Teaching with Puppets (Without Making It Weird)

Have you ever wondered about using puppets in your teaching? Kids seem to respond to puppets, but given all of the fancy CGI and technology they see in a day, it can feel a little weird asking them to suspend reality when you’ve got a stuffed animal jammed onto your arm. 

wild and furry duck puppet

Here’s the thing: kids are up for the weird. They are ok with a little suspension of disbelief. In fact, several studies show that students relate to puppets like a peer, and therefore process the information they receive from puppets in a different way. Puppets can help with learning retention, social and emotional learning (have two puppets work out a conflict in class, rather than the students), and can deepen language development. 

Puppets are more in the preschool to the elementary category, but some studies indicate that even middle schoolers will relate to puppets to help them navigate all of those new social skills they’re working on!

Row of puppets: tiger, pig, cat, and doctor

I had considered using puppets in my teaching but this idea did not really take off in my practice until about two years ago. I had heard about how wonderful the puppets from the Folkmanis company are and decided to buy my first one which was Snowy the Owl. This would become one of my favorite puppets to use in the classroom! However, as I kept learning more about ways to use puppets, I began acquiring a small collection and using them more and more in my classroom. I found that my primary grade students were much more engaged in the activities we were doing and looked forward to seeing the puppets each time that I entered the classroom.  

Puppets are also great for community building in your classroom. Students that are shy and have a hard time expressing themselves find it much easier to talk to a puppet. I have found that puppets ease tension during those first few months of school and create an atmosphere where my students begin to feel at ease and can laugh at the silliness of the puppet. I have lots of puppet friends that appear throughout the year, and students look forward to going along on our musical journey each time there is a puppet present. 

To show you how it works, I’ve got one puppet and several ideas for how to incorporate “puppetry” into your day. Meet my favorite: Mr. Snowy Owl:

snowy owl puppet

Classroom Management: The turning head of this owl allows Snowy to say yes and no. This comes in handy when I tell my students that Snowy sees and hears everything and ask Snowy for opinions on whether or not they are making good choices. In this way, Snowy is my classroom assistant and is either traveling with me (if I am on a cart) or sitting in a prominent spot in the classroom where all children can see the puppet. Snowy has proven to be quite a hit with my students. I can see Snowy being the assistant in any primary classroom (PreK – 2) where students would appreciate having a stuffed animal to “keep an eye on them.”

 

Vocal Exploration and “Mistake” Making: I teach music so I love to have Snowy fly in the air as the students follow Snowy’s path with their voices. Another fun trick is to stand behind the piano and have Snowy fly up in the air and when it is flying down, have Snowy hit a key. Students burst into laughter every time and it makes the process of warming up so much more fun! I often turn to Snowy and scold the puppet for not following directions. You could easily incorporate this into any sort of vocal warm-ups: repetitions, phonics, math facts… Have your puppet direct recitations or even let them do the “messing up” so students feel better about their own confusion. 

 

ELA/Book Lessons: There are many books written about owls but one of my favorites is Goodnight Owl by Pat Hutchins. I have used this book with my students and even wrote a lesson plan for this book. I sing the lullaby while Snowy is in my lap, and invite all of my students to sing along to Snowy to put the puppet to sleep. This helps to give the lesson more focus since students have someone to sing to, instead of simply singing because they were asked to. This can be used in the regular classroom as well. You can read this story anytime you have circle time, end of the day reading, etc. and the students can sing to the puppet. The worksheets that go with the lesson can be used to check for comprehension the next day. 

elephant puppet

narwhal puppetOther books that work well with puppets:

  •  “Wakey, Wakey, Elephant!” by Linda Ravin Lodding works well with an elephant (obvi.) 
  • Wendell the Narwhal” by Emily Dove is adorable when read by an actual (stuffed) narwhal.

 

 

Vocabulary: If your puppet has a “mouth,” try using the mouth to help your students count syllables. (It’s ok to use legs, feet, fins, or flippers – whatever moves on the puppet!)Or have the puppet guide students through new vocabulary words and take advantage of the “fur face” to over-enunciate as you pronounce things. Students will follow suit as they mimic the puppet and will hear the phonetic changes with more clarity.

How do you use puppets in your classroom? Drop us a hint in the comments!



Sources Referenced:

Belfiore, C. (2016). Puppets talk, children listen. Retrieved from http://www.teachmag.com/archives/5618.

Ronit, R., & Tzuriel, D. (2015). I teach better with the puppet – use of puppet as a mediating tool in kindergarten education – an evaluation. American journal of educational research, 3(3), 356-365. doi: 10.12691/education-3-3-15.

Zelas, Cara. Puppets in the classroom. Retrieved from https://www.worldoflittledude.com/blog/puppets-in-the-classroom/

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