that you're going to shake your right arm vigorously and quickly count down 8,7,6,5,4,3,2,1 - then your left arm and count down, shake your right leg vigorously and finally your left leg all the time counting down each time. Repeat, but this time start from 7…then 6 etc. until you get to 1,1,1,1 and then jump about shaking your body like a rubber chicken and clucking at the same time.

Me encanta este “ejercicio de activación" clásico. Normalmente lo pongo en práctica en invierno, cuando los estudiantes tienen frío, aunque podrías hacer esto en cualquier momento para despertar a tu clase. Comienza por preguntar si alguien sabe cómo se mueve y camina un pollo. Siempre hay un estudiante dispuesto a hacer una demostración. A continuación pregunto cómo se movería un pollo si fuera de goma y qué ruido haría también. Después explico y demuestro a la clase que tienen que agitar su brazo derecho vigorosa y rápidamente contando hacia atrás  7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 (si son pequeños la cuenta es hacia delante), luego tienen que hacer lo mismo pero con su brazo izquierdo, con la pierna derecha y con la izquierda. Cuando terminan hay que repetir pero empezando a contar esta vez desde 6, luego desde 5, etc. hasta llegar a 1,1,1,1. Para terminar, grito “¡rubber chicken!” y todo el grupo tiene que mover el cuerpo como un pollo de goma, cacareando al mismo tiempo!


YouTube channel coming very soon....

Teachers have been asking me for ages to put something up on YouTube so that they can see the activities in action. In the workshops we work really quickly and we do so many activities that it's easy to forget them once you get back home. In the past, the problem has always been getting permission from the parents - but have finally found a school that will let me go in and film!! Am really excited about this and I can't wait to start, in the meantime I'll keep adding things to the blog. Here's the link, you can subscribe now and when I start uploading content you'll receive a notification.

Warmers - tick and tag

Other warmers I use have their basis in playground games - they help develop motor skills, keep students healthy, encourage teamwork…plus it detaches children from computers, televisions, smart phones! If you work in an academy, it might be a good idea to describe these as ‘interesting activities’ or ‘a different way to learn grammar’ and to make it clear why you’re doing the activity. This will avoid the situation of parents complaining that they haven't paid good money just for their students to ‘play games’ - especially as nowadays as lots of exams are high stakes.

The ones I use the most are variations of ‘tick’ (UK) or ‘tag (US) and are probably my favourite warmers - they are easy to explain, quick, fun and there are no losers. 

Version I

Put the class into pairs. One person is ‘it’ and has to tag his/her partner who then becomes ‘it’. There are just two rules: you can only walk,  and once you have been tagged, you have to turn 360° on the spot - remember to focus on the word "walk" rather than saying “Don’t run” as what happens is that the only word the students will hear is run. I only play this for a maximum of 2 minutes.

Version II

With all my activities I always give them a context/framing rather than just play for the sake of playing. The one I use for this is that I tell the students is that I was watching Liverpool football club training and it was an exercise they used to increase awareness about people around them.

Everyone is a 'ticker'  and when I say 'Go' everybody starts to tick someone else, if you get ticked then you sit down. The last person standing (ie unticked)is the winner.

Version III - Stuck in the mud

This time you have a group of tickers 3 or 4 for a group of 30 students and the aim of the activity is for them to tick the rest of the class. This time when you're ticked, you're 'stuck in the mud' you open your legs and raise your arms to form a star shape, the rest of your classmates try to free you. You can vary the way that you are freed - the most difficult (but funniest way is to crawl between their legs) or you can duck under their raised arms. You can also get them to say a word/phrase connected to what you’ve been doing in class - eg. verbs in the simple past / colours / body parts / number / farm animal. Here's a group of British school children playing the game.

To finish off, I ask the students how the tickers could have been more successful and  eventually someone will suggest that the tickers should've worked as a group. The message that you're sending to the class it that they will be more successful if they work together and help each other rather than working alone.

Dramatising English - Physical Warmers

It’s difficult to think of a suitable name for the workshops that we do, I’m not a big fan of calling them ‘theatre in the classroom’ as this conjures up images of Shakespeare, putting on plays, learning lines, public speaking, anxiety and stage fright (which after years of performance I still suffer from - especially the few minutes before walking on stage)

The online dictionary Merriam-Webstater defines ‘dramatise’ as 'to present in a way that attracts attention’ and I’d like to think that how my classes are (well, that’s what I try to do)

A way to dip your toes into the world of theatre is to use ‘drama-games’ - they are a great tool for a whole multitude of reasons. Firstly, for the teacher they are easy to implement and you can use these practical techniques to enhance creativity and learning English across the curriculum, help to encourage students to work together and most importantly play and have fun.

When working with a group or class, I always start with some type of warm up to signal to them that you’re - there are tons of ideas on the internet, but the ones here are the activities I’ve found that work especially well for students learning English as a second language.

Keep fit with Froggy

This pop-up book by Ruth Tilden makes a fantastic warm up exercise and is probably one of my all-time favourites. 
Age - 5+ 
Level - A1
Language covered - Body parts and simple instructions. 
Cross-curricular. Physical education 

Ask students to describe what's on the front of the book, what Froggy's wearing/doing/why he's doing exercises. Then explain to the class that they're going to do the same things as Froggy and after every exercise Froggy asks "Can you do X like Froggy" and the class chorally replies "Yes I can". Go through each page and show Froggy doing the exercise, as it's a pop-up book the students can see what they've got to do.

Similar to what happens with the puppets, I’ve found that the students are always happier and more enthusiastic about following what Froggie does, rather than doing the activities without the book. I’m really not sure why that is - the fun element? the surrealness of the situation? me doing the exercises too? Whatever it is…it works a treat!




Turning your classroom into a theatre

As always, I try to 'sell'  ideas to the class by telling them "You know what would be a lot of fun, let's change the classroom into a theatre" and then decorating the classroom. Often you only need something small - a picture drawn on the board, a different seating arrangement, having a cloth draped above the door so when the students return from break time they feel that they are entering a different classroom and not one they're normally in. 

Como convertir tu alula en un teatro

Como siempre, trato de "vender” mis ideas a la clase diciéndoles “Sabéis que sería muy divertido? Vamos a convertir el aula en un teatro!” Y, continuación, decoro el aula. A menudo sólo se necesita un pequeño toque: hacer un dibujito en la pizarra, colocar los asientos en una posición diferente. Además, pongo una cortina en la puerta de la clase de manera que, cuando los estudiantes regresan del recreo, sienten que están entrando en un aula diferente y no en su clase habitual.


Using finger puppets in EFL classroom

Not all of your puppets have to be so big, you can have lots of fun finger puppets. The pros are they are cheap and small, students can make them or have turns with playing with your finger puppets.

In my version of the GingerBread Man, the students have their own GingerBread man which they have made beforehand and as I tell the story the students act out the story with theirs. At the end of the show they often make a big poster of the decorated finger puppets. The cons are that sometimes in a large class the students can’t see them!

They lend themselves very well to songs - such as Five Little Ducks / Five Little Monkeys and Two little dickie birds (video to follow shortly)

Two Little Dickie Birds
Two little dickie birds sitting on a wall,
One named Peter, one named Paul.
Fly away, Peter! Fly away, Paul
Come back, Peter! Come back, Paul

 Chris and me - my favourite finger puppets that Chris made.

Chris and me - my favourite finger puppets that Chris made.

Using photos of the puppets

Take your puppet away with you and take some photographs of him/her in different situations and show the class. Or tell the class that your puppet is still away and send them as postcards. (like in the film Amélie) For some reason that I still can't understand (and no physcologist has ever been able to explain to me) why students find the life of Manu and Charlie a lot more interesting than my own.

To exploit this curiosity of the students, take photos of the puppets in various situations or with people that you (your puppet) comes across in different places. Here's Manu in Valencia with some girls in their Falla finery. When you explain what you are doing, people are generally very happy to have their photo taken with the puppet. If you have IT skills then you can easily photoshop your puppets on holiday or in front of iconic buildings.

Then show your class the exploits of your puppet - and hopefully they'll ask you questions.

 Manu the mind reading monkey in Valencia with some girls in their Falla finery.   

Manu the mind reading monkey in Valencia with some girls in their Falla finery.


 Charlie swinging through the trees on Santander beach....

Charlie swinging through the trees on Santander beach....

Puppets and CLIL - Simple maths


Unfortunately in many places maths is taught in an unimaginative way (English too) and teachers explain in the same way they were taught themselves. Usually by rote learning and memorisation. There were some students in my school that could see the logic behind numbers and even talked about the ‘beauty’ of numbers. Myself I could never see it and still can’t. I think one of the reasons I dreaded maths was just the uninspired way that it was taught. We never ‘played’ with numbers and it was never brought to life. For maths to be exciting and interesting, students have to master the basics and the easy bits first. Here are some simple ideas...starting off with simple addition and subtraction. Remember, maths, like every subject should be about fun and exploration.

Helping Charlie (or your puppet) to do things that the kids can do better than Charlie always works well. You place the flashcards on the floor in front of Charlie and ask “Charlie, two plus two equals?” and Charlie points to 3. The children correct him.

Sharing - for teaching and explaining fractions.
Charlie has a bag of sweets/piece of pizza and has to share it/them out with his puppet friends - who gets what? You can use this for counting or for introducing and explaining fractions.

Counting (without puppets)

Another activity my students really love doing and I like this too as it can be do with the students at their desks. In groups of threes or in pairs - two students put their hands behind their backs, when the third student says "go" the students pull one of their hands from behind  their backs with outstretched fingers and the first person to add up total of fingers  (in English) is the winner. Other options are using two hands or multiplication. Often I demonstrate this with one student, by asking him to copy me and then doing the maths and the children have to work out the 'rules' of the game, I don't do that very often as it can be demotivating and frustrating for some students.

Maths beats

Using either rhythm sticks, a tambourine, a plastic box or anything that you can use to create a beat. Get one of your puppets to bang/tap the instrument and at the same time count out each beat and ask your class to join in. Then, ask the children to do the same again, but count the beats silently. Bang the instrument a couple of times to start off with so that they get the idea and then ask the children how many beats they counted. For some reason, this activity is always works much better if the puppets are doing it rather than the teacher. Another variation is to let members of the class to take it in turns to tap the instrument. For added difficulty, beat and count different sounds. For example, a bang of the drum, two taps of the tambourine, and one tap of the rhythm sticks. Depending on the age/level of the students you can ask the students how many times you tapped each instrument, what the total was, what the total of the tambourine was etc.