String Puppets : An Engaging End of School Year Project

Using puppets in a world language class is a great way to create a fun space for children to explore a new language because they are engaged with the puppet rather than focused on the perfect use of the language. Younger children enjoy puppet shows that are run by the teacher. In older graders puppet shows can be used as a tool for students to own and use the language, a tool that gives space for creativity in the target language.
 Here is a sample of a project I did with my third graders. They have Spanish twice a week for a 40-minute period each time. It’s almost the end of the school year and I wanted to assign them an activity in which they could use the language. This also can be used as an assessment tool or something to share with parents. We worked on the puppet together, and we used about 25 minutes in class to make them. Children colored the puppets, cut them out, and added the legs using string and clay for the feet to make them heavy. See the steps below:

Here is the final result! A happy wiggly puppet!
Then came writing their own dialogue. This step was the most challenging for them. I asked them to work in pairs and create a brief script using some of the language we have done this year. The only directions I gave were 1) Make sure it includes a greeting, 2) Have fun creating the script, and 3) Include a farewell. 
This was done by third graders. We focus a lot on the oral part at this level and writing is minimum. I anticipated that some of them were going to complain about not knowing how to spell the words.  I  let them know that it was perfectly fine to make mistakes.  Here is a sample of one of the scripts – click on it to make bigger:
After working on the dialogue, they took time to practice with their pairs. Once they felt ready, I recorded their videos using a green screen as a background. Here is a short excerpt from the video:

Here is the final version of the project. I edited the video with an app called Green Screen by DoInk. The green background was replaced with a picture of a street in Cartagena, Colombia.

I put all the projects of my students in one video, and they enjoyed watching it together. Projects like this can be used as PR (public relations) with families.
Grab your free “monstruos” and get ready for the show!

Enjoy,
6 Tips for Using Puppets to Teach Spanish to Children – advice from an Expert Puppeteer and Actor in Colombia

6 Tips for Using Puppets to Teach Spanish to Children – advice from an Expert Puppeteer and Actor in Colombia

I have been extremely lucky this summer during my trip to Colombia to have had the opportunity to find amazing people who can continue contributing to my professional development and to become better at what I do, teaching language to children. This time I had the opportunity to learn from Jaime Andres Castaño of Corpoteatro. Corpoteatro is a small organization that provides workshops for teachers to learn more about how to incorporate theatrical techniques into their teaching. It also offers workshops for children and anyone who is interested in learning how to use theatrical techniques in their daily life. Reminds me a bit of all the ads I’ve seen on the subway (T) cars in Boston for Improv Asylum and their ads that say “No More Group Hugs with Brad From Accounting,” targeting corporate team building, as well as all the amazing ways theater is used in social cause grassroots organizations. Theater is essential – it really enriches the theater of our lives and is fantastic for teaching people of all ages.

 One form of theatrical art involves puppets. With my visit to Corpoteatro, I wanted to learn more about basic techniques to use with simple puppets. With their help, I learned that mouth puppets work great because they are very simple to handle and give me one free hand to point at other materials. I have always loved puppets and use them frequently into my teaching (I am a PreK to 3rd grade Spanish teacher in a FLES program) because puppets give me excuses to create silly and joyful situations that open the children to learning and make a dynamic conversational environment based on play and make-believe. Puppets are a great teaching tool that allow children to forget they are listening to a language they are just learning and gives space for a playful and natural-feeling environment. In many cases, my puppet friends show up in class to teach something new, or to ask my students about something we recently learned. Their appearances in my classes are usually very short, which makes my students ask for their puppet friend in the next class. Each of my puppet friends has a  name, and I usually use a name that is tied to a cultural connection or refers to a word in Spanish. For example, I have a puppet girl that I have named Cumbia (traditional Colombian dance) and another one I named Rana (frog).
 
Tips to Keep in Mind! 

Andres gracefully shared his basic tips that can help educators when using puppets in their classes
1. Treat your puppet like any other class member. Give it a name, a voice, and a space in your class. This puppet cannot be used by your students. They need to show respect to the puppet too!               
 
2. Make sure you always use the same voice for this puppet, and don’t confuse it with any other puppet. Limit yourself to one or two characters for the school year. This will make the children feel confidence and know that it creates a safe environment for everyone.    
                                                                    

3. Use syllables when your puppet talks. You want this puppet to look very natural.

 
4. Always look at your puppet when he or she talks. 

5. Make sure to greet your puppet when he joins the class and also say 
adiós  when he leaves the class. Put it away very carefully. Have a box or bag where you always place it.
 

6. Most importantly as with all teaching, smile and have fun!

I do have to admit that at the beginning it is not comfortable when using puppets, but once you see your students’ faces, you will see how rewarding it is to have puppet guests in class! 

 
Have fun teaching with puppets!