Hand the students back their puppets, but don’t put them on. Have the puppet stage already set up, ready for use. Introduce the students to the puppet stage. Entice them if you can, by showing them its “many” features. Then tell them that before they can use the stage, they must first master the art of manipulating their puppet.
Step 1: Tell the students that it is important to make the puppet look and act as real as possible. First, teach the students how to move the mouth. Have them hold their hands up and put their hand in the correct position. Have them flap their fingers and thumb a few times. Tell them to make sure only the thumb is moving because on a person or animal, only the lower jaw moves. Have them try talking by keeping their lower jaw in place and only their upper jaw move. Not only is it difficult, but it is unnatural. Moving only the thumb makes the puppet look more realistic. Use a table for practice (put hand under table, with the back against the bottom; this way they are forced to only use the thumb.
Step 2: Now have them add words. Tell them that when they talk they don’t actually close their mouth all the way. For a puppet, with each syllable there needs to be some slight movement, but the mouth will not continually open and close. Tell them to have an alien conversation with a partner with just their hand. Demonstrate this with both of your hands. This can be as simple as saying something like “Meep meep?” “Meep meep meep!” “Meep.”
Step 3: Now tell the students they are ready to wear their puppet. Have them put the puppet on and continue the alien conversation for a minute.
Step 4: Demonstrate for students how to hold the puppet so that it has proper body position. Arm should be straight up and down. Puppet should not lean forward or to the side. If eye are elevated, then hand can bend at 90 degrees with the arm. If the eyes are flat, then they will have to bend hand down more, around 45 degrees or so with arm. Check to make sure that students are holding their puppet correctly. You will have to continually check on this at intervals during the lesson.
Step 5: Teach students about focus. Ask the students where they think the puppeteer’s focus should be. Answer: on the puppet. Ask the students why they think that is so. Answer: so that the audience knows what to focus on and so that the puppeteer knows what they are doing with the puppet. This is one way they can self-check that their puppet is in a correct body position.
Step 6: Have them start moving the head of the puppet. Demonstrate for them. Move the head left and right, up and down. Have students do this. Have them practice moving the puppet’s body realistically. For instance, if it is looking to the right and looks at something to the left and then wants to see it closer, the puppet should not rapidly move across distances, but should “walk” there. Demonstrate how to walk the puppet by bobbing it up and down and move it a distance from your right shoulder to your left. Have the students practice this. Have them practice pacing their puppets in front of them several times. Check to see if students are doing this properly.
Step 7: Tell the students they are now ready to use the stage. Have the students line up on stage right of the puppet stage. Have the line swing around in front of the stage so that students can watch each other. Tell them to have their puppet enter the stage, walk across by bobbing up and down slightly with each step, and exiting. Demonstrate this for them. Have each person in line go once and get back in line.
Step 8: When the last person in line goes, have the students stop. Demonstrate the proper way to enter and exit the stage. There can be no “elevator” entrances and exits (unless this is a specific style or choice for their scene, such as a fairy god-parent appearing). Depending on the stage, entrances and exits are different. Puppets can “walk up stairs” to enter and “walk down stairs” to exit. Walking up and down, with each new step the puppet is one level higher or lower, respectively. Have the student walk their puppets across the stage again, this time they must enter properly, walk across, and exit properly. Have them go down the line again. Give immediate suggestions and feedback when necessary
Step 9: Have the students continue going one by one, having their puppets enter, move across the stage, and exit accordingly. For instance, have them enter, have the puppet “run” (basically, a fast walk), and exit. Each person should get back in line. When each line is done tell them to try a new way of moving. Have them run, skip, dance, float, jump, swim, slither. Ask the students for suggestions. Also, have the students walk across the stage the opposite direction, without changing the puppet to a new hand.
Step 10: Give the students their mini-assignment for their daily assessment (see below).
Collect all of the students’ puppets and keep them in a box or bag labeled with their period number.
Have the students walk their puppet onto the stage and say something like, “I like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches made on whole wheat bread.” Watch as each student’s puppet enters, “walks,” “talks,” and exits to make sure the student is following all guidelines regarding mouth and body manipulation. Give immediate feedback to improve individual student performances.