Bring Language to Life in Your Classroom (by Karen Frazier-Tsai)

puppetsWhenever I teach, I do all I can to present language so that it comes to life for the students. As an English teacher, I instantly become an actor in order to convey meaning for any new language being taught.  I recall the first time I was teaching in a classroom in Taiwan, where every student spoke the same language. In order to communicate with beginning and elementary level students, clear gestures and the use of realia were essential. These helped create a context for the language so the students could grasp the meaning.

I have found that one of the most effective ways to bring language to life for your students is to use puppets in your classroom. Puppets have a magical effect on children and help transform the introduction of a basic question and answer pattern into a fun and interactive exchange.  Young children are quite captivated by puppets because they want to see what the puppets are doing, and they want to hear what they are saying. Even older students are attracted to a lively exchange between two puppets.

Puppets can model new language patterns and will help your students better understand how language is used in a dialogue as well. As puppets act out the language, children become motivated to learn because the puppets bring animation and fun to your English lesson.

I have had shy students who are reluctant to talk aloud, and I’m sure you have, too. If you use puppets, you will find that they help shy students come out of their shells and become less self-conscious about talking. Puppets can guide the students in their language practice in a non-threatening way.  As the students watch and engage with the puppets, they lose some of their inhibitions and become more confident.  So, all of your students, even the shy ones, will take a risk and develop a more active interest in trying out new language patterns. They will also be more willing to practice other language that they know when you use puppets.

Tapping into the way our students learn

One of the most compelling reasons for us to use puppets in today’s EFL classes is that they tap into the way many of our students currently learn. Almost every day, our children tune into some of the visual cues found in children’s TV programming, hand-held and online games, and music videos. Today’s children are so used to having visual cues that enhance their learning, as in TV and online classrooms, that they need lessons which combine visual with auditory learning. They are much more motivated and seem to engage more quickly when they can watch and listen to an actual demonstration of the new language they are learning. As a result, having puppets and animated teaching as part of your lesson will make the language come alive in your English classroom.

Note: This article by Karen Frazier-Tsai originally appeared on Teaching Village, and is licensed under a Creative Commons, Attribution-Non Commercial, No Derivatives 3.0 License. If you wish to share it you must re-publish it “as is”, and retain any credits, acknowledgements, and hyperlinks within it.

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8 Responses

  1. Barbara says:

    Thanks, Karen! I think you’ll encourage some teachers to give puppets a try, if they haven’t already tried them.

    Since my students are always excited to do anything that let’s them use a puppet, I tell them that my puppets only speak English. It’s motivating for them 🙂

    I hope you’ll follow this up in the future with some tips for fun ways to use the puppets–I know you have a lot of great ideas!

  2. Thanks for this post Karen and Barbara,

    I absolutely agree that puppets are an essential part of a teacher’s everyday tool kit.The only thing I would like to add is that I very strongly believe in the power of puppets with teenagers and even adults. Creating a stress-free environment for speaking acitivites is easiest if you have characters the learners can identify with and can “hide behind”. Just like in real life where adult puppet shows are reclaiming their old appeal and popularity, puppets have a place in every classroom. They can do so many more things than a mere human, have silly ideas, make stupid mistakes, act silly, and have silly voices. All the things we do when we play with language and have tremendous fun in the process. Yes, let’s bring puppets to every classroom. This post really got me thinking about this, thanks. I enjoyed it a lot.

  3. Karen Frazier Tsai says:

    I sure do hope that my post will encourage teachers to give puppets a try! They definitely bring so much life to a classroom and help students focus on having fun with English! And, it sure lessens their stress in class! I also agree with Tamas that puppets can be used for teens and adults. They can have just as much fun with puppets when they allow the actor or kid in them to shine through. 🙂 They often like to act silly and sure can create silly voices for their puppets.
    I will definitely follow up with some tips in another post! 🙂

  4. Jon Sumner says:

    Hi there Karen,

    Thanks for sharing this idea. I think you are really on to something with using puppets to teach young learners. In fact I remember being a very young child and being so happy when my teacher used puppets! There is certainly something very memorable about this way of grabbing the attention of children. In fact, I think any kind of addition to the usual appearance of a teacher can be effective. My Dad once taught a class of teenagers science whilst wearing an Einstein wig and putting on a silly Swiss (his best attempt!) accent, and he said the entire class were enthralled for the whole lesson. Amazing really.

    Anyway, thanks for this tip.


  5. Tefl Jobs says:

    Hi Karen,

    I think this is a really great idea! It’s really fun and I’m guessing it would make the students feel a lot less self concious about speaking in another language. Plus there are so many ways the students can use there imagination and be creative in English.


    Jon D.

  6. Karen Frazier Tsai says:

    Hi Jon and Jon!

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts about how teachers can help students feel less stressed and less self-conscious when speaking another language. I can really envision how Jon’s dad must have kept the attention of his science students by putting on a wig and speaking with an accent! This same technique would work really well in an English language classroom, too. What a difference it can make when we, as teachers, relax and create a fun atmosphere in class. Doing so helps our students become more comfortable using English and encourages them to be more creative with their new language.


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