Since this crazy lockdown life started, we’ve been doing lots of different things to try to stay sane.  And, like everyone else, we’ve had to get our heads around working online more and more (aargh!).  One thing it has given us more time for, though, is to have a go at creating puppet video lessons – something that’s been on our mental list for years.

Luckily for me, as far as Zoom & Skype classes go, I’d had a bit of a headstart.  Why?  Well, I’ve been doing virtual shows as Cyber-Santa since 2012 (see https://bat-i-burrillo.com/shows-for-children/). Where does the time go??  It seems like only five minutes ago I was pulling on my Santa suit, stuffing a cushion up my jumper, attaching an itchy beard, ringing my bell and booming “Ho, ho, ho!” (Our Spanish neighbours were very intrigued, taking it for some eccentric British custom that they’d never heard of.) 

Suspension of disbelief

Well, that first year I thought that trying to convince tech-savvy young learners that I really was Santa was going to be an uphill battle.  But I couldn’t have been more wrong.  They threw themselves right into it, often jumping out of their seats and pressing their faces right up to the camera.  They asked about my (Santa’s) likes and dislikes, the weather, what I fed the reindeer, my favourite animal and how old I was! And about Mrs Claus too – I hadn’t even known that was a thing!

The younger students really did believe they were talking to Santa, and one poor mite got so over-excited that he actually vomited.  The first two years of primary weren’t so sure ­– some thought I was the real Santa, though others weren’t so convinced. But more often than not, they wanted to believe it was real.  (Of course, that was probably because they realised it might be me bringing them their presents.)  What amazed me most, though, is that I’ve never seen students so motivated to ask questions.  Though, as any real TEFL-head could tell you, this was actually a perfect example of extrinsic motivation!  (For more on this, read Gardner and Lamb’s Motivation and Attitudes in Second Language Learning. See pp.348-355 in the Encyclopedia of Language & Linguistics, published in 2006 by Elsevier Ltd.)

Fast-forward to 2021

Despite the Zoom burn-out we’re all experiencing, we firmly believe we can still engage students with technology. When I have a new class, or I’m going into a school I haven’t been into before, I send them an introductory video.  Depending on the group, this is often a puppet video.  (When I make the next one, I’ll put a link here to give you an idea.)  This works really well, as not only does it create anticipation, it also breaks the ice in advance.  The students have seen your face, heard you laugh, know what to expect. 

When teaching younger learners ourselves, we’d often look for suitable videos to use in class for a change of focus.  But good quality free materials were few and far between, and we never found any puppet video lessons for EFL that we liked.  So that’s why we’ve started making our own!

Puppet video lesson debut!

Our idea is to make a sort of puppet soap-opera.  We’ll establish the characters and follow storylines (unlike many YLs books that often seem rather disjointed). We’ve already talked about keeping records of what the puppets get up to outside school-time (in the holidays etc), but we wanted something a bit more dynamic.  So far we’ve only done a sample demo, but it’ll give you a taste of what’s to come. The series will be aimed at young learners, and we’ll be putting the language into context too.  Using puppets combined with greenscreen allows us to do things that ‘actors’ couldn’t (or wouldn’t) normally do. For example, Silvia standing right next to crocodiles on the river-bank! We know from experience that strong visual images in addition to storytelling really help students retain information. Not only that, a video provides teachers with a well-earned breather!  Our puppet video lessons won’t just be fillers, though – they’ll be real teaching aids.

Linguistic content

The language points covered will be at levels pre-A1, A1 and A2. The situations and themes will be typical of coursebooks and exam content at those levels.  This series of videos will fit in well with the requirements of public exams such as those offered by Trinity College London (Initial Stage, Grades 1-3) and Cambridge (Starters, Movers & Flyers). 

We envisage that each episode will only be a few minutes long, as we know how attention spans can flag.  We’ll also add some ideas here on our blog as to how the puppet video lessons can be fully exploited in the classroom.  Further down the line, there’ll also be some live shows so that students can interact with the characters – keep an eye on the blog for details.

We’d really appreciate any comments and feedback on the demo, when you’ve got a minute.  And do subscribe to our YouTube channel so that you don’t miss Episode One!

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