How to Get Puppets for Your Classroom

How to get puppets for your classroom

So now that we’ve spent some time on puppet skills, you are ready to use them in your teaching. If you don’t already have some puppets for your classroom, where can you get them?

Here are my three best sources for pre-made puppets:

1- Yard Sales, Thrift Stores, and Kid Consignment Sales/ Stores:

Most people are drawn to puppets but, sadly,  just don’t know what to do with them. As a result, you can often find puppets for super-discounted prices at sales and discount shops. Start keeping your eye out for them, and if you have a friend or relative who likes to “yard sale” for fun, tell him/her to pick up puppets when they are available. You’ll build up a collection in no time!

2- Let your school families know that you collect puppets and appreciate receiving them as donations or gifts.

It’s almost time for my annual teacher gift list post (see last year’s suggested gift list here.) Often families are happy to donate the puppets collecting dust on their shelves or cluttering the playroom floor. They also love having a good suggestion for an inexpensive class gift for occasions such as Christmas and Teacher Appreciation Week. Make it known that you love puppets!

3- Shop Smart!

As you know, puppets are widely available in stores. I see them in toy shops, bookstores, and often even discount retailers like TJ Maxx. However, sometimes you might be looking for a particular character or you want to purchase a set. Here are a few of my favorite online shopping spots:

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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

Puppets that Teach Content

Tips for teaching content with puppets

I have been loving this puppet series! I think the best part for me is hearing from so many teachers who have found the courage to give puppets a try for the first time. Many of you have written to say that you’ve always wanted to use puppets but just didn’t have the confidence to start. I’m thrilled that my little videos have given you the boost you needed! Keep writing to let me know how it goes for you- I’d love to share some of your stories or link to your blogs.

We’ve already discussed the power of a mascot puppet. A recurring character can help you build community, manage behavior, and add a lot of fun to your school day.

Today I want to propose the idea of a temporary character puppet designed to enhance a specific subject or area of your curriculum. There are three questions to ask yourself when you want to connect content to a puppet.

1) Is the puppet going to do some teaching? If so, the puppet can act as an authority on the subject matter. It can reinforce the objective of the lesson, share information and facts, or even quiz the students before a test. (Remember to try some active response strategies!)

Think of an alien puppet teaching the children about outer space, or a flower puppet talking about what plants need to survive.

2) Will the puppet be a recurring character or a one-time guest? Some puppets work nicely throughout the year. For instance, an “Einstein Bear” (above) could come out to introduce each new science unit and talk about science process skills. Or, you could get more specific and use a puppet with a particular unit. For example, a “mail carrier” could teach children about letter writing. Or a frog puppet could teach children about the life cycle of amphibians. The possibilities are endless!

3) Will the children be using the puppets? Engaging children with content-specific puppets can often take it to the next level. For instance, what if you put children into small groups, gave each one an animal puppet, and assigned them to research their animals, build them a group habitat, and bring the puppets to life in order to tell the class what they learned? Each child could speak through their puppet during the presentation, explaining how their puppets are interrelated within the habitat, adaptations, etc.

There are a zillion ways to teach content with puppets! Here are a few fun ones that I have either used myself or seen used in the classroom:

Math puppet 1. Math-Magician: I have a little wizard puppet who sometimes appears during our math lessons. Often he is there to introduce the main objective of the lesson, share a new problem-solving strategy, or issue awards/ recognition for children who have achieved math goals (like mastery of multiplication facts.) There are so many ways to use a “math magician” in your teaching!

The Wizard puppet pictured here is really nice looking! I would like to find him in my Christmas stocking! My wizard is a small cone puppet that came with a math kit years ago, but guess what? He works just fine! Puppets don’t have to be expensive or elaborate to be effective!

(But I still want that wizard!)

Book Bear Puppet 2. Book Bear: I have written before about the power of previewing books with the goal of “selling” them to your students and making them appealing for silent reading time. A puppet is great for this! I like a “book bear” but you could use anything you want, a “book bee” or a “book bunny” or a “library lizard” or whatever you want! (Alliteration required) 😉

I must confess that I don’t have a bear puppet as nice as the one pictured here. (Though he is now on my Amazon wish list along with the wizard! His hands actually hold things… like books!… and his mouth moves.)

Any puppet works for making books special. Once a week he/she can come out with a little bag of 3 or 4 books that the puppet wants to show the children. I like to make the puppet talk so he can tell the children what he likes about each book. Sometimes the puppet even loans books to specific students that he thinks will enjoy them. (i.e.- “I brought this book for Jonathan because I know he likes books about football.”) A “puppet-endorsed” book is powerful indeed!

My bear is actually a stuffed animal from the Build-A-Bear store. I just hold him and move his parts a bit while he “talks” to the children about the books. Then they can take turns snuggling him while they read. Works like a charm!

Letter puppets 3. Letter puppets– I first saw letter puppets used during a state reading conference session back in the 1990s. I attended a workshop led by a classroom teacher. I wish I could remember her name and more of her ideas! What I do remember is that she had a table full of homemade puppets (simple ones made of cardboard, laminated cardstock, felt, etc.) that she used to teach her students. I remember in particular that she had letter puppets that looked a lot like the example in the photo (via the Kids Activities Blog– check it out for an easy DIY for these kinds of puppets- so easy and fun to make!) She didn’t use them for a “letter of the week” activity- they were more connected to phonics rules, spelling patterns, etc. For example, she demonstrated how “e” had to leave the end of the word if “ing’ wanted to connect to it.  Think about the “word work” you do with your students. Could you make it more engaging with a cast of letter puppets?

There are so many ideas! I’d like to make sharing puppet characters a recurring feature on Wonder Teacher. If any of you have puppet ideas for us, please let me know. I’d love to post your photo or blog link for others to see!

Next I’ll have some suggestions for helping children learn to use puppets effectively. They are a great teaching tool!

top photo credit: paijailu via photopin cc

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