Puppet Powers

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John Dabell

I trained as a primary school teacher 25 years ago, starting my career in London and then I taught in a range of schools in the Midlands. In between teaching jobs, I worked as an Ofsted inspector (no hate mail please!), national in-service provider, project...
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What ‘fail-safe’ resources do you use?

If there is one physical resource I would never be without then it’s a puppet. Well, actually one is not enough, let’s say three or four of them. They have special powers.

Puppets, the type with movable mouths where you can put your hand into the back of their heads, are quite simply the bees knees. They measure about 65cm tall and you can buy them in lots styles and types each with their own unique ‘character’. They can make some fabulous facial expressions and they are good at pointing, picking, scratching and waving too as they come with sleeves and arms where you can put your other hand into.

I have used puppets with tremendous success in lessons over the years and they have proven to be the most effective, reliable and entertaining teaching assistants ever.

Puppets aren’t gimmicks or zany resources ‘just for primary’. They are powerful learning partners that have the potential to fuel learning conversations, unhinge thinking and upgrade knowledge and understanding across all key stages. The influence of puppets as highly stimulating flexible and multi-sensory inclusive learning devices is boundless.

In the right hands, puppets have the power to connect with and educate the minds all ages in an unrestrained and conceptual mode of play and fun. They are the ultimate coaching and coaxing tools, innately motivating and excellent teachers matched to different personalities and learning styles.

Puppets are real stars. Sesame Street with Big Bird and friends and the Muppets are still as popular now than when they first appeared and they are regularly used to communicate ideas, messages and advertise. They have the ‘stickability’ factor and they can make the stuff of learning cling on like molluscs to a rock. Doesn’t it make sense therefore to  incorporate and adapt puppets into the world of our classrooms?

Unlock And Go

Puppets can be used as formative assessment tools because they open up children’s thinking and allow us to access their understanding. They are essentially learning partners and they promote dialogue and collaboration so they are superb for assessing speaking and listening skills.

Puppets have fizzy and fuzzy ideas and I always use them inside learning contexts where their thinking is faulty and children then have to ‘correct’ them. Having a puppet talk about an idea or concept but being muddled or confused is a guaranteed way of drawing a response from children and they are keen to join and share what they think.

Puppets might be used at the start of a lesson to invite pupils to share their ideas or to make predictions about what they think might happen in a story or what a particular word means. As pupils discuss their ideas they clarify their ideas, they think about what evidence they have to support their ideas and identify areas of uncertainty. This helps us to make a judgement about which aspects of a topic to target in order to develop pupils’ ideas more effectively.

Puppets are best used as learning partners when combined with formative assessment strategies such as card sorts, concept cartoons, consumer reports, games, graphic organisers, KWL grids, matching exercises, posters, true-false statements and word definitions.

The use of puppets within PSHE are particularly exciting: self-respect, sincerity, anger management, exploitation, behaviour and coping with friends are just a few ideas for developing good problem solving strategies for successful living. The starting points are infinite and can be used in any curriculum area.

Performance Anxiety

You might be concerned about using a puppet and ‘performing’ but the anxieties soon evaporate the more you use them – voice, tone, pace and humour develop naturally. You don’t need a script either as the interaction between you, the puppet and children has to be spontaneous.

Using puppets not only makes your class a vibrant learning community, but it allows you to unlock the curriculum and supply a highly valuable conduit into learning. They can produce laughter and play within the hearts and minds of every learner whatever the age. The benefits to classroom life are vast: the learning environment is ignited by fresh vigour, humour, zeal for involvement and attention levels rocket.

Code Of Conduct 

Puppets are double-acts and class acts and if you haven’t tried using them then it might just be time to give it a go but they do need some rules. Here are some commandments I created for my class:

The Puppet 10 Commandments

  1. All puppets must respect the ideas of other people and other puppets
  2. All puppets have a responsibility to make sure that adults don’t talk too much in any one lesson
  3. All puppets must keep an open mind
  4. All puppets must make sure the classroom is a think and talk tank rich in reasoning and learning conversations
  5. All puppets must explore ideas,  ask lots of questions and sustain  discussions
  6. All puppets must take breaks and rest their voices in every lesson (naps acceptable)
  7. All puppets must hand over the learning to the children
  8. All puppets must not mess around too much
  9. All puppets must help others to see things from more than one point of view
  10. All puppets are equal

I, (name of puppet), do cheerfully declare to help others explore and think critically about the world around us. I will endeavour to raise the thinking and talking quotient of the class I am working in and act as an assessment for learning ambassador. I understand that talk is an exceptionally precious learning resource and it is my job to empower learners to speak out and express themselves.




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