Devised theatre for the EFL classroom

This is something that I talk about a lot in my workshops and one of the most interesting drama activities I do with my groups. I think the reason I enjoy it so much is that it gives the students the chance to ‘own’ the play. It’s a far cry from when I was at school and the teacher gave out a script to his favourites (in my senior school, my teachers were all men) and were told to learn it and who then recited it parrot fashion while the rest of us stood around not quite sure what we were supposed to be doing. A devised theatre piece is the complete opposite...

What is it?

It’s a collaborative creation - the students work together to produce a play or performance piece.

It starts with an an idea or a topic.

The students are the directors, scriptwriters and the performers (the teacher helps to facilitate the process and guide them with the English they need)

The process is as important as the final product - though the downside is that sometimes the students can produce something that is very meaningful to them, but to an outside audience such as their parents/director of the school, the finished piece can seem a bit strange to say the least.

Before you can start on a devised theatre piece, the students have to get used to working with each other and to collaborate. That’s why in class, we spend lots of time playing drama games and co-operative activities in order for them to do this. Each student can play to his or her strengths, eg if someone is good at dancing then he/she will help with the choreography. Others can build and make the sets, students who are better at English can help to craft the script.

An easy place to start is using improvisation exercises - this gets students used to accepting new ideas (I’ll post some more at a later date)


Remember that structure is important, especially for EFL students especially for the weaker students who might not fully understand what’s going on. An easy structure for them to get their head around is a way to update a classic fairy story. The narrative is straightforward for them to grasp - introduce the character, the character has a problem, resolve the problem, the end.

Workshop on devised theatre for state school teachers

Workshop on devised theatre for state school teachers

Using your puppet to teach young learners to count in English

Tell the students the story of what happened one day with Tommy’s (your puppet's) socks. First of all put up a piece of string across the board, this represents the washing line. I take out socks from Tommy's rucksack, but take them out whatever box/bag your puppet lives in and put them on the line, count them. Encourage your students to count along with you. Tell them the story about how it it was really windy, students make the noise of the wind and one of the socks fall off. Ask students how many socks are left. Then teach them the song (to the tune of 10 green bottles)                                                                       

Ten white socks, hanging on the line                                                                                                Ten white socks, hanging on the line                                                                                                The cold wind blew (kids all blow) and one of them fell off                                                          Then there were 9 white socks, hanging on the line.                                                                         

At the end of the song say “So they all got dirty so I had to wash them again…” and repeat the song. Instead of 'white socks' you can use 'black socks, small socks, smelly socks' etc

How to revise vocabulary using puppets. Tommy's game / Drop the curtain

For teachers who've seen this with me, this was the activity called 'Tommy's game' - it's his favourite. You don't have to use a puppet for this, or even a sheet...a piece of cardboard will do, but the theatricality of the cloth and Tommy makes the activity a lot more fun and interesting to play.

I like this a lot as you don't have to rearrange the seats in the classroom, it's easy to play in the space /aisles between the tables. 


Students sit in two lines with the curtain between them. You sit holding your puppet and one end of the curtain and another student does the same (see the pictures below) Put a pile of flashcards face down at the front to the line. The students at the front of each line pick up a flash card each and hide it behind the curtain, all the class call out '3,2,1' the curtain is dropped and the first student to shout out what he/she sees on the other student's flashcard gets the point.                                                                                 Alternative procedure. Using 'show me' boards and to make it more difficult, ask the students to write things such as the first letter of a month/last letter of a month/simple maths/a two digit number etc. 

Tommy holding the curtain and students holding the flashcards (pictures are on both sides)

Tommy holding the curtain and students holding the flashcards (pictures are on both sides)

From book to performance - using Rosie’s Walk in an English class for young learners

Teachers who’ve been to my workshops know how much I like improvision and student devised stories. For younger students I really like using the book Rosie’s Walk by Pat Hutchins. Also, this works really well if you're preparing students for Trinity Stars If you don't know the story, I've added a link of an animated story of the book at the bottom of the post. At first glance, it seems quite a simple story, but the more you read it, the more ways you'll find to exploit it in an EFL class for younger learners. The plot is very simple, Rosie the hen goes for a walk around the farm and is totally oblivious to the danger (a fox) and the chaos she leaves behind her.                                                                                       

 Stages                                                                                                                                          First of all read the story to the class, keep their interest in the story by asking them to predict what’s going to happen next. Then tell the class that they’re going to role-play the story, probably best to do this another day.                                                                                  Materials                                                                                                                                          1. A long thin balloon, this will be the fox. a fox face, I like this vector one printed in cardboard and cut out and stuck on the balloon.                                                                                                  2. A round balloon, orange if possible, this will be Rosie and some feathers.                            3. Some pictures of bees, cut out and stuck on straws. You're ready to go.                                4. Paper frog puppets                                                                                                                      5. Paper mouse puppets                                                                                                        Procedure                                                                                                                                        Basically, as you read the story, the rest of the class role-play the story. Give out the 'roles' one student is Rosie and is in charge of the balloon puppet, another is the fox and follows Roise around. Then divide up the roles, decide who is going to be the doors of the henhouse, the fence,                                                     

The animated version of the story on YouTube v=UcsTDSB_pyk&

Using puppets as a springboard to writing

Sometimes teachers forget that you can use puppets with secondary students, one way that you can exploit this is to encourage them to write plays. Very often when high-school (secondary school) students write plays, the thing they think about his how they will look and sound on stage or at the front of the class. Though when they write for a puppet, it allows them to be far freer and more creative. Puppets can (and should do) things that actors normally can do, not only that ‘hiding’ behind a puppet booth allows the students to take more risks, not only with the plot, but with sound effects, silly voices and exaggerated characters possibly doing things they wouldn’t do if they had to act them act. Not only does it help with writing in a second language, an important skill in itself,  but they also learn how to be creative, collaborative and also develop critical thinking.

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.