Tips for Teaching with Talking Puppets

Puppet ideas for teachers

Now that I’ve introduced you to the silent class mascot puppet, let’s move on to talking puppets.

Learning to make puppets talk increases your options. You can connect to academic content. You can reveal a recurring character  who has a specific role in your teaching. Or you can introduce a talking class mascot who will visit your students all year.

The talking mascot puppet has all the positive community building and management aspects of a silent mascot puppet, but this one is even more engaging because it talks! It’s also the easiest way to start when learning how to manipulate and “talk” with a puppet to your students.

Check out this video to meet my favorite talking mascot puppet, Red. You’ll find the written version of my video tips below.

Tips for Talking Puppets:

1- Plan and practice (at least when you are getting started.) When you first bring a talking puppet to life, it’s important to think ahead about what it’s going to say. Who is this character and what kind of personality will it have? Plan a few lines and decide the general topic of conversation. You don’t need to memorize a script (that will seem too forced.) However, it’s helpful to think about what you will say when you introduce the puppet, what the puppet might say, etc. Practicing in a mirror ahead of time always makes for a better puppet experience.

2- Choose a puppet voice carefully. It’s important to give your puppet its own “voice” but be careful not to make it so strange that the children struggle to understand. A slightly higher or lower voice than your own usually does the trick. Accents can also be fun but make sure it’s one you can perform consistently.

3- Don’t try to be a ventriloquist. I’ve seen some people try to hide the fact that they are talking for their puppet and it’s usually not successful. You have to be a fairly professional ventriloquist to pull it off, and most teachers just don’t have time for that. Besides, the kids really don’t care that you are doing the talking for your puppet. They know it’s a puppet! This goes back to the point I made in my General Puppet Tips post about drawing children into the realm of imagination while also being clear that you are the one manipulating the puppet.

4- Be funny without being sarcastic. Talking puppets work especially well with older children because they can be funny and relatable. However, we’ve all known teachers who cross the line from gentle teasing and humor into sarcasm and humiliation. That’s not OK, and should be avoided at all times. The trick is that we need to be especially vigilant when talking through a mascot puppet, because in the attempt to make the kids laugh with the puppet, it’s easy to get too close to that line. Sometimes your puppet will say something that surprises you! That’s why planning some bits of your puppet’s conversation is important. If you plan funny lines ahead of time, you can be sure that are appropriate and helpful.

5- When possible, choose puppets with a movable mouth. It’s fun to work with a talking puppet when you can make the mouth move. Of course, you can always make puppets talk that don’t have a moving mouth- like Mr. Rogers! Remember X the Owl, Henrietta Pussycat, and King Friday? Those puppets are some of my all-time favorites!

6- Don’t forget that small movements keep your puppet “alive.” As I noted in my “General Tips” post, it’s important to keep your puppet “alive” through movement even when it’s not talking. For example, is it looking around the room? Moving its arms? Looking at you while you talk and nodding its head periodically? Think about simple movements that will help “sell” the puppet to the children.

If making puppets “talk” is new to you, start with a talking mascot. It’s a casual and fun way to get used to the art form.

Once you have gotten comfortable, there are so many wonderful ways you can teach with puppets!

Coming up... my friend (and professional puppeteer) Becky Becker shares some of her puppet magic with us. It is not to be missed!

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  1. Chrissy Greenman says:

    I love Red! Fraggle Rock was one of my favorite shows!! I am loving your puppet ideas!

  2. Christi Beth says:

    I’m an elementary school librarian. I’ve always wanted to introduce puppets to my kindergarten classes but just wasn’t sure about my technique. You gave me the skills and courage to start!

    Christi Beth

    • Christi Beth- That makes my day! Thanks so much for taking the time to write your encouraging comment. I know your kindergarteners will LOVE puppets. Remember there really isn’t a *right* way to do it, and if it doesn’t go well the 1st time, problem-solve and try again. You’ll be a pro in no time! Best wishes to you! :-)

  3. Wow great informative post! I’m going to share this with all the puppeteers at Kazoobu Kids.
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