Puppetry in the Music Room

I by no means am a master puppeteer. I do not know ventriloquism, nor do I have any idea how to properly puppet, if that’s a thing, but I love using puppets in my classroom! There are many reasons to incorporate the use of puppets in your music room including helping students acquire language (ELL learners and very young learners), encouraging students to be expressive with their thoughts, fears, and feelings, and finally, creating and bringing stories and music to life. Children live in a world of imagination and puppets help an adult enter the child’s imaginary world and allows children to experience empathy because they can relate to the character they are trying to portray. Let’s look at three ways puppets enhance learning in the music room.

1. Acquiring Language

When the children become comfortable with the puppet, they are more likely to take risks. Puppets become like sympathetic friends to the children, and they will try to speak with the puppets. The children do not feel threatened by the puppet and trust them. Puppets help improve communication skills, overcome language barriers, and help with self-control. The puppets can break down the barriers between teacher and student. Teachers can use puppets to introduce new vocabularies, create dialogue and teachers should plan their lessons in which the puppets can be combined with play. Puppets can be used to create dialogue and engage students in academic conversations without anxiety.

The use of puppets for second language learners is so useful! When you think about it, puppets introduce another fluent English speaker into a room of apprehensive second language learners. Children can witness the dialogue take place between two proficient speakers and it helps them rehearse the dialogue. The puppet becomes another someone to teach and helps with the information gap necessary for learning. Communication is an exchange of information, and this exchange is helped by the puppet’s lack of knowledge on any subject. Puppets are a real-life object, close to reality, therefore providing the English language learner a less intimidating partner to practice language acquisition with.

2. Expressing Themselves

Puppets create an environment that children can feel comfortable and less self-conscious in. The children become less inhibited, and they do not hesitate to take risks.

Children view the puppets as having human-like qualities and are therefore inclined to interact with it and speak to the puppet in a way they may not communicate with other children or adults.  

Analisa, what do I say to the student that insists it is just a puppet and is fake? Well, there is a few things you can do. You can acknowledge that the puppet is indeed inanimate and not real, but it is life-like, and it is fun to pretend. You could sound a little bit crazy and not even acknowledge that the puppet isn’t real and continue as if the puppet has its own personality.

I personally use the approach by saying “I know that. You know that, but they don’t know that, so we play along.” The kids get a kick out of knowing something the puppet doesn’t know and we’re able to just keep pretending and playing make believe.  

3. Bringing Stories and Music to Life

Understanding the difference between fantasy and reality. Lessons are active and lively and fun. Puppets can be used as a hook to learn the lyrics in a song. Puppets can be used to create storylines and create plays, in which students must interact with one another and cooperate to create the narrative. Students take a more active learning approach, and their engagement improves if the student becomes the puppeteer. I like to think of it as hands on is minds on – the children are involved in the learning and storytelling; this increases their interest in the lesson and leads to deeper understanding.

Ways to Teach Social Emotional Learning with Puppetry

Puppets can be a great way to engage students in conversation. You can use them as a greeting for the students, asking how they’re doing, encouraging the students to ask the puppet how they’re doing (modeling friendly social greetings). By doing this you are increasing their self and social awareness.

You can use the puppets to share emotions, learn to express emotions and think about another person’s emotions is a part of gaining social awareness. The child may be more willing to engage in a conversation with the puppet and you may, in turn, be able to communicate with the student about their thoughts and feelings.

If you have a student that struggles with game play and waiting their turn and winning or losing, puppets can help. The puppet can model waiting their turn in the game, or model winning and losing. A student is more likely to respond to this lower stress situation and have a better understanding of regulating their emotions in game play. By doing this you are increasing their self-management skills.

I would avoid allowing the puppet to demonstrate negative behaviors, keep the association with the puppets positive. For example, when the puppet loses the game have them demonstrate good sportsmanship by saying phrases to the other team like “good game” or “well played” or “thank you for playing with me”. We want the student to see themselves in the puppet and therefore we want the student to see themselves acting positively.

Students who take responsibility for the puppet showed a decrease in defiant behaviors, and increased responsibility of helping their puppet to listen and participate help the student maintain focus and prevented them from causing disruptions in class. By doing this you are increasing the student’s responsible decision making.

Obstacles to Overcome When Teaching with Puppets

Do the children grow bored?

The children love repetition, so growing bored of the same puppet doesn’t really happen, especially if you get creative with the use of the puppets. You can use a puppet as a hook, for vocal warmups, to aid in lyrics, and the list goes on. As you use your puppets for different things, the children grow fond of them and will ask to see them.

Do you have to be educated in puppetry?

            You absolutely do not have to be educated in puppetry or ventriloquism. The children will not care that your lips move when the puppet talks, especially if you let them use the puppet, they realize that it is being controlled by their arms/hands and their voices.

Expensive vs Inexpensive Puppets

Any type of puppet works, and you do not have to spend a ton of money on puppets. The more attached to the puppet the better, so if they created their puppet, they form an attachment to it. The cost of the puppet is not the issue here, it’s the willingness to use them and make them a part of your classroom.

I hope I have inspired you to try to use puppets in your music room.

Sing! Say! Dance! Play! Care!


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