Puppetry and Language Arts
Connie Champlin states in her book Puppetry and Creative Dramatics in Storytelling that ìChildren grow and learn through play. Dramatic play, in which a child ëbecomesí a part of a story, stimulates the imagination, develops language, and gives children great delight.î (p. 11) Puppetry is an excellent way to develop these concepts in the classroom. While it can be used to teach many different subject areas throughout the curriculum, perhaps one of the most important of these is the language arts.
David Currell states in his book entitled Learning with Puppets that ìPuppetry is an excellent medium for integrating a wide spectrum of the curriculum, not only crafts, and performance arts, but academic subjects as well.î (p. 12) There are many ways in which puppetry can be used to teach subjects in the classrooms, particularly the language arts. Using puppets in the classroom can bring about the development of many aspects of language in school age children. Puppets can be used to develop such skills as learning parts of speech, and vocabulary, public speaking, particularly in an apprehensive child and also the oral expression of thoughts, and feelings
A childís vocabulary can be greatly enhanced through the use of puppets. As quoted in Nellie McCaslinís book Creative Drama in the Classroom and Beyond, John Warren Stewig said that ìChildren generate more verbal language during dramatic play than in any other situation.î (p. 127) When a child is asked to create a puppet, that childís creative processes are immediately ignited. The child is encouraged to think up a personality and character for his or her puppet, and in the process learns much about the English language. This encourages children to talk and express their own creative ideas verbally. Teachers can further this stimulation by having their students create their own puppets, and then ask them questions about the puppetsí personalities. The children are then motivated to use their own words to describe their puppets. The teacher can help the children by tossing out new and unfamiliar vocabulary words, and talking about the parts of speech to help describe how the puppets act and feel. The teacher can also ask the children to touch, feel, and move their puppets around to become familiar with them and to ease the process of describing them. This is a wonderful way to get the children thinking, and also to help them learn how to describe subjects using their own words and their new vocabulary. I will refer to this creative process as ìbrainstormingî.
Many children are apprehensive about speaking in the classroom in front of both their classmates and teachers. Puppets can help these children not only think of what to say, but also to feel comfortable speaking before their friends. In David Currellís book he tells a story of an Algerian girl who very rarely spoke in class, and when she did it was always in a very soft spoken voice. But when she was asked to use a puppet to talk as the Queen of Spain she blossomed. In a very loud voice she was able to use the puppet to express herself. Using puppets is a way for children to speak in front of people without feeling intimidated. It seems to them as though they are speaking through someone else, and that makes the act more fun and less embarrassing for them. In this same fashion children can use puppets to express feelings about their own personal lives and experiences.
Using puppets to learn about the oral language is the first application of puppets to learning language arts. A second application is using these oral concepts to learn about written language. Brainstorming about the childrenís puppets was the beginning of teaching the them how to express their feelings and observations. When a teacher uses puppets in the classroom they can spark the creative processes which lead to creative writing. Many children have trouble understanding and being able to describe their feelings on paper. But when children are encouraged to first talk about their thoughts and feelings with a puppet, it then helps them to use their imaginations to write stories, plays, poems and essays.
In her book entitled Creative Puppetry in the Classroom, Mary Freerick discusses how she uses puppets in her classroom to bring out the childrenís creative writing skills. She gives examples of how she used puppets in her work with special education students. First she got them interested in the puppets; then, by asking them to contribute their ideas about the puppetís character, she was able to get them to construct poems of their own. These were children that had difficulties learning and had never written before, but they were able to express themselves and come up with some very interesting poems about the puppets.
The third application of the language arts that students can learn through the use of puppetry is reading skills. While many children have difficulty learning to read, puppets can be a fun and easy way to make reading more exciting for a child. With very young children teachers can use puppets to bring stories to life, so that children visualize the action in a more vivid three-dimensional image rather than a normal two-dimensional surface. Through the process of either the teacher or the students acting out the story, the images are brought to life. This process helps the child to enjoy and understand how the words on the pages are applied to the real world.
There is yet another way to teach reading through puppets. Recalling the brainstorming process described above, the children can write down their ideas about their puppets into a story or play. If this is done over the year by the whole class, a teacher can create a book containing all of the stories and plays created using the puppets. This helps the children to see how their real life experiences and ideas have been acted out and used to create a book for them to read. This is an excellent way for the children to realize that they can talk, act out, write, and then read interesting stories using the language arts and their own creative thinking processes.
Still another classroom application of puppets for language art skills development is working with children whose first language is not English. Puppets provide an excellent way to for a child who doesnít completely understand English to visually see the use of the English language through the puppetsí actions. If the child doesnít completely understand what the teacher is saying, then the puppetsí action helps them to visualize her words. By hearing the teacher speak and simultaneously seeing the puppet move, the child can put those two ideas together to better help them understand both the language and the lesson being taught.
Currellís book points out that the use of puppets with children who speak a foreign language ìgives the child something to talk about and the motivation to talk, helping to overcome inhibitions about speaking in a foreign languageî (p, 16) While there are many factors that can help a child to learn another language, puppets give children a means to express themselves and their ideas without the stress of having to completely understand that language. In this way the use of puppets can also help these children to relate and play better with other children who speak English fluently. Puppets can break the language barrier through the use of language and visual cues.
It is obvious that puppets in the classroom can help to serve as a very effective aid for teaching language arts. Selected oral language skills which can be developed through the use of puppets are parts of speech, vocabulary, public speaking, and expressions of thoughts and feelings. Puppets can also help students to develop their creative writing skills through brainstorming about their puppets. Reading skills can be developed through storytelling with puppets, and also creating plays and stories around the puppets. The use of puppets in language arts is especially helpful when working with children on their second language. Puppets can be an essential part of the classroom setting, and can provide an entertaining and educational way to learn language arts in the classroom.
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