The main purpose of M. Le Bec is to encourage oral communication from the children. He can be used to reinforce concepts which are being taught. For example, during our unit on food, it came out that M. Le Bec really likes les bananes, because they are jaune, and he has a bec jaune. So every time I would take out the plastic banana, I would make a big show of starting to say something about it, only to have M. Le Bec interrupt me excitedly and start whispering in my ear. I would roll my eyes, feign impatience and report to the children that M. Le Bec says he really likes the bananas. By the third or fourth day, they were able to complete my sentence: "parce que les bananes sont jaunes, et M. Le Bec a un bec jaune!" His daily interruption became an event they would wait for, and they would happily play their part in this little script. They all know the words for bec and banane and jaune very well!
He can also be used to illustrate more concrete concepts. For example, during my Sk circus unit, I had him do a little act on the funambule (tightrope). The children would watch with breathless anticipation to see whether he would make it all the way across before falling. After several VERY close calls, he would inevitably fall (children: "OOOOh! Il tombe! Il tombe!") Finally, on the very last day of the unit, he made it across---to the loud and enthusiastic delight of all the kiddies.
I have also found that M. Le Bec is helpful with the discipline. He doesn't always behave himself perfectly, for example. He lets other people distract him when he is on the carpet, and does not always choose a sensible place to sit. This provides me with openings to discuss such matters with the children, without actually discussing it with them. No child need feel ashamed or rebuked because it is not about them, after all :) And more importantly, M. Le Bec often gets the answer wrong, and responds very nicely to the gentle correction of the children. A wrong answer is not a crisis in my class, and I really believe that the model of M. Le Bec encourages them to try just the same.
I love teaching with my little buddy :) I know the children do too. One of the highlights of the year or me was the parent who came up to me and told me that her child came home one night and asked "Mommy, do you think Joanna knows that M. Le Bec isn't real?" Awww. That's what happens when the writer grows up to be a teacher. Joanna knows, sweetie. She just likes the whole story of him, you know?