Library Specialist Nancy Kiefer describes how puppets support students in their development of reading and storytelling skills. -Ed.
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Like many elementary school libraries, our library at UCDS is filled with a wide variety of puppets. Some are used by all students in the common space, while others are reserved especially for library circle time. I claim no professional training in puppetry and truly do not think any of us need special training when it comes to using simple hand-puppets. I simply bring them out as companions and friends. Although I have a puppet theatre, I rarely use it, finding that students suspend belief in reality once a puppet appears, even though I fully disclose up front that they are puppets. I seem to blend into the background as the puppets gain voice.
There are advantages to letting puppets help teach the class. They can lead conversations that might not take place if I were perceived as the one asking the questions or prompting discussion. For example, if a puppet asks for a synopsis of the current read-aloud in library, students will answer earnestly and thoroughly because they see themselves as teachers and storytellers helping the puppet understand something it has never heard of before. They practice step-by-step, sequential descriptions, culling new information for themselves as they go along.
Raven puppet: “Tell me more about the book you are reading in circle.”
Students: “So, there is this character in our book who has straw hair.”
Raven puppet: “What?? Straw hair? You are kidding. Why?
Students: “Yes, straw! Can you believe it? And here is how it all started…”
Some puppets recommend books or devise library games and special tasks for students during check-out time. Most fun, are animal puppets who want to know about the rituals that humans engage in. This can be informative because as the students practice describing, the animals are revealing their own attributes and habits.
Otter: “This thing you call Halloween. What is it?”
Student: “Well, we dress up in costumes and ring doorbells and ask for treats.”
Otter: “Like fish and oysters? Yum? Do you dive down into the water and get the treats?”
Student: (laughing) “No, candy.”
Otter: “Candy? Never heard of it. And what’s a doorbell? I don’t have doors where I live.”
Squirrel: “What is your class doing for Curriculum Night?”
Students: “Units. We are measuring units.”
Squirrel: “What are units? Do you mean U-nuts? How do you measure nuts?”
I highly suggest that you try letting the puppets take over sometime. Some facts, a little whimsy, and a pinch of humor should be all you need.