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Archive for puppets in education

The Postcard Project

We’ve got an awesome little project going. It came about when I was about to take Dave into the classroom to teach a postcard lesson. My sister was in South Africa at the time and I had this bright idea.

I emailed her to ask her to send Dave a postcard, from his Uncle Sol, with something about Africa. Uncle Sol is out and about in the world, and sends Dave postcards occasionally about things he’s doing or places he’s visited.

The first one came from South Africa…

It reads “Dear Dave the Monkey, Having a lovely time here in Africa. Wish you were here. Love Uncle Sol

It also came with a letter telling Dave of Uncle Sol’s adventures, seeing lions, being chased by giraffes and being peed on by a tortoise. Unsurprisingly, the kids thought that was hilarious.

Today, another postcard came, this time from London!

It reads “Dear Dave, as you can probably guess, I’m in London this time. It’s cold and grey and the streets are confusing but it’s very ancient and has lots of history. I’m working my way across England washing dishes so a friend wrote this card for me while I’m working. Love your Uncle Sol

So exciting! We hadn’t heard from Uncle Sol for a while, we were wondering what he was up too!

These postcards are awesome in the classroom for discussing other countries or places, for introducing post card writing, which is shorter and snappier than letter writing (and leads onto an art lesson as the students have to decorate the back of the post cards too!) and an awesome reason to take a puppet to class.

You can read more about the postcard lesson I did with Dave here.

Can’t wait to see where Sol is next!


Because somehow this didn’t make it up the first time

What does puppetry in the classroom look like? This image is really to accompany this post: https://terriblecomfort.wordpress.com/2010/06/07/puppets-in-the-classroom/ but somehow we didn’t load it up at the time.

puppet ripples in the classroom

My current school was visited by children from my last school the other day. The kids from my old class all came running up to me for hugs and then chats. The very first question that ALL of them asked was – “Did Dave get voted chief monkey?” When I told them that yes, Dave had won, they all got very excited. There was smiled and shouts of YES! with fists pumped in the air like they’d won a race themselves, rather than a monkey puppet they met once winning a pretend election.

One of the girls came up to me to tell me that for her final project for this year, she’d made puppets. She said that her mum couldn’t work out how to make mouths that opened and closed, but that they had sticks on their arms to move their arms around. I was so proud that she’d made puppets for her project. It made me feel like I’d made a difference in their class.

Today, I got a Christmas present from one of my students. It’s an awesome hand puppet of a lion. It’s got a great expression and a little flower on it’s belly. I’m so wrapped! I love that a) I got a present from one of the kids, how nice is that, and b) that it’s a little hand puppet.

Puppets make me happy. And clearly they make other people happy too!

Uses for a puppet company in the classroom

I love being in a puppet company, I love making the puppets, creating the shows, solving performance problems and I even love performing the shows, which I was unsure about in the beginning.

But something else that I’ve discovered that’s wonderful about running a puppet company is the usefulness outside the theatre space. For instance, I am a Primary School teacher by day, and recently I had to teach my students about Persuasive Text. Although it’s a text type that is required to be taught in schools, there’s very few interesting examples on the net that I could find. One of the best was a open letter to children about why they should wear sunscreen. It was very colourful in it’s layout and presentation but the students were bored with it the minute they started reading it.

Teachers everywhere have been creating their own resources to teach their students since teaching realised it needed examples, but since I have access to Terrible Comfort, I can quickly and easily make some awesome things that engage the children instantly and leave them begging to see it again. And again. And again.

So, for persuasive text, I asked Dave, our favourite monkey puppet, if he’d try to convince the kids of something. We filmed it and put it up on YouTube, you can find it here.

Not only did the students love the clip, they fell around laughing at it and it influenced the rest of the unit. when we tried to think up reasons our parents should let us have a pet, they wanted a pet monkey (and then thought of 35 reasons that it would be a good idea. 35! and then more the next day as well!) and for a few weeks most of the drawings produced include monkeys in some way. I consider that I managed to capture their attention with that one!

But what I love about it is it’s so easy. We come up with an idea (how about Dave trying to convince them that pigs can fly?) we film, we edit and we put it up, 40 mins from go to whoa and we’re done. So easy to capture their attention and engage them in the subject matter.

But it’s not just about the technology. Although the kids love watching stuff on the digital projector, it’s about the subject matter. In one of my teaching rounds, the teacher would wheel out a tv and video and press play. There was an old man in front of a black board teaching the kids phonetics. They, and indeed the teacher, referred to him as Mr Boring as he chanted the different sounds and spellings of the English language. The kids up the back put their heads on their desks and slept or stared out the windows while half of the class chanted along. The nickname alone gives you an indication of how well he was recieved. He would finish the lesson with a reading from a good wholesome book or the bible. Great way to capture the imagination of a child!

Dave is so easy to work with, and making a clip is quick and fun. I’m so thrilled I can make resources that the kids love and learn from so eagerly. I’m thinking I’ll get Dave a mortar board and gown next!


Musing on the show now it’s done

Owl in Spotlight – Salem Witch Trial

So the show went well. We had a ball doing Owl in Spotlight, and we learnt a bunch of things. One thing that we were exploring with this show was making a puppet show for all ages. It wasn’t a kid show, specifically for kids with little to no adult interest (as I envision (but don’t know) that something like The Wiggles are) but instead we tried to make a show that everyone could watch. We advertised it as an all ages show and waited (a little nervously) to see what would happen. We thought the content was fine for children, but we were hoping the kids and parents thought so too!

We did have a mainly adult audience. Kids came, not in droves, but they did come, with parents in tow. We had a special offer that if you came in costume you got a discount. Only the kids turned up in costume. We had witches, wizards, vampires and a zombie with bleeding bullet holes in his head. Much more gruesome than the show’s content! The night the zombie came I knew that our show was fine.

We had two sets of school groups in on different nights, each wanted a 10 min Q&A session after the show. The first group were a year 9 drama class. They asked us questions such as “what was your inspiration for the show?”, “How long did it take you to make all the puppets?”, “How long did you rehearse for?” and that kind of question. We discovered that we answer questions in an entertaining but overly long fashion. We need to learn to be more succinct. But they had some great questions that really got us thinking.

The second class was a high school literacy class. They had different kinds of questions. “Which is your favourite puppet and why?”, “How did you write the play?” which we also found interesting, but for different reasons. The drama class wanted to know about the performance, the show and the nuts and bolts of how we put it together. Which makes sense, since that’s what they’re learning in school. The lit class were more interested in the story and the words. Again, sensible, and interesting to note. Different people come to the show to watch different things.

So the show is down and the puppets are stored away, but it’s nice to know that the Owl legacy lives on. Our youngest audience member, a tiny 3 year old girl, was dreadfully cute during the show. She was very quiet almost the whole time, bar when something was creeping up on our heroine, Dort, from behind (a tiny “oh no!”) and whenever Chuck Norris was on stage (“babbit!”). Her mother tells us that she’s now obsessed with rabbits and carries a toy one constantly around with her, one that has previously been totally ignored her entire, short life. We were very touched. Her parents are also trying to teach her how to say “Chuck Norris”, however they report that they are still a way off.


old style puppets and performers

An old man called Norman Brown came to perform at our school the other day. He told jokes, juggled, could play a massive variety of instruments (including a bass oboe and a keyed bugle which was 200 years old and made before they’d invented trumpets) and he also had a bunch of trick marionettes and a ventriloquist dummy that he’s clearly been using for a long time.

The trick marionettes were fantastic to watch. I’ve read about old style trick marionettes in books and online but this was the first time I’ve ever seen them in use. There was a sausage dog that ran all over the kids and then balanced a bone on it’s nose, there was a clown that walked up to a acrobat bar, hung from it and flipped around (imagine a puppet with strings to a controller doing that!) and there was a skeleton who danced around and then came apart to all the separate bones.

Although I’m pretty good at looking at something and figuring out how it’s been built, I was completely stumped by these guys. Partly because they were always moving and jittering around, but partly because there were so many strings and I have no idea how they were all attached.

I made a marionette once, from instructions that appear to no longer be on the net, and she was beautiful and I was really happy with her, but she was really very simple. These marionettes were really complicated and I’m still in awe at the craftsmanship.

The other puppet he had in his repertoire was a ventriloquist dummy called Monty. The kids were delighted with Monty, they loved him. He, again, was an old fashioned and very complicated puppet. His eyes moved independently of each other, he could wink and blink, his arm and his tie lifted up, his bottom jaw moved up and down and at the end he was prompted to smile by Norman which involved his top lip lifting up to show his top teeth. Just incredible. The kids were delighted and after the show kept calling for “the man in the box” (he’d come out of a suitcase). When he first appeared, Norman had asked all the kids to shout WAKE UP MONTY to start the show. Later I found one of the Prep students standing by Monty’s suitcase whispering to it. When I asked her what she was doing, she said that Monty was still asleep in his box and that he couldn’t hear her, but if all the children shouted WAKE UP MONTY again, that he would wake up and POP out of his box to talk to them again. As she said ‘POP’ she jumped up in the air and had the most hopeful smile on her face.

Later in class they were all trying to figure out how Monty worked. They knew he wasn’t real, but with their hearts I think they still hoped. They referred to him as the real pretend man, and they thought maybe he was a robot with a soundtrack inside.

It was incredible to see just how much their hearts and imagination were captured by the puppets that Norman performed, and it again makes me think that puppets are such an incredible resource in the classroom.

And I consider myself extraordinarily lucky to have seen these old style of puppets, puppets I’ve only ever read about, in use.

Puppets in the classroom – an insiders guide

Just before my first teaching job, I hunted on the net for information about how to use puppets in the classroom. I’m very interested in puppets, clearly, and I wanted to be able to bring that interest into my teaching. They tell you at Uni to find out what kind of teacher you are, to find your strengths and play to them. I met a relief teacher who is also a Marine Biologist, he usually discards whatever plan the regular teacher has left him and instead teaches the students about whales all day. Another relief teacher I met was a maths genius, he played magic maths games with the kids from 9 til 3. Thinking about me, and who I am, it seemed only natural to want to utalise puppets in my future classrooms.

So I did a number of net searches over a few weeks and turned up very little indeed. There are a few sites that talk about putting on a puppet play, and a whole horde of people who offer to come do it for you, as long as you pony up the cash, but not a lot about actually using puppets in the classroom.

So when I got the job, I decided to experiment with it myself.

It started with Integrated Studies. The Victorian Department of Teaching is red hot for integrating the curriculum, which means that instead of teaching maths first, then literacy, then art and so forth, that instead you deliver a curriculum that has all the subjects merged together. Rarely in life do you find yourself in a situation that requires maths only and no literacy/ language. Going shopping, for example, you’ll find you need speaking and listening skills, reading skills, maths skills, media skills and maybe if you’re lucky, thinking skills too. The Integrated line of thought runs that if in everyday life you only ever encounter situations that require all sorts of skills that it is artificial to teach them individually, that it will make much more real-life sense to students to have them presented in a merged form. This is a long way of saying that my students do Integrated Studies a number of times a week where either I or they think up activities to do that incorporate more than one learning strain. We did a number of hands on activities during the first week and then one of my students asked if she could do a puppet play. There are a number of hand puppets in a busted cardboard box in the corner of my room and she was interested in exploring them. So I said yes, and she organised two of her friends to participate.

She came to me near the end of the session and asked if she could show everyone their puppet play. So we all trooped over to the corner of the room where they had set up a table with a quilt draped over it so people couldn’t see under it. Everyone was quiet and they began. The voices were muffled under the table (no matter how many times I said “big voices! Remember, we need to hear it, so big voices!”) and I’m pretty sure that there was no story line, the puppets said “hello” to each other and then started head butting each other, to muffled giggling from the puppeteers and riotous laughter from the student audience. After a couple of minutes, I wrapped it up (“Ok, 1 more minute… 30 seconds… 10 seconds… Good job! Well done!”) and then the bell rang and they all went home.

What I didn’t expect was the next morning where every student, including the performers from the day before, all clammered to do a puppet play in Integrated today. So I let them, which resulted in three shows, all very similar, a bit of unconnected dialogue and then the biffing. One had no speaking in it at all, just biffing and then some kissing. I wrapped that one up pretty quickly.

The next day the artform had evolved further. Two of the students spent some time making their own puppets, hand drawn little people, carefully coloured in with texta and then sticky-taped to craft straws and icecream sticks. They had created their own little marottes. There was even a set, a little bakery drawn the same way and taped to the table. There was also a story, the girls had worked out a narrative involving a baker, a pie shop assistant and a customer who wanted to buy the recipe. The show was again performed at the end of the day and the students loved it.

One of the things I love about teaching kids is how they teach and inspire each other. These two girls created their own show with props, set and story and this in turn inspired the others to create more and more complicated shows themselves. They moved away from the biffing (well, mainly) and started incorporating narrative, characters, scenarios and set. And this is where the Integrated comes into it.

Creating a puppet play uses a whole set of skills. There’s literature, because they’re using their understanding of narrative, character, problem and solution. There’s speaking and listening, because they talk to each other about what they want the play to be and they collaborate and co-operate with their puppet play partners as well as the more obvious speaking during the performance. There’s art, if they’re making their puppets themselves, and there is the opportunity for ICT (two of the students wanted print outs of their favourite cartoon characters to re-create a story they both knew well). There’s also drama and learning to speak in front of an audience and thinking, to figure out what the play is about and how to go about making it. Plus, and this is always a wonderful bonus, they love doing it.

But there are other uses for puppets in the classroom apart from just puppet plays. With my kids I do a literacy exercise called Story Seeds, where I show them a picture and we discuss who is in it, what they might be doing and what might happen next. Then I send them away to write about it and draw a picture. After doing that with them for a couple of lessons, I introduced a different element to it. I got them each to close their eyes and handed out 2 animal finger puppets each. These were their story seeds for the day. They had to think about how these two animals might meet, what they might saw to each other, how they might react to each other and what might happen. This was pretty successful and spawned several other stories about animals meeting and adventuring. I thought this might help them with their puppet plays too, encouraging them to think more about the story they were presenting and not just about the puppets themselves.

Another place for puppets in the classroom is during reading. My kids are pretty young so about half of them read out loud as they read, so we don’t really do ‘silent reading’ but they do have to read by themselves for part of it. One day one of the students shyly asked if he could read to a puppet. I said yes and he happily grabbed the big sheep puppet and took it off to a corner to read to it. Again, as with most new ideas conceived by students, the next day more of them wanted to do it too. For a while most students had a favourite puppet they liked to read too. All the puppets I’ve inherited in my classroom are animal puppets. I did bring one in with me, Max from Where The Wild Thing Are, and he gets chosen pretty constantly by the kids. I wonder if then they would react differently or more favourably to human puppets rather than the animal puppets. Don’t get me wrong, the animal puppets are in high demand too, but Max is almost always the first out of the box whenever anyone needs a puppet. At the moment I don’t have the resources (for ‘resources’ read ‘a bunch of human puppets to bring into the classroom’) to find out, but it’s something I occasionally wonder as the puppets are sorted through and favourites are inevitably chosen.
An activity that unexpectedly became puppet related was Maths. We were looking at money and so we each had a little shop to sell goods we made, little pictures of things, cookies, dogs, dinosaurs, handbags and a weird fish skeletony thing (a direct quote from the student). We each also had some money to go out and buy as well as give change for purchases, which was the main aim of the lessons. But someone asked me if they could have a puppet to help them run their store, and then another asked and by the end most students had a little finger puppet keeping them company as they sat behind their open store. One enterprising student decided to grab a handful of puppets and sell them in his store. Clever, but no one seemed to buy any. Maybe that was because behind him was the puppet box, half full of puppets there for the taking. Still, props for the capitalism displayed, young man!

So these are some thoughts from a teacher who found a box of puppets in her classroom and wondered how to use them with the students. It turns out that the students were quite prepared to explore that concept for themselves without any prompting and only small amounts of guidance from the teacher. Imagine what could happen next term when I actually start deliberately incorporating puppets into the curriculum!


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