The Origin of Mr. Trunk, my travel buddy – and a stuffed elephant


It was a hot afternoon – like 300 other in a typical Goiânia year – a little over a year ago and I had just finished a frustrating lesson with my CEFR-B2 group. Nothing had worked as intended that day. I wasn’t particularly motivated, my students were even less and misbehavior and distractions took over. I had to intervene many times and getting the almost 20 teenagers to listen to me simply failed.

“I need to teach them to be more responsible”. Those words echoed in my head as I left for home. The next day of class, a couple of hours before the lesson, I had to go to Lojas Americanas in the mall near my apartment. “I need to teach them to be more responsible” was still ringing in my mind as I walked toward the exit line. That was when I saw it. Fluffy, furry and gray. With its protruding trunk sticking out of an enormous basket. Alongside this fluffy finding of mine, there were tens of other fluffy friends. Giraffes, dogs, cats, a lion, owls, a dolphin and, as usual, bears. But my eyes were drawn to its trunk. I bought it for 12 reais and took it to my classroom.

In the classroom, I kept it a secret until the last ten minutes of the lesson. Then I started an improvised lecture about how responsibility is important and that normally parents give their kids pets when they want to teach them to be more responsible. Well, I wasn’t going to give them a puppy or a kitten, right? I had something slightly different. And finally the revelation: I pulled it out of my bag. A 25cm stuffed elephant. Can you imagine what my students thought when I did that? They were 15-17 years old and, that’s what I think anyway, not particularly fond of stuffed animals anymore. That was for kids, right? However, to my surprise, they immediately clicked with this fluffy and furry little thing.

Our new elephant had yet to be named. One student thought trump meant trunk because it sounds like the Portuguese word “tromba” and that’s the name we gave it: Mr. Trump. In my defense, it came from one of my students and we had no idea the word Trump would bring so many negative emotions then. Anyway, my first student to take Mr. Trump home was Bruna. I asked her to photograph Mr. Trump in pleasant situations and tell me what it had done in the following class. Soon enough everyone wanted to take Mr. Trump home and spend some time with it. Since then, more than 30 students have spent some quality time with this adventurous elephant.

Mr. Trump became popular among my students, colleagues, and friends. I took Mr. Trump on its very first international trip in July last year. Upon our arrival, a friend told me to change its name to avoid hard feelings. Wise advice. Mr. Trump became Mr. Trunk. It became a he. He gained life in my classes and became part of my students’ life. It is truly amazing what a stuffed animal can do when used right. My lessons became more affective. I felt more connected with my students because they took Mr. Trunk home and photographed him with their families, living their lives, having fun with them.

Today, one year later, I couldn’t be more proud of my travel buddy who, by the way, has been to five countries already! Yeah, that’s right. He’s been to the USA, Mexico, Argentina, Paraguay, and Portugal. He’s also been to a lot of different states in Brazil and he wants to keep going further. He travels with me, my student’s, friends and even my wife. And he enjoys it very much. He told me his favorite place so far was Mexico.

Mr. Trunk is a fun guy who loves a challenge and is always with me, attending conferences, delivering lessons and lectures, training teachers, learning. Many people I meet want to take a picture with him. If you want to find out more about this fearless young elephant, use the hashtag #mrtrunktravels on social media. Thanks, buddy. You rock! To honor you, I’ve made this video:

I hope you like the story of my friend and I’d like to invite you to a challenge. I will ask a couple of questions below about how to use Mr. Trunk in the classroom and I promise I’ll record a video answering them as soon as possible. But before I do, why don’t you give them a shot here:

-how can you use Mr. Trunk with teens?

-how can you use Mr. Trunk with adults?

-how could you teach grammar and vocabulary using Mr. Trunk?

PS: I thought my idea of a traveling puppet was original. Boy/girl,  was I wrong! There are many projects with this concept and a great one to get involved with is iEARN’s The Teddy Bear Project. Also, check out Juan Uribe’s wonderful work with Buddy the Frog and affective learning.

Published by

André Hedlund

André Hedlund is a Chevening Scholar from Brazil, MSc in Psychology of Education from the University of Bristol in the UK, and a pedagogical consultant for National Geographic Learning. He has been an EFL teacher for over 15 years and has worked both as an academic coordinator and a CamLa (Cambridge and Michigan Language Assessments) examiner at a Brazilian Binational Center. Currently, he is the president of an ONG called Partners of the Americas Goiás and the representative of the Brazilian TESOL's Mind, Brain, and Education Special Interest Group in the Midwest.

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