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5 Easy Ways to Nurture Imagination and Creativity in the Classroom

young learner using a puppet in the classroomEnter the world of a young child. What might you discover? Young children squeal with delight at surprises. They love to use their imaginations. They easily become animals, princesses, firefighters, doctors, and more! How can we as English teachers build English language skills while nurturing our young learners’ creativity and imaginations? Let’s explore some classroom strategies and activities that successful teachers of young learners use.

1. Classroom songs and chants

Listen to a classroom of young learners. Songs and chants can be heard throughout the day. Let’s consider using a song for a warm-up activity. What kinds of songs or chants work best with young learners? One of the things I look for in a song or chant is a simple pattern. For example, consider this well-known children’s game song, “Looby Loo.”

Here we go Looby Loo. Here we go Looby Light.

Here we go Looby Loo, all on a Saturday night.

We put our hands in. We put our hands out.

We give our hands a shake, shake, shake,

and turn ourselves about, OH!

In this song, the children hold hands while walking around in a circle. For my Japanese students, the song gets their ears ready to hear the /l/ sound that’s not present in their language. The song is cheerful and uses movement that gets children’s bodies warmed up for class.

After children have learned a song, patterns invite them to add their own ideas. What can we change? We could focus on body parts. Children enjoying thinking of a new body part with each repetition. To guide thinking, you can give a child a bilateral choice: Should we move our legs (move your legs) or our fingers (wiggle your fingers)? After a few repetitions, children may be able to name a body part independently.

Sing the song at the next class but add something new. We could change the way we “go” around the circle. Children choose new verbs, such as jump, hop, march, tiptoe, run, skip, gallop, etc. Make it more interesting by changing your voice, speeding up the song, or slowing it down.

Giving children choices nurtures their creativity and encourages output.

2. Creative movement

As I mentioned with music, young learners love to move. There are so many ways that we can add movement to our classes for children.

TPR (Total Physical Response) invites children to respond to movement commands. Using movement in a song as mentioned above is similar. Students hear the words, watch the movement, and move to the words.

Some movements are easy to do in one place, such as clap your hands, pat your legs, stomp your feet, touch your toes, wave your arms, wiggle your fingers, nod your head, blink your eyes, shake your hair, bend your knees. Some movements can be done around a circle or in an open classroom space, like the ones mentioned in Looby Loo.

Children can use their imaginations to move in so many different ways. They can pretend to be animals, Halloween characters, or their favourite storybook character. Using simple props makes it even more interesting.

3. Puppets and stuffed animals

Engage your children’s imaginations by making puppets or stuffed animals a regular part of your English lessons. Practice in front of a mirror to make your puppet appear more life-like. I just introduced my new hedgehog puppet to my kindergarten class. I invited my students to give him a name. They chose “Harry.” Harry comes to class every week. Your puppets can lead an activity, join in a game, read a book, or be part of a conversation. They are often just what you need for your shy students.

4. Hands-on classroom learning

What else can we bring into our young learner classroom? Use your imagination! Real items can be used in numerous ways. Thinking of unusual ways to use items makes learning fun while nurturing your students’ creative thinking.

For example, beanbags can be used to practice colours and play games, but we can use them for imaginative chants, too. Scarves can be used to toss in the air. Pretend that they are leaves, a flower, or the wings of a butterfly. Asking yourself if there’s another way to do something will lead you to new creative choices.

5. Books

Children’s stories can be used in many ways with young learners. Most children’s books have beautiful illustrations, a perfect tool for teaching new vocabulary. Board books often have some type of interactive features that make reading even more interesting.  

 

Come and discover the magic!

In my webinar, I’ll share strategies and activities that you’ll be able to use immediately in your very young learner classroom. I’ll model ways in which you can enter the world of imagination and develop language. Join me for an active session of songs, chants, creative movement, puppets, scarves, beanbags, children’s stories, and more!

Register for the webinar


Kathleen Kampa specializes in working with young learners. As a PYP (Primary Years Program) teacher, she uses an inquiry-based approach to teaching through which students develop 21st Century skills. Kathleen uses multiple intelligences strategies to help all students find success. She also builds English language skills by creating songs, chants, and movement activities targeted to children’s needs. Kathleen and her husband Charles Vilina are co-authors of Magic Time, Everybody Up, and the ELTon award-winning course, Oxford Discover, published by Oxford University Press.


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10 ways to use puppets in the ELT classroom

Fifi Show and Tell - Oxford University PressPuppets are a great way to encourage and motivate your pre-primary learners when learning a new language.

Here, Kathryn Harper, one of the authors from Show and Tell, gives her top ten tips for using a puppet in the classroom.

1) Greetings and routines: “Hello. How are you?”

Establishing predictable routines is extremely important in the pre-primary classroom to help with classroom management. With routines, children quickly get to understand what’s expected of them, giving them the confidence to learn and achieve more.

A great way to use the class puppet is for routines. The puppet can greet and say goodbye to the children when they come in or leave the class, and elicit information from them, for example, “How are you today?”

The children will be comfortable and interested in replying to the puppet, and even the shyest child will want to interact with it in this way.

By using the puppet regularly for specific activities such as ‘Reading time’ or ‘Goodbye time’, you can move from one activity to the next seamlessly, keeping your students motivated and engaged.

2) Creating affective conditions

One of the pre-conditions for learning is for children to feel comfortable, secure, and in a nurturing environment. The presence of a class puppet can help reinforce this ‘safe’, affectionate space.

Here’s how to create this space using your puppet:

  • Puppets, particularly a soft one, can give cuddles to the children. This creates an instant warm reaction with the children.
  • Children can express affection towards the puppet by stroking it, patting its head etc. This contact can be extremely important in breaking down barriers, relaxing the children, and enabling physical expression.
  • The puppet can comfort children if they are sad, for example, they can sit with the puppet. The puppet keeps children comforted and includes them in the class.
  • The puppet can be emotional when you can’t, for example, show anger or cry. This is a great way for children to learn about different emotions.

3) Using humour to animate the classroom

As a teacher, you know that getting and keeping the attention of a class full of little ones can be a challenge when it’s just you up at the front of the class. Having a class puppet can suddenly make everything more interesting for your students, and is a great way to animate your class.  Used in the right doses, the puppet can keep the attention of your students in many ways:

  • By doing funny or unusual things.
  • By showing reactions or emotions that might not be acceptable.
  • By creating a focus to an otherwise boring event.
  • By interacting with you.

4) Being allowed to get things wrong

Learning from mistakes and helping children see the good side of getting things wrong is key for their development. The puppet can be a huge confidence booster to your students, by showing them that it’s perfectly normal to get things wrong. It can do this by:

  • Showing the children that it doesn’t understand everything – and that’s alright!
  • Making fun of itself when it doesn’t understand –taking the pressure off children to get things perfect first time.
  • Letting the children play at being the teacher.

5) Modelling activities

When it comes to new activities and role plays, puppets can make the best partners. The puppet can attempt the role play and make a few mistakes. This shows students that it’s fine if they don’t get things right first time. Eventually, the puppet will complete the role play correctly and provide the perfect model for the children.

6) Acting out

One of the most effective and involving activities for children is acting out stories or situations. Of course the children could be the actors themselves, but if they use puppets, it liberates them and gives them greater creative licence. In particular, shy children can come alive using puppets as it takes the focus off them. What’s more, children with lower linguistic levels can be just as engaged with puppets because they can react visually through actions when they don’t have words.

7) Helping create stories or storytelling

Following on from number six, the next step is for children to create their own stories or follow on from an existing one. For this, you will need more than one puppet but you can easily get kids to bring in some of their cuddly toys, or make your own! When children tell their own stories, you really know they are engaged, their brains are working, and they have something to say.

This is a great activity to get the whole class participating. It can be very casual and short, or more involved and set up with props depending on your class size, the confidence of your students, or the learning outcomes you have set.

8) Being a target for activities

Activities are a lot more fun when a puppet is playing along. For example, if you are working on furniture vocabulary, you could play games such as ‘Where’s the puppet?’ – “He’s on the chair!” Or for classroom objects, you could play ‘What’s in the puppet’s bag?’ You can play games in which you pass the puppet around the class until someone says a particular word, and you could even play ‘Puppet says’ (instead of ‘Simon says’). The variations are endless. Have fun including the puppet in class games, and see your students’ participation soar!

9) The puppet as a a ‘prize’

The puppet is a tool for helping students learn how to behave in class, and as such, it can be used as a reward or a prize to incentivise good behaviour or hard work. Some ways you could use the puppet as a reward include:

  • holding the puppet for the rest of the class
  • leading the class in a song as ‘the puppet’
  • saying ‘Goodbye’ to everyone as ‘the puppet’

Children will be proud to take responsibility for the puppet during the class, and know they must look after it carefully.

10) Making puppets and creating a persona

Making puppets can become a great cross-curricular activity in itself and develop students’ fine motor skills. Get the children to create puppets reflecting characters from their English coursebook or their favourite stories, reflecting themselves or their chosen imaginary characters. By investing with the actual making of these puppets, role play or storytelling will become a lot more personal to the students.

Puppet making can be very simple or more complex.  You can make puppets out of socks or paper bags. Finger puppets can be made out of felt, wool, paper or other materials, or even stick puppets made from lollypop sticks. There a lots of other ways to make great puppets so have fun getting crafty with your students! Looking for some templates to help you get started? Here are some finger puppets featuring some of the much loved characters from OUP’s Show and Tell series!


Kathryn Harper has a background in ELT teaching in both France and Canada. She worked in publishing for 10 years as a grammar and reference editor (OUP), developing-world schools and ELT publisher (OUP and Macmillan), and ELT publisher for Latin America (Macmillan). She has written educational materials for the Middle East, Latin America, and Africa, and is one of the authors of the pre-primary course Show and Tell (OUP).