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How to put on a puppet show

I am delighted to be able to announce that we added a new section to the Animaplates web site. In it, you will find our first puppet play script: “Goldilocks and the Three Bears”.

(Since this article was written, other puppet play scripts have been added. There are also links to the instructions for making many of the puppets that appear in the plays.)

We also added a Teacher’s Guide to walk you through the steps required to put on a puppet show. This document is based on my personal experience with students.

I have had the opportunity several times to put on a puppet show and I must say that every time it is a rewarding experience both for the students and for the adults who guide them through the process. The enthusiasm displayed by the students and the progress they make throughout the process is really incredible.

When you put on a puppet show with children, they will be so changed by the experience that you’ll hardly recognize them. I have seen students with learning disabilities shine in their role. I have seen shy students come out of their shell. Don’t forget that in a puppet play, it’s not the child who speaks, but the puppet! Puppets have this magical power that removes barriers.

What is involved in putting on a puppet show? I will try to summarize the process for you. You will see that throughout the different steps you have teaching opportunities in many subjects!

  • Start by explaining to your students that you are going to put on a puppet show together and that they will present their puppet play or puppet skit to younger students in your school. Speak about the various steps that they will go through. The process will take several weeks so that in addition to working on various subjects, students will learn to plan and be patient.
  • Choose the plays or skits that you want to put on, make a list of the characters they contain and assign the various characters to students. Keep in mind that students who work together on a play should get along together.
  • Each student creates the puppet that he or she will animate in the show. Creating puppets is a great visual arts project. Creating the puppets may be done over several lessons (constructing the head, painting, making the costume and final assembly).
  • In parallel, each group of students rehearses their play without puppets. They need to be familiar with their text before combining their oral expression with the manipulation of the puppets. This step is an opportunity to improve their reading.
  • After that, you can do a classroom reading with each group, still without puppets, to work on enunciation, expression, projection, emotions, etc. Students who are able to memorize their text should be encouraged to do so (like professional actors do). That will enable them to focus completely on their performance. This step allows you to work on oral expression and drama.
  • Now the fun starts! Build the structure that you will need to hide the students and have them practice their text with their puppet! During this step, the students learn to manipulate their puppet.
  • If you want to improve the quality of the show even more, film the students and show them the video. That will show them how the puppets move individually and together. It will also show them if they don’t speak loud enough or too fast. This type of feedback often produces miraculous results!
  • And finally (drum roll…) the big day has arrived: your students put on a show for the younger kids. Invite the parents as well! If you can, ask a colleague or a parent to film the show. That way you have a lasting souvenir of the event.

You can of course add other steps to this process. For example:

  • If you want the students to create their own stories, you have an opportunity to integrate creative writing into the learning process.
  • Before the show you could have the students make posters, thus combining writing and visual arts.

In addition to integrating visual arts, reading, writing and drama, this project promotes skills that are extremely valuable for the students’ development and well-being, even if they are not aware that they are being taught:

  • Autonomy: to develop a large scale project like this requires everyone’s participation. This project empowers the students. They become the older students who put on a show for the younger ones.
  • Self-esteem: This project improves self-confidence and is an extremely positive experience for the students.
  • Self-discipline: without self-discipline the project may fail. The students will want to shine and will therefore be very motivated to obey the rules.

For more details, see the Teacher’s Guide to Puppet Shows.

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