Have you heard the expression “all boy”?
It fits my son to a T. He’s “all boy,” all right—rough and tumble, never stops moving, loves swords and superheroes. Oh, and one thing I never would have expected from him: he loves puppets.
I found this out when we started attending a church where the preschoolers had a puppet show as part of their weekly class. Every Sunday he was so excited to show us the puppet theater and tell us what the puppets had to say.
I do have a reason for bringing this up, and it starts with this: Everybody loves a puppet show. This includes the kids in your ESL class and your EAL learners. Kids love puppets, and if you’re not using that to your advantage, let me give you some things to think about.
Why Use Puppets for ESL Role Plays?
You don’t know what you’re missing if you aren’t using puppets for role plays. Puppets, especially ones kids make themselves, give students a chance to be creative and express their artistic sides.
As teachers, we often look for ways to meet the needs of our kinesthetic learners, and puppets are a great way to do that. They’re hands on. Literally. They give young learners a chance to move their bodies while they’re speaking English.
Puppets also help shy or intimidated students speak out. Because kids are speaking through puppets, the mistakes aren’t theirs. They belong to the puppet. And that can decrease the anxiety that young ESL learners might be experiencing.
Another reason to use puppets in role plays is that it makes them seem more like real-life situations. Who looks more like a police officer in a role play—the seven year old in the next desk, or the officer in blue on the end of a Popsicle stick?
If you use a puppet when you’re modeling role plays and conversations for your students, your puppet becomes a second fluent English speaker in class. You can show your kids exactly how interactions happen between two native English speakers.
Most of all, puppets are just plain fun. Even the toughest of kids love talking through puppets, so give them a try. Here are some ways you can use different kinds of puppets in role plays with your students.
6 Fun ESL Role Plays for Kids to Get Their Creativity Flowing
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Community Helper Role Plays
All kids, whether they’re English language learners or not, need to learn about community helpers. Part of taking care of the kids in our class is teaching them what to do in an emergency, and community helper role plays can make that possible.
Start by making some community helper puppets. This tutorial from First Palette is super easy and pays off big. Simply print the community helpers, have students color them in and then glue them to large Popsicle sticks. While you’re at it, you should also take some pictures of your students, print the pictures out and glue them to Popsicle sticks.
Once you have all your puppets ready, present some realistic situations for your students to role play. Here are a few ideas:
- You get lost and need to ask a police officer to help you find your way back home.
- You got someone else’s mail by mistake and you need to give it back to the postal worker.
- You see smoke coming from a car parked on a pile of leaves and you need to get a firefighter’s help.
- Your cat ran away and you need to ask the garbage collector if he’s seen it.
Superhero Role Plays
My son loves puppets almost as much as he loves superheroes, but superhero puppets? What more could a little boy ask for? This tutorial from Messy Little Monster walks you through how to make super cute superhero puppets. Simply cut out pieces of colored paper to create the superhero and his or her cape, then glue them to a small stick. You could even make these on a pencil to encourage students to write.
Once you have your superhero stick puppets ready to go, ask your students what situations superheroes face. They’ll give you some great ideas for role plays, but you could also use one or more of the following:
- A bad guy is robbing a bank and you have to convince him to turn himself in.
- A bad guy has kidnapped the mayor and you have to make a plan with your other super friends to save him.
- Someone found out your secret identity and you have to convince them that they’re wrong.
Fairy Tale Adventure Role Plays
You can take your puppet show up about five notches when you create a shadow puppet theater like this one from Inner Child Fun, and it’s not even hard to do. All you need are an empty shoe box, some white tissue paper, toothpicks and foam stickers.
Since the puppets are just shadows on the screen, your students don’t even have to color them. Simply provide the foam character shapes and have pairs of students put on their role play theater for the rest of the class.
If you use the fairy tale stickers in this example, you might have your students try one of more of the following role plays for the class:
- Convince a timid knight to go on an adventure.
- Get the dragon to stop hurting the people of the town.
- You’re a prince/princess who is tired of being stuck in the palace. Go out into the market and talk to some regular people out there.
Spider Role Plays
If you teach kids, their little fingers are the perfect pairing for these little spider puppets by Lalymom. You probably even have all the supplies on hand since they’re made from everyday crafting materials. Even if it isn’t October—which is the month Lalymom had in mind to introduce these puppets—you can still do some fun role plays with the spider puppet.
- One child is Miss (or Mr.) Muffet and the other is the spider who is trying to scare her away so he can have her curds and whey.
- One child is the weather man who is trying to convince the Itsy Bitsy Spider not to climb the water spout today. Follow up by teaching your kids the song and singing it together.
- One child is the little old lady who swallowed a fly, and the other is the spider, who has to convince her not to swallow him.
Literary Role Plays
I’m not sure what books you’re reading with your kids these days, but whatever their favorites are, you can make role plays from them. Make some puppets from toilet paper rolls and decorate a shoe box like a scene from the book by using paint and small props.
Then have students act out a problem that one of the characters faced in the book. Recycle Art has simple instructions for making the toilet paper roll puppets. Aesop’s fables are great stories to reenact since animal puppets are so easy to make this way, though it’s fun for students to make any characters they’ve read about. Try one of the following role plays with your students:
- The tortoise has just won the race against the hare. The hare tries to explain to the judge why the race wasn’t fair. The tortoise tries to explain to the hare why he won the race even though he was slower.
- The dove just saved the ant from drowning in the river. How will the ant show his appreciation to the dove?
- An ox comes home to find a dog sleeping in his manger. What will the ox say to the dog and vice versa?
Original Character Role Plays
While you’re making puppets, don’t forget the classics: paper bag puppets and sock puppets. Using these puppets are a great chance to let each student’s individuality shine. Have each student create an original puppet using these props from Yellow Bliss Road, or have them make their own with some craft felt and pipe cleaners.
Have each student give their puppet a name and decide where their puppet is from, as well as a few things the puppet likes to do. Then try one of the following role plays:
- Your classroom is hosting the greatest puppet convention in the world today. Have students introduce their puppets to each other and see if they can find something they have in common.
- One puppet is new to the class. The other puppets must welcome him or her to class and explain how things work.
- One puppet needs to find the library so he can do his homework. He needs to ask another puppet for directions to the library.
- One puppet needs to use the bathroom and must ask someone else for directions.
Using puppets for role plays with kids is a great opportunity to let them be creative and take away some of the inhibitions that might otherwise keep them quiet. These are just some ideas to get you started using puppets in class, and you should feel free to mix and match the types of puppets and the characters you make with them.
Most of all, welcoming puppets into your class is just plain fun.
So make some room for a few new characters in your classroom and see where your students’ imaginations will take them.
And One More Thing…
Searching for fun, authentic videos to teach your students English vocab? Check out FluentU!
It’s got a huge collection of authentic English videos that people in the English-speaking world actually watch on the regular. There are tons of great choices there when you’re looking for songs for in-class activities. You’ll find music videos, musical numbers from cinema and theater, kids’ singalongs, commercial jingles and much, much more.
On FluentU, all the videos are sorted by skill level and are carefully annotated for students. Words come with example sentences and definitions. Students will be able to add them to their own vocabulary lists, and even see how the words are used in other videos.
For example, if a student taps on the word “brought,” they’ll see this:
Plus, these great videos are all accompanied by interactive features and active learning tools for students, like multimedia flashcards and fun games like “fill in the blank.”
It’s perfect for in-class activities, group projects and solo homework assignments. Not to mention, it’s guaranteed to get your students excited about English!
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to teach English with real-world videos.