8 creative ways to teach English in the classroom using puppets

Puppetry is an ancient form of theatre originating back thousands of years. It is as popular with children today as it was in the past. Look at the Muppets, for example. Who doesn’t adore Kermit the frog or Miss Piggy?

Puppets are magical and entertaining characters and bring about positive responses from both young and and this makes them invaluable language resources for teachers.

Young children are naturally intrigued by puppets as their eyes immediately light up when they meet one. They believe they are real and connect with them in a unique way that they do not with adults.  They also encourage even the shyest of children to participate in playing games or correcting the funny mistakes the puppet makes.

To use puppets to teach English, you do not need to be a ventriloquist or expert in puppetry, I am definitely not! You may even feel silly imitating voices but by following a few simple tips and a little practice in front of a mirror you will discover how to find your “own voice” to help your puppets and stories come to life and interact with children successfully.

Choosing a puppet

I often use a variety of puppets and masks in class to compliment and bring to life stories, songs and games and finger or sock puppets are ideal for tiny hands to play “let’s pretend” or sing with.

But for more specific, guided activities I recommend choosing a special teacher’s puppet that can visit the class on a regular basis and assist in teaching the children.  I keep my teacher’s puppet separately in a cupboard and only I have access to it so the children only see the puppet “alive” and identify it as my English teaching assistant/friend and not simply a toy.

Large character/signing puppets make ideal teacher’s puppets.  They have a full working mouth and glove hand which is useful to wave, shake hands, point and pick up objects or flashcards. Character puppets are very expressive and naturally energetic puppets and ideal for older children,  but be aware that young children often believe they really are alive and can sometimes be little intimidated by them or  get upset. In these cases I have an English friend in the form of a puppet who makes regular visits to my classroom. His name is Toby, he is a shy furry turtle who doesn’t speak the children’s native language, only English. The class welcome Toby with hugs and kisses and encourage him to appear from the safety of his shell by communicating with him in English with a simple “Hello Toby”, “Good morning Toby” or, “Wake up Toby!”.

8 Tips on using a “Character Puppet”

  1. Puppet Identity – Give the puppet a name and some personal information that could interest the children and encourage them to get to know the puppet by asking it some simple questions.
  • What’s your name?
  • Where are you from?
  • How old are you?
  • Do you have any brothers or sisters?
  • What’s your favourite colour/food/music?
  1. Puppet Photo Album

    Take photos or videos of the puppet to show the children or send them a postcard if the puppet goes on holiday. Examples can be: around town, in the bathroom,  in the garden, making dinner. Use the photo album as a lead in exercise to finding out more information about the puppet and it’s environment. For example what the puppet likes to eat.  Encourage the children to ask it questions.

  • Do you like carrots?
  • Do you like ice-cream?
  • Do you like tomatoes?
  • What’s your favourite dessert?

The puppet doesn’t necessarily have to answer by speaking if the teacher doesn’t feel comfortable giving it a voice. It can communicate by whispering in the teacher’s ear and the teacher then communicates to the class what the puppet has said.

Often actions and sounds can speak louder than words so, as an alternative, let the puppet answer positively by jumping up and down excitedly and making funny appreciative noises or negatively by shaking it’s head or pretending to be sick. This makes the children laugh.

  1. Fruit Basket – Children are often very inquisitive about puppets and they especially like opening and putting their fingers in puppet’s mouths or feeding them objects. A good idea is to bring to class some “food props” (either real or plastic) for the children to identify and feed the puppet. Sometimes the puppet could get carried away and pretend to eat a child’s hand or nibble their nose which children love.
  1. A sensitive puppet – Remember to approach young children gently with character puppets as some children can become scared especially if the puppet reacts abruptly or is over excited. In these cases try withdrawing the puppet, make it reflect the child’s shyness or simply take the focus away from the child and onto something or someone else. Don’t ever force the child to interact with the puppet if you see they are unwilling.
  1. Storytelling puppet – Let the puppet assist the teacher in reading a story in class. The puppet can simply turn the pages of the book or help give out props or masks to the children to aid their understanding of the story. For the more adventurous teachers, the puppet can be dressed in a costume and interpret the main character of the story.  Eric Carle’s book Brown Bear for example, lends itself very well to using a brown bear glove puppet. I usually give the puppet a gruff voice and a pair of toy binoculars as a prop and my class helps by interpreting the animal characters in the story by wearing paper masks.
  1. An Active Puppet – It is very important that the children always see the puppet animated from start to end. I usually set up my character puppet outside the classroom before the beginning of the lesson so the children don’t see the puppet being taken out of an old box or cupboard. I announce that a very special English guest is coming to class, this secures the children’s’ attention and creates some buzz and curiosity. The puppet can then make a theatrical entrance wearing a costume or carrying a suitcase full of props or photos to show and engage the children.  At the end of each activity don’t just discard the puppet without care but let it either say goodbye and leave the room or go back into his house still alive. An alternative is to make a little bed or suitcase for him where he can sleep and the children can tuck him in and say “goodnight”.
  1. Over use – Try not to drag out activities too long or over use the puppet as it can lose it’s novelty and magic. Try and alternate finger puppets, glove puppets and character puppets each week and keep each activity to maximum 10 minutes.
  1. Operating the puppet

Most children are happy to suspend their disbelief and won’t mention the fact that the teacher is operating the puppet but some children do so be prepared for the some children to mention very loudly “It’s not real, I can see your arm moving the puppet!”. I personally don’t try and cover this obvious  fact up but rather prefer to simply say: “Yes I am  helping Toby to move and speak”. Children are usually satisfied with that answer and happy to carry on interacting with the puppet regardless.

Choose the puppet you feel most comfortable with, play and enjoy!


Resources: puppetsbypost.com


Learn colours in English with Flashcards and Wendy the Witch

Flashcards are a great resource in English Language Lessons with children when they are used creatively. It is not enough just to hold up a card, repeat the word and expect the children to remember.

Here is an example video of how I introduce simple colour flashcards (with my young Italian students ) with the help of a friendly Witch Puppet who adores munching on the colour red!

In my next post I’ll give you some more ideas on games to play with children using colours and flashcards.

Happy Teaching

Miranda Flynn Legge


The Rainbow Song –learning colours in English


A simple activity to play in class to introduce colours

Traffic Light Game Young children love this game both being the Ferrari and the traffic Light. Aims: To introduce and practice colours red, yellow, green and Stop, Be careful, Go

    1. Cut out some squares 10x10cm of different coloured paper and use them as flashcards. Elicit the colours red, green and yellow.
    2. As you hold up each flashcard and call out the colour ask all the children to run and touch something “red”, “yellow” or green in the room it could be someone’s clothing or an object in the room. Do this a few times until the children are familiar the colours.
    3. Explain to the players that when you hold up the red flashcard and call out red the children must stop and freeze!
    4. When you hold up the yellow light and call out yellow the players must start hopping
    5. When you hold up the green flashcard and call out green the players can run (but no bumping into others!).

Alternative Game: to practice Stop, Be careful, Go

Explain to the children that they are all cars and mime a steering wheel using your hands and beep on the horn. Now hold up the red flashcard and tell the children that when you hold up read and call out stop they have to freeze! When you hold up the yellow light and call out be careful the cars must go very slowly and when you hold up the green flashcard they can drive very fast (but no bumping into others!).


Fruity Prepositions with Pippo the Puppet


Teach Prepositions with Pippo the Puppet

When introducing prepositions (in, on, under, in front of, behind)  a puppet can be a useful teacher assistant and engaging for children.

Activity Instructions

Bring to class some fruit props (orange, pear, banana, apple, kiwi, etc) children tend to become very excited about real fruit, but plastic fruit is fine and easier to store away for future exercises:-) Place the fruit on your desk or on the floor in a circle where all the children can see it. Use an empty box (puppet size) and give your puppet instructions to carry out.


“Hello Pippo, can you show the children a banana, please? Very good Pippo.” (Pippo picks out and holds up the banana for the children to see, get the children to repeat the word and use lots of applause of encouragement both for Pippo and the children)

“Where’s the pear, please Pippo?” (Pippo picks out and holds up the pear for the children to see, and again have the children to repeat the word)

When the children become familiar with the fruit have Pippo select an incorrect fruit and get the children to correct him. Then ask for a volunteer to help Pippo choose the correct fruit. Get the other children to applaud and encourage, if the child is unsure Pippo can always hint:-)

Now give Pippo preposition instructions :

“Pippo can you put the apple on the box/chair please?”

“Pippo can you put the apple in the box/chair please?”

“Pippo can you put the apple under the box/chair please?”

Again as the children become familiar with the prepositions , have Pippo make mistakes and encourage the children to correct him.

Have a competition between a child and Pippo as to who can be the quickest in putting the banana under the box/chair. The child always wins, of course!With older children this game works well with one child competing against another but be careful with younger children as they can end up in tears, especially if they don’t win. A tried and tested lesson that guarantees laughter and group participation even for the shyest of children:-)

Have Fun!


Peter, my new bilingual teaching assistant….what a squawker!!


Get children actively involved in English lessons using a little English friend. A great teaching assistant!

Greeting “Peter” and introducing him to your class:

  • Hello Peter!
  • Good morning Peter!
  • Peter, where are you?
  • Peter ? there you are!
  • How are you today?
  • (Ask the children to say hello)

Ask “Peter the Toucan” some general questions:

  • What’s this?
  • What’s that?
  • What’s your favourite food?
  • What’s the weather like?
  • Where’s your pen?
  • Where’s your red bag?
  • Which do you prefer – the red or the green?
  • Which do you want?
  • Why are you happy/sad/tired/angry?

Is make- believe with puppets more than just play?

Puppets are positive creatures that bring about positive responses. They fascinate and engage both children and adults in a special way. Children are willing to suspend belief, and react to a puppet as if it were real. They find it motivating using puppets in “pretend play”  as they stimulate creativity and help develop imagination and vocabulary, preparing them for the real-life situations they will meet later on.Today many parents and teachers also find use for puppets for educational activities to teach children about letters, numbers, people, problem solving and safety issues. As an ESL teacher I use them to enrich storytelling, elicit new vocabulary, sing songs and even introduce classroom rules!


Rusty in Tuscany. Substitute the teacher… with a puppet!


Hi I’m Rusty the Puppet. I’m from England and at the moment I’m visiting my friend Thomas in Florence, Italy. Thomas is bilingual which is a good job as my Italian is not up to scratch. The other day he took me on the new Tram to the centre of Florence where we visited Piazza Santa Maria Novella. In the background you can see the Duomo, Florence’s largest Cathedral… WOWWW ..it’s nearly as big as my mouth!.