Bird Puppets and ESL Practice

Level: K-8 ESL students

Duration: 1-1.5 hour(s)

Educational overview: Birds’ migration patterns, speaking techniques, and ESL practice.

Goals and Objectives: To express creativity and diversity, learn about birds’ migration patterns, practice speaking techniques and ESL, and celebrate the diversity in our classroom. This project was tailored to a group of immigrant students from a variety of countries, who speak a variety of languages, and are of a wide range of ages and ESL skills.

Vocabulary: “Welcome” “Hello” “I am from”

Materials: 3”x5” cards, scissors, glue sticks, crayons, pencils, and bird hand puppet template.


Making Bird Puppets

  1. Draw a feather on a 3”x5” card by creating a line, then then an oval on top of the line, and then decorating the feather. For drawing and decorating the feathers we used pencils and crayons.
  2. Teachers hand out pre-folded bird puppets and students color the puppets with crayons.
  3. Students cut out their feathers and glue them onto their puppets.

Additional Activity: Origami Bird Hand Puppet Handout

Using the puppets to explain diversity in language and countries of origin. 

  1. Teachers demonstrate how to use the bird puppet to speak.
  2. As a group, the students repeat after the teachers as they practice simple phrases in English. We practiced saying “hello,” “welcome,” and “I am from.”
  3. Teachers discuss how many birds migrate from different places like Africa, Mexico, and Australia, to North America in the Spring. We encouraged the students to tell people which country their bird puppet is from.
  4. Students assemble into groups based on their country of origin.
  5. For each country of origin, teachers review some simple phrases in the language most commonly spoken by the students representing said country. The bird puppets should be used when practicing these phrases.
  6. As a class, practice these simple phrases in both whichever native language is being introduced, and in English, continuing to use the bird puppets.

This project was helpful for engaging students who were still beginners at ESL. Using puppets can help language learners feel less self-conscious when practicing pronunciation because it takes away the focus from themselves and onto the puppet. We also highlighted the connection to migrating birds with the same goal in mind of trying to make the students feel more secure and less self-conscious about their experiences as immigrants. Our goal was to empower the students to see themselves, their experiences, and their language skills outside of ESL as valuable. This project could also easily be repeated with a group of students who all speak the same language by simply skipping the group assembly based on country of origin.

I noticed one student, who in previous lessons was very reluctant to engage, happily engage and enjoy himself for the first time when teaching other phrases in his native language. Reaching out to students with whom we share different life experiences and speaking about those differences in a positive manner can be very beneficial, especially for students who might feel very different from most of their peers because of language, ethnicity, country of origin or any other reason. I found a positive experience in speaking to one group of students about the languages I speak, to try to connect with their multilingual experiences. We shared with each other and taught each other different words in Burmese, Malay, English, and French. For many beginner ESL students, it can be beneficial to hear their teachers reach out to them in their own language and empower their intelligence in their native language, rather than only measuring their intelligence by their ESL skills, especially if they are living in an English-speaking country.