Master of Puppets

I had the pleasure of meeting the educational officer of a local puppet theater the other day and it got me thinking about the power of active and ‘hands-on’ learning as well as the opportunity for pupils to consider both the finer details and the bigger picture no matter the subject or topic. There are a number of different ways to using puppets in your teaching and a great possibility to involve pupils of all ages in creative projects in and out of school.

Produce your own puppet:

Puppets can either be supplied or, even better, the class create their own either one per pupil or one puppet per group ( three-four pupils in each group). There are online guides to creating puppets and local charities can also provide expertise for a nominal fee. By producing their own versions they are immediately exposed to a series of challenges:

– they need to consider the finer details like what their character will wear and the reasons for this e.g. think about space/time and purpose; facial features e.g. what’s happened in their lives to make them look calm, grouchy and so forth.
– consider the context and the bigger picture and how their character will ‘slot into’ the story as well as the evolution of the character.
– by creating their own puppets they will also internalize their own stories about the characters, what they like, how they would react to different situations and so on. This means that pupils take the process more seriously than if they were asked to produce a piece of extended writing – it’s their little person!

Moving Stories:

Another possibility for using puppets in the classroom would be for schools to document the Puppet Play either by frame-by-frame animation, recorded video footage or, using tools like MikoGo.com to stream the play live to invited participants e.g. another class in another school.

I particularly like the latter option as it requires pupils to plan their stories carefully and rehearse well before streaming the play to the other schools and pupils tend to take their projects and roles more seriously if it involves an external party – they want to impress them! This could also involve the audience in a different way if they were given the opportunity to stop the play in motion and ask questions about the story, actions and particular characters. The puppeteers and the director then must think on their feet and adapt the play accordingly or simply answer the questions posed by their audience.

Adopt a Puppet:

I think this has immense scope particularly if a class decides to produce their own puppets. Essentially classes swap puppets and build new and exciting ways of using them. One way which pupils really enjoy is to use the characters as ‘talking heads’ to introduce new topics, as revision aids and to summarise key issues of a topic.

Looking forward to exploring this further.

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Johannes Ahrenfelt

Johannes Ahrenfelt has previously worked as County Advisor for Learning & Teaching with ICT, Head of Department and University Lecturer. He has taught for 10+ years in schools around Norfolk, UK, and is currently leading an inspirational team in Norwich as Head of Faculty. Johannes shares his passion for pedagogy on his blog, social media and when delivering training in the UK and abroad. He has also published several books worldwide, one of which has been translated into Mandarin and Malayan.

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