Itís Popping Up Penguins: ESL Inspiration from Mr. Popperís Penguins

Itís Popping Up Penguins
ESL Inspiration from Mr. Popperís Penguins

Susan Verner
by Susan Verner 7,523 views |

With the Jim Carey feature film set to be released June 17, 2011, penguins will be popping up all over this summer.

This live action movie is based on the book Mr. Popper’s Penguins written by Richard and Florence Atwater, a Newbery Honor book. The charming story unfolds around Mr. Popper who is professionally successful but struggling to maintain relationships with his children. When Mr. Popper inherits six penguins from his father, you will not believe what begins to happen to Mr. Popper. This crazy comedy is ripe for use in the ESL classroom, so pull up an iceberg and get ready for some fun.

Mr. Popper’s Penguins: ESL Inspiration Treasure?

  1. 1

    Animals and their Habitats

    You would not expect penguins to thrive after a move from Antarctica to the big city, but in this movie, they somehow make it work. The relocation of Mr. Popper’s penguins is a perfect opportunity to review two key areas of vocabulary with your students. First, review animals and the vocabulary associated with them. You might want to turn your classroom into a zoo posting pictures of different animals in different parts of the room. In each area, post a large piece of paper for your students to write on. Invite them to write any facts about each animal or its natural environment that they learn. They can also draw pictures of the animal’s natural habitat. This class project will allow your students to do research about animals that interest them and also learn information from their classmates. After a set amount of time (three days to one week) take a trip to the “zoo” and visit the animals. Read what students have written and encourage your students to share what they like about each animal or interesting facts they learned.

    Along with animal vocabulary, you can review weather vocabulary. Do this when describing each animals natural habitat asking students what they know and filling in the facts they do not know. You can teach words like desert, Antarctic, rain forest, arid, polar, equator and others less common weather words that you may not cover in the daily weather check in. You can talk about terrain, rainfall and temperature (in Celsius as well as Fahrenheit). You can also include vocabulary on the continents and compare which animals live on which continents. Additionally, give your class an opportunity to share what they know about the weather in their home country and what types of animals live there. This is a great opportunity for your students to learn more about their native countries and then share it with the rest of the class. Do they experience four seasons? Talk about the typical weather with the simple present tense.

  2. 2

    Under One Condition…

    Talking about environments around the world is one thing, but talking about the condition of someone’s home is something different. Some very unexpected events eventually transform Mr. Popper’s posh city penthouse into a winter wonderland. He ends up with ice on the floor and snow in the air. This is a natural place for you to talk about the conditional tense. If the apartment is cold, then the penguins will be more comfortable. If the bathtub is full of ice, then the penguins can feel like they are at home. If Mr. Popper does not watch the penguins, they will run away. If someone finds the penguins, then they will put the penguins in a zoo. What else might happen in the movie? What would happen to your students if they inherited penguins? What would they do? If I inherited penguins… Allow your students to use their imaginations in hypothetical situations and practice if…then statements.

    Let your kids talk in pairs asking each other “what if” questions. What if your apartment was full of snow? What if your dog could talk? What if you had flippers instead of feet? Encourage them to use their imaginations, the more unusual the question the better. Make an if…then chart and display it in your classroom. Set up your chart with two columns labeled “if” and “then”. Under each column, place the appropriate half of the conditional statement. Let each child make at least one contribution to the chart. Bring some art into the activity by giving your students some time to illustrate their favorite statements. Display the pictures next to the statement on the chart. You may be surprised at how creative children can be.

  3. 3

    Pet Shop

    Penguins are fairly strange to have as pets. No matter where your students are from, it is probably safe to assume that they have never had a penguin for a pet. You might be surprised, though, what types of animals they have had for pets. Children have love for all kinds of living creatures and will not limit that love to dogs and cats. Take some time to do a pet show and tell. If you can, allow your students to bring their actual pets into the classroom and share about them. Alternatively, if they cannot bring their actual pets, have them bring a photo and share with the class. You may have students that have had birds, fish, hermit crabs, snakes, frogs, squirrels, raccoons and any number of other animals. You can then use these photos to create a pet parade and post them along the wall of your classroom.

    After sharing about pets, you can ask your students to give advice to the rest of the class about taking care of that type of pet. Review the structure “You should” and then invite children to finish from their experience. You should take your dog for a walk. You should feed it once a day. You should give it clean water. You should pet it and scratch it behind the ears. This is a great opportunity for your students to share their expertise and boost their confidence.

    You can also turn a pet show and tell into a writing activity. After you post the pictures on the wall and each student has shared about his or her pet, have each student write about someone else’s pet without using the pet’s name or the owner’s name. Have them write a physical description of the animal. Then, read these descriptions to the class and see if the other students can match the description to the photos. This part game part writing exercise will be a fun puzzle for your students to solve.

Penguins in the summer?

When a live action movie is based on a classic piece of children’s literature, it is not so impossible to believe. You can do many activities with your ESL class when it comes to talking about animals. These are only a few. Have fun with them and add ideas of your own. If you are lucky, this may be the perfect opportunity for a field trip, popcorn not included.

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