Classroom Management through Community Building

Classroom Management through Community Building

I will never forget my first year of teaching. (Does anyone?) It was such an exhilarating and humbling year! I was living the dream I had held since childhood but also came to the painful realization that I still had a great deal to learn about being an effective teacher.
When I completed that first year, I felt I had been successful overall, but I also knew that I wanted to make some changes in my management system. My experiences with Kevin had made a big impact on me, but it was more than that. I wanted my classroom to feel different- less like I was the “enforcer” and more like I was the “encourager.” [Read more…]

The Kinesthetic Classroom featuring Stacey Shoecraft

Kinesthetic Classroom Meet featured Wonder Teacher, Stacey Shoecraft!

Stacey is a fantastic and energetic 5th grade teacher, and she is passionate about providing her students with kinesthetic learning experiences. I interviewed Stacey to find out how and why she became so dedicated to getting her students moving. I also wanted to learn more about the unique furniture in her classroom.

Susan: This room is amazing! What have you got in here? [Read more…]

Teaching Children to Use Puppets

Tips for teaching children to use puppets

Teachers like puppets! Children like puppets! College professors in Schools of Education even like puppets (I was required to make several for various classes while I was an undergrad.) So why are our classrooms generally puppet-free?

I’ll tell you why: children don’t know how to use puppets and so they end up demonstrating unwanted behaviors: fighting with the puppets, getting loud and silly, spending time off task, etc. The puppet area becomes a hot-spot for misbehavior. Before long, the puppets go into a trash bag and get stuck in a storage cabinet where they live for years until the teacher decides to clean out the closet, usually for a retirement sale. At that point a fresh-eyed young teacher says, “Oh, fun! I’ll buy those for a puppet center in my classroom!” and the cycle begins again.

How can we fix it? The same way we fix most of our problems in education: through good teaching!

Teachers who want to integrate puppets into their instruction need to set clear expectations, model proper puppet use, and provide specific guidelines for puppet projects.

Below I have compiled a list of common puppet problems and my suggested solutions.

Problem #1: Children fight with puppets and don’t know how to use them.

Solution #1: Teach children your expectations for puppet use, model carefully, and give them guided practice time before you make puppets an independent activity. Never assume that children know how to use a material without a proper introduction. Share puppet tips with your students. Teach them how simple movements make puppets “come alive.” Lay down a “No fighting!” rule for the puppets and enforce it firmly. Explain what you expect to see happening in the “puppet center,” demonstrate, and have children practice in pairs or small groups before the center is officially open.

Problem #2: Children “waste time” in the puppet center.

Solution #2: Get clear with yourself about your puppet goals. If you place puppets in a center, what do you expect? Is it truly just an open-ended playtime or do you want to see children engaged in story creation? Is it a place for them to retell familiar stories or do you want them to author new ones? Think carefully about your goals and objectives and plan your instruction accordingly.

Also, beware of general and vague directions such as “Work in a small group to make up a puppet story that you can show the class.” That’s a big project! Maybe a class of 8th graders could pull that off, but it’s quite a chore for young ones. First, your children would need to have experience working in a group in a cooperative manner. Second, what kind of story? Is there a genre you have been studying (such as fairy tales) with specific elements that they can use? They might need a graphic organizer to gather their thoughts. Do you want them to write a script? Will they need one to be successful? This kind of project will need several mini-lessons along the way (with some strong modeling.) Most importantly, what is the goal? Is it for them to write a story with specific elements? To practice their speaking and listening? To work on cooperative group skills? You’ll need to laser focus on your objectives to ensure that the time your students spend with puppets is worthwhile.

* Note: I recommend having young children start with simple retelling in a puppet center before you move on to story creation. For example, put character puppets for a known story in a puppet center along with a copy of the book. Then have the children practice “acting out” the story with the puppets as they flip through the book. You could even put children into small groups and assign them a book you’ve read to the class. They can take turns sharing their “puppet shows.” The “retelling” show is a scaffolded step to creating their own story. They will gain experience working as a team and manipulating the puppets effectively before they have to move on to the bigger job of writing their own story.

Problem #3: The children speak too softly during the puppet show and the audience can’t hear them.

Solution #3: First, you’ll need to address this specifically (the need to project one’s voice for an audience.) However, my even better suggestion is to eliminate the “hidden puppeteer.” As you have seen in my videos, you don’t have to hide behind a stage to be an effective puppeteer. Many modern puppet shows are done with the puppeteers in plain sight. Demonstrate for the children how to be “out in front” with a puppet without doing anything distracting that would take away from the show. (That generally means that the puppeteer should look at the puppet rather than at the audience, even when speaking lines.) Getting the kids out in the open with their puppets often eliminates much of the muffling that happens when they are down under a table or behind a stage.

Problem #4: One student persists in misbehaving with the puppets even though you’ve set clear expectations and modeled them.

Solution #4: It’s time to revoke his/her puppet privileges! I make it known that students who do not follow our “puppet rules” will not be allowed to participate with the puppets. Usually it only takes one “time out” from the puppets, but you might have to provide an alternative assignment. For example, if students are working together on a story retelling of Where the Wild Things Are and one student is repeatedly off task, I might ask him/her to move away from the group and draw a pictorial retelling rather than being allowed to do it with puppets.

If you are really worried about behavior, you could create a “puppet passport” that students can earn once they demonstrate responsible behavior with puppets. Perhaps they are allowed to enter the “puppet center” once they have earned the passport.

Problem #5: I don’t have a puppet theater.

Solution #5: You don’t need one! You don’t need a “setting” at all! In fact, most puppet theaters are too small for more than one or two children at a time (which is one of the things that causes problems and fighting.) If you want a “stage,” use the top of a desk or table. If you want to create “scenery” go right ahead, but it isn’t necessary. Puppets are magical enough on their own to hold the attention of an audience.

I hope these problem-solving tips help you experience some puppet success in your classroom!

Do you have any other problems (or suggested solutions) I could include? I’m here to help!

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photo credit: lewiselementary via photopin cc

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