Teaching English with Stuffed Animals and Puppets

This week’s featured Sprout English lesson plan is all about hippos! I was excited to see the Did You Know lesson featured, because I wrote it when my young daughter was obsessed with hippos. She had a large collection of stuffed hippo pals, and while writing this lesson I learned that these animals aren’t as cute as they look. Hippos are such interesting creatures! Did you know that hippos wear sunscreen?

Stuffed animals and puppets can make fun and educational guest appearances in the young learner classroom. Invite your students to bring in a favorite stuffed animal to class. You may even want to ask the kids to leave a stuffed friend in a cubby at school. Create a sign up sheet, and have students write down the type of animal they plan to bring in. If a number of students plan on bringing a stuffed bear, try to encourage them to bring in a toy that is more unique, like a hippo!

Here are some fun activities and ideas for combining language learning with stuffed animal fun!

What does a hippo say? Pronunciation and vowel practice
Did you know that animals make different sounds in different languages? It’s a hoot to teach English learners what animals “say” in English. If you have a multilingual class, you’ll get some really fun answers. When the stuffed animals arrive, sit in a circle and teach your students what all of the stuffed animals say in English. If you don’t know the sound, work together to make something up. (The hippos at my house say “hippo hippo”.) Invite your students to tell you what the animals say in their own language, too. After your students learn the sounds, sing your own version of Old MacDonald Had a Farm. Change Old MacDonald to your name, and instead of E-I-E-I-O, use the vowel letters.

Young Miss Benwell had a class, A-E-I-O-U. And in her class she had a cat. A-E-I-O-U. With a meow meow here, and a meow, meow there…here a meow, there a meow, everywhere a meow meow. Young Miss Benwell had a class, A-E-I-O-U.

Use this song as a sneaky way to help your learners remember the letters that are vowels.

Animal Interviews Practicing question words
Put your students in pairs. Write the five main “wh” question words on the board. Have students interview each other about their stuffed animals. If your students need help creating questions, you can put the following examples on the board.

  • Who did you bring to class?
  • What is your animal’s name?
  • Where did you get this animal?
  • When did you get this animal?
  • Why did you choose this animal to be your guest?

Invite your students to introduce each other’s stuffed animal to the class.

Stuffed Animal Students Teaching as a form of learning
One of the best ways to learn is to teach. If you have a place to store a classroom set of stuffed animals, or if your students are open to leaving a toy at school, you can have your students pretend that the animals are the students. After you teach something new that you want your students to remember, have them teach their stuffed friends. You can put the kids in groups of four for this (two teachers and two animal pals). Your students can teach their stuffed students all sorts of vocabulary (colors, numbers, nations, body parts), as well as pronunciation, and more…

Zoo Tag Reviewing vocabulary
Play this game outside. Have your students bring their stuffed animals outside for a game of freeze tag. The person who is “it” (the zookeeper) must try to catch the others to join the zoo. When the zookeeper gets close, a person must name the animal they are holding and freeze. After freezing once, that person must swap animals with another person. If a person doesn’t swap, he or she can be tagged and brought into the zoo at any time. People in the zoo become “it” as well. Who will be the last animal to remain free? Once your students learn all of the animals, you could change it to food. To avoid being tagged, the person has to shout out what kind of food their animal eats.

Bossy Bear Practicing imperative verbs
This is a simple variation of the popular movement game known as Simon Says. Have your students take turns being at the front of the class with one of the stuffed animals. They should give the animal a fun name, such as Bossy Bear, Happy Hippo, or Shy Sheep. The other students should stand up (with or without) their own stuffed animal.

Bossy Bear says hop on one foot. Bossy Bear says close your eyes. Bossy Bear says stick your tongue out. Sing a song!

Whoever does the action when the student didn’t say “Bossy Bear” at the beginning replaces the person at the front of the class. Use a new animal each time if your students bring in their own.

Check out the Sleeping Bunnies Song in Activities and Games For Young Language Learners. Have your students hold their animals as they sing and move about.

Adventures with Juan and Buddy the Frog Recommended resource
Juan Uribe has fantastic ideas for teaching English to children. Check out his videos with Buddy The Frog. Buddy currently lives in Toronto, but he has been on some fun adventures to Egypt, Japan, and France. Show these videos to your young learners!

Teaching with Bear (or your own puppet mascot) Recommended resource
Mary Slattery has tips and resources for teaching with a classroom mascot. Her personal teaching assistant Bear has lots of tricks for getting kids to open up and speak out loud. Mary Slattery is the author of the ELTons winning book “Teaching With Bear”.

Find our lesson about hippos in Sprout English’s Discovery Center – Animals. You’ll find lessons about other animals, too!


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Tara Benwell

Tara Benwell is a freelance writer and editor who specializes in materials and articles for the ELT industry. She is the media director and head writer for ESL-Library, and a contributor to its sister site Sprout English. Tara is the author of an iPad storybook series for kids called Happy Campers Books. Her debut novel, The Proper Order of Things is available on Amazon and in the iBookstore.

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