Shadow Puppet: A solution for shy speakers

The interesting thing about shadows is that you can’t have them without light. Too little light will leave a room in darkness. Too much light can be blinding. For some ELLs, classroom presentations are the equivalent of standing in the spotlight with no opportunity to retreat to the comforting shadows. But if these reserved students never step into the light, their speaking skills will not fully develop.

What if there were a way to reduce the pressure of speaking in front of a group? Could the light be softened or could we not shine it fully in a shy student’s face?

At TESOL 2017, I learned about Shadow Puppet Edu, an app that allows you to compile photos or videos. After making selections from your camera roll or via Shadow Puppet’s safe search feature, you can add text and music to your presentation. More important, you can add narration. You’ll find suggested lesson ideas right in the app store (click here), but since I was lucky enough to be in the Electronic Village at the right time, I viewed sample student projects that were supervised by two Shadow Puppet pros, Heather Snavely and Esther Lee of California State University.

Heather and Esther explained how the app has the potential to create a collaborative, non-intimidating environment. They’ve successfully used the app not only for speaking and pronunciation, but also for reading and writing. Check out all their activities and suggestions: click here. Narration can be free or scripted. Scripted texts allow for revision. Heather and Esther also noted that students can record as many times as they wish, submitting their finished presentation only when they are satisfied with their work.

At the EV, Heather outlined a project for low intermediate students. The task was to summarize important events from Around the World in 80 Days.  Students first wrote summaries and then found pictures to illustrate their texts. They created their Shadow Puppets and the class viewed them all together.

Shadow Puppet creations can be emailed or shared through social media, allowing for presentations to be created during or outside of class time. Are you already getting your own ideas? As an online teacher, I’m thrilled to see a user-friendly app I can use with private students. Individual students can email their creations to me or upload their files to Dropbox. Those studying in small groups can share their final projects on a private Facebook page.

What I like about Shadow Puppet is the use of meaningful images. The very act of compiling images gives students control and ownership before they even press record to start narrating. In some ways, I was reminded of another tool I learned about back at TESOL 2016: Tellagami, a voice-messaging app that pairs voice recordings with animated video. Like Shadow Puppet, Tellagami targets speaking skills without making students physically be in the spotlight. However, Tellagami is more suited for short talks that require no visual support because you only have an animated person on screen.

I’d like to say thank you again to Heather and Esther for teaching me about Shadow Puppet.

Photo credit: Joy, Lucky, Happy, Shadow, Play by bykst. Retrieved from the Public Domain at 

3 Comments Add yours

  1. English Expressions says:

    This is a wonderful idea for students who struggle with presentations!

    1. Yes, I’m happy I learned about this app, too. Thanks for checking out today’s post. 🙂

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