I love puppets!! My favourite are hand/glove puppets, of which I own over 100 (!), but I also love finger puppets (I have about 100 of those too!).
I was invited to write this blog and do a presentation (online in the end) by Brian Stobie at International Durham. A recording of it, alongside 2 other talks and resources will be available too: click here for it. I loved doing the talk!!
Where does this love come from? I actually have no idea. I know that the first puppet I ever bought was from a charity shop: it is a dog called Moustache (it has a big moustache!) that used to bark but does not anymore. I also know that I used to use puppets with secondary school pupils, not just primary school children.
However what am guessing YOU want to know if you are reading this article is HOW they can be used in the language classroom. Am I right? If so, read on...
- with 1 puppet: the puppet as your "friend"
You may sit in front of a class with the puppet and use it to demonstrate a dialogue with in another language, to talk to you, to give instructions to the children etc. The puppet can become another character in the classroom. Some people do this with great success; I personally do not, because I do not feel comfortable doing it. Try it though, you may love it!
Tip 1: do not pick a real-life animal (like my monkey) which may scare younger children.
- with 1 puppet: the puppet as a toy
When doing whole class activities, I use one of my puppets as a toy that I pass around the children. When they have the puppet, they have to speak French. Some pupils do not even look at the puppet, some are happy to just hold it for comfort, others feel the need to put their hand in and make it talk... so pick one that can easily and quickly be put on!
Tip 2: animals puppets or sock puppets are safest; if using children, use a variety of inclusive puppets so all can identify.
- with 2 puppets: the puppets to demonstrate and perform dialogues
For speaking practice, I love pair work as the children often find it easier to speak to each other than they do to speak to me in French or to answer questions when we work as a whole class. I set them off with a task, then choose some children to perform their rehearsed conversation in front of the rest of the class... using puppets! It is much less threatening for them. I sometimes let them pick names for them... but be warned, it could take forever for them to do so!
Tip 3: to start off with, choose either a puppet where you only have to move the mouth (also easier for children to put over their hands) or the arms only. As you get more advanced, by all means use a puppet where you can control both the mouth and the arms!
- with a lot of puppets
For you if you are as lucky as me and have collected a few puppets over the years... If not, fear not! Below is a video to give you ideas on how you can make them yourselves... or get your child(ren) to make them!
Ideas on how to make a puppet to help practise your French skills - learn French with Nathalie Paris
Once your class has made their own puppets, they can keep them in their drawers or French books/files for as long as they have you as a teacher. They will often come in handy!
Use them to assess: when I need to assess speaking skills, I tell my pupils that we are having a puppet show competition. I give them the task, time to practise, then they all take turns to perform. The only time a pupil has not done this was because they were an elective mute: it really works! I give them criteria and take notes, but they do not feel threatened because they think I am being a judge, not an assessor. I give each small group a score; points are taken off if they are not a good audience, and winners are announced at the end. You can video these too. I like to take a lot of puppets in for this one because the children love the element of choice: it really motivates them.
Use them with stories: my excuse to buy a new puppet these days is whenever I want to use a new story and I do not have all the puppet that I need... Yes, it still happens! My latest buy in January 2020 was... a jelly fish! It is far more powerful and much easier to exploit stories if, when applicable, you have puppets of the characters in it. Again, you can make them of course. Other props are great too!
What about a puppet theatre?
Again, I am very lucky, because I have several amazing puppet theatres: different sizes, weights... I did not use to though! You can just get the children to kneel down behind a desk. It works better if you have a cloth on it that hides them. Or you can get them to make puppet theatres with cardboard boxes: it could be a great technology project!
Great puppets can be bought second-hand in charity shops, car boot sales, local Facebook sellings groups; click here for a great selection of new ones at Little Linguist or click here to buy fab puppet-making sets from Baker Ross.
The most important thing is to try using puppets to see if you can find something that you feel comfortable doing... and have fun with them!
I should have said: you can put on your own puppet shows too, as I do! But that's another story... Feel free to click here to see an example of how I incorporate them in my daily videos!
Thank you for reading this article! Please write a comment below if you liked it or have any other great ideas to use puppets. Merci!