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


The Enormous Turnip – Role Play

The Enormous Turnip is a super simple story for children learning English as a second language and useful for introducing or revising family and animal vocabulary. An alternative to reading directly from a book is to use picture cards and adapt the language according to the children’s language abilities

Storytelling using theatre props and costumes add extra elements of curiosity, facilitate comprehension and encourage group participation.

To accompany  The Enormous Turnip  try making a little paper shovel, an envelope full of seeds (rice) and a paper watering can.  Include simple coloured masks and stick to plastic spoons for the children to hold for role play work.

You can create a mini role play by simply using props similar to the ones I use in the video and involve children by asking them to sow  and water the seeds.  Add to the fun by encouraging children to interpret the story characters . Give them a mask and tell them in turn to pull the “flashcard”!

show 3

http://www.teatroinglese.it  The Enormous Turnip end of year production

I also find a great exercise after I have told the story is get the children to act it out!

1. Play some relaxing instrumental music for the children to listen to

2. Encorauge the children to lie on the floor and make themselves as small as possible

3. Explain that you are the farmer and using the shovel, pretend to dig holes around the children

4. Sow the seeds (by shaking the envelope of rice over the children’s heads)

5. Water the seeds (make some whooshing water sounds over the children’s bodies)

6. Encourage the children to imagine they are the tiny turnip seeds growing slowly under the earth

7. Continue watering the “seeds” and then explain to the children that the sun is coming out and becomes warmer and slowly the seeds begin to grow, bigger and bigger and bigger until they become the most ENORMOUS TURNIPS waiting to be pulled out of the earth by the farmer (play act with the children and show examples of how they can express the growing seeds using their bodies and faces )

Great fun and a theatrical way to review key vocabulary.

Miranda Flynn Legge

5 Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed Song

To introduce this popular song to my class of 5-6 year olds I made a simple felt board out of an old cardboard box, covered and taped it with a black flannel blanket.

To make the monkeys, mummy and doctor I downloaded some materials  and laminated them. It is a good idea to laminate and protect the characters and  stick double sided tape to the back so they can  be attached and removed easily from the felt board.

At the end of the lesson I distribute some paper monkey finger puppets or masks which the children colour, cut out and use to sing the song again during the next lesson.

Children enjoy making their own finger puppets and it is a great way to involve and engage them in reviewing numbers and new vocabulary.

As an alternative – encourage children to interpret and re-enact the song using monkey masks and simple costumes for the Mummy and Doctor characters. Bring to class some props for example toy telephones for the children to use.


*Five little monkeys jumping on the bed (hold up 5 finger puppets)

One fell off and bumped his head (make one finger puppet roll down to the floor and tap your head with your fist)

Mummy called the doctor, (hold up finger and thumb to your mouth and ear miming a telephone)

And the doctor said

No more monkeys jumping on the bed (wag your index finger from left to write to indicate no)

Four little monkeys jumping on the bed

One fell off and bumped his head

Mummy called the doctor

And the doctor said,

No more monkeys jumping on the bed


Three little monkeys jumping on the bed

One fell off and bumped his head

Mummy called the doctor

And the doctor said,

No more monkeys jumping on the bed


Two little monkeys jumping on the bed

One fell off and bumped his head

Mummy called the doctor

And the doctor said,

No more monkeys jumping on the bed


One little monkey jumping on the bed

One fell off and bumped his head

Mummy called the doctor

And the doctor said,

Put those monkeys right to bed

*Sing along to 5 Little Monkey Jumping on the Bed  from Super Simple Songs


Happy teaching!




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


Teach Emotions in English

View Miranda Legge Emotions

Ever find you have an unruly class? Your children don’t seem to be learning much? Try adding some sparkle into your ESL lessons and grab children’s attention by using total physical response activities.

By engaging children physically and emotionally they find it easier to understand language. And by associating movement, song and dance with language children are much more likely to absorb and repeat it naturally.

Try a simple game for Introducing “emotions” or as I call it “funny faces”:

Lets get those faces warmed up…

Ask the children to find a space in front of you standing or sitting and tell them to start giving their faces a good massage , cheeks, forehead, nose, mouth, chin, ears (get the children to repeat the words as you say them). Now scrunch your faces up to make them as small as possible, open wide, open your mouth, stick your tongues out, wiggle them around, pretend to chew a gum, pretend to chew 10 gums all together, pretend to chew 100 gums! Make some tongue rolling sounds with a Rrrrrrrrrr. Blow some raspberries.

Now ask the children to copy you and to make appropriate faces that describe each word for example: happy, surprised, furious, sad, angry, shocked, frightened, sleepy, cold. Ask the children to be as dramatic and exaggerated as possible.

Make up some simple flashcards and ask the children individually to mime an “emotion” flashcard while the other children guess which emotion he is trying to describe. Children love miming games as they also encourage the less extrovert children to participate.











Happy teaching



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!).


How to teach English when you don’t know a word!

Would you like to teach your children English even if you can’t speak it well yourself?


I use this fun interactive “learning to read site” with my bilingual Italo/English 6 year old. He speaks and comprehends English well but like many bilingual children his reading and writing skills are behind. Starfall is fun as it uses phonics, stories and plays to teach and motivate children to read aloud. For non-English speaking parents or teachers you can easily follow the simple stories yourselves and click on words to reveal their correct pronunciation.