Puppet Power! Bringing life to primary languages

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A LOLLIPOP stick and a cut-out cartoon character are often all it takes to get young children speaking a foreign language.Puppet 3

With a blob of glue you’ve got a simple puppet or, as I like to think of it, a no-frills French teaching assistant.  It never ceases to amaze me how this simple device can enthrall and engage my pupils, giving them fresh confidence to talk, sing and perform in a foreign language. They want to hear what the puppet has to say. They want to talk back. And before long, they want to put words in its mouth. I’ve always found the most effective way to use puppets for MFL teaching is to involve them in a play that the children can learn and eventually perform.

This post is mainly written for those using the tabletop theatre and lollipop puppets from the Bonjour Milo’s Musical Plays series for young learners of French. However, the ideas below can be adapted by MFL teachers for any story, play or song.

Introducing the characters
At the start of a lesson, I use puppets to introduce or re-introduce each character from the story. For this the larger A4 puppets on lollipop sticks work best.Puppet 6
With KS1 classes I tell them we need to sing Bonjour Milo’s Warm-up Song to get Milo to come out to play. At the end of the song there are three guitar chords, designed to encourage children to sit down, fold their arms and be ready. Then, if they have sung loud enough I bring out Milo and other characters from the story from a ‘feely bag’ or box covered in shiny paper. I encourage them to chorus a greeting: “Bonjour Milo!” and maybe ask how each character is today: “Ça va?”
With Year 3 children I like to bring the puppets on stage using an A3 tabletop theatre. This demonstrates to them early on how to use the theatre.

Physical response games:
Even before the children know the plays really well the mini puppets are useful for different physical response games.
In one game, I call out the names of different characters such as ‘le singe’ (monkey) or le papillon (butterfly) and the children have to lift up the correct character, perhaps performing an action. This can be done in the style of Simon Says (Jacques a dit) or as a ‘beat-the-teacher’ style challenge.
Alternatively I give each child one of the characters and play Fruit Salad. The children sit on chairs in a circle and one child stands in the centre, with the teacher for support if necessary. He or she calls out a character’s name and everyone else with the mini puppet of that character must swap places. The middle child tries to get a chair, leaving someone else to call out a new character.

Performing the play:

Puppet 1Once children get to know the play really well the puppets and tabletop theatres make a fabulous way to perform the play. I find children need to be very confident before this works well. They need to have gone through the whole process of learning the song and spoken version and be at a stage where many of them can recite the play confidently.
I have found even reception children are able, with peer support, to perform the plays using puppets. In the early stages, however, it often works best if groups of children chorus the play while one or two children operate the puppets.

Final thoughts
I have found the tabletop theatres and puppets an exciting way to both rehearse and perform the Bonjour Milo plays. These ideas of course can be adapted and used for any story or even song. I recently had my Year 4 students making a ‘wall’ and their own chicken puppets so they could perform Une Poule sur une Mur as mentioned in the Catherine Cheater scheme of work. See Picture 5.

Technical tips for users of the Bonjour Milo resources
The mini puppets can either be printed out in colour or black and white. I like giving children the black and white outlines to colour in themselves which gives them some ownership of the puppets.
If you are intending to use the puppets with the tabletop theatre it is advisable to attach the lollipop sticks from above – see picture 1.This makes it easier to manoeuvre the puppets.
The tabletop theatres needs to be backed onto quite thick card and it helps to make a crease down the centre of the theatre for extra stability. It helps to use Blu-tack or similar to create a base for the theatres. It also helps to place the theatres very close to the table edge where the puppeteers are.
Although the tabletop theatres print out at A4 size it is possible to blow them up to A3 on a black and white photocopier set to very faint and then colour in by hand (or even better get the children to colour in.)
If you are performing the play using the puppets and theatres it is fun to experiment creating an atmosphere by working in a darkened room and using torches to create a spotlight effect.
Bonjour Milo! Rainforest Quest, Bonjour Milo! Under-the-Sea and Bonjour Milo! Sports Challenge CD Roms for the PC are available through Sparkle Speak based at Dart Education. www.sparklespeak.co.uk

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