World Puppetry Day - Tuesday 21st March

Tuesday 21st March heralds World Puppetry Day, which came into action thanks to puppeteer Dzhivada Zolfagari. Although there is not a huge amount of information regarding this particular annual event, my own personal interest of using of puppets as an educational tool motivated me to delve a little deeper into the subject.

Puppetry is a form of theatre or performance involving the manipulation of puppets (an inanimate object), usually taking the form of a personal or an animal. There are a huge variety of different puppets such as finger puppets, sock puppets, hand puppets and the classical Marionettes.

They can be made with a range of diverse materials (from soft fabrics to wood and even paper) and can come in all different shapes and sizes. Typically, the actions, gestures and spoken parts are acted out by the puppets in storytelling, with the help of the puppeteer who manipulates and brings the character to life.

My interest in puppets started when I was a child. I was fascinated by Marionette puppets and the idea of bringing them to life but sadly, I found the strings too difficult to manipulate and it wasn´t until much later when I was formally studying Theatre, Drama and the Arts that my interest was sparked once more.

During my years of formal training, I was given instruction on how to use puppets as well as other  theatrical techniques such as mask work. Although this was always used in an adult-context, when I jumped off the beaten path and into terrifying, new waters (teaching!) I could finally put my knowledge into practice and could use the techniques I had studied in the classroom.

The first character I ever used in an educational context was a character from the formal literacy programme Jolly Phonics. He is a lush, red hand puppet called Snake that thankfully, helped me find my way with young Spanish students when I was a novice teacher. I was terrified of my class and, at the time, had no way of communicating with them as my vocabulary was limited to “hello”, “goodbye” and “I´m sorry but I don´t speak Spanish”.

Snake helped me “talk” to my students and along with my drama skills such as gesture, body language and “voice”, life-long love of literacy and stories, songs and a sheer stubbornness to survive, I fell in love with being a teacher. I found that puppets also helped give the children “voices” too. Speaking or interacting with Snake was often easier for young children that talking directly to me (the teacher) and for shy children, it gave them confidence and a means of self-expression.

Puppets also help reinforce creativity in the classroom. You can use them to develop different personalities, for example Kitty is very shy, Fred is bashful and Wolf is one of the main characters in the Three Little Pigs. Puppets are also safe, easy to use and they do not have to be expensive (there are lots of finger puppets templates that you can find by trawling the internet).

I still own and use Snake as he has always been my most popular puppet throughout my career, but many years later I have added to our “puppet family” and apart from my other two Jolly Phonics puppets (Bee and Inky the Mouse), I have a variety of different hand and finger puppets and even picked up some googly eyes that helped me create the Duck, used in order to encourage fine-motor skills and hand movements with young children.

If you are still new to puppetry and are looking for some simple tips on how to use your characters, then why not check out John Harrops´website. John is famous for his use of puppets with ESL-learners and has experience of all different levels, from very young learners to teens and adults! You can find the link to his page below.

Do you use puppets in your classroom or at home? What are your top tips for other educators? Please leave your comments below.


When to use Jolly Phonics?

In the UK, Jolly Phonics is introduced as a reading and writing scheme for 4-5 year old children and although many of us have had some success introducing the programme in the first year of preschool (3 year olds), it can actually be better to wait until the children are a bit older for them to be able to gain the knowledge necessary to be able to put their (new) skills into practice.


Jolly Phonics uses 5 core skills that are fundamental to the effective teaching of reading, writing and spelling and whilst I applaud parents, teachers and schools for implementing the method at home or at school with Very Young Learners, it is not always used as effectively as it should be, which can then have negative effects on the students grasp of the very complicated English Alphabetical Code and reading and writing in the future.

The Jolly Phonics Handbook is based on the first year of a formal literacy programme and is designed for 4-5 year old children (or beginners). The rate of introduction of the letter sounds should be between 2-4 per week, although external factors such as hours of English sessions per week and the age of the students should also be taken into consideration.

As there are 42 letter sounds to introduce in the first year or Handbook, even if one or two sounds are introduced on a weekly basis, you will still work through the vast majority, if not all of the sounds within 9 months.

What needs to be avoided is introducing and revising the Jolly Phonics Handbook or 42 letter sounds over the course of 2-3 years. Why? Because, the children will forget the letter sounds that they have learned over time, leading to sessions that are dedicated to revision of the sounds rather than progressing forwards with reading and writing. It is not enough to introduce the Jolly Songs and actions, which are used primarily as Mnemonic techniques for the first few weeks or months of the programme, not as tools for reading, writing or spelling.

For more information on using a synthetic phonics programme with young learners at home or in a school then please contact Beki Wilson at