Puppets no can read good?
April 4, 2007 8:15 PM   Subscribe

I need help writing a puppet show to teach the importance of literacy to kids k-5.

I'm in a service organization at my university. One of the many things we do is give educational puppet shows to local elementary school kids. The problem is that a lot of the puppet shows aren't very good. They are out of date and kinda awkward. So we asked the teachers what they would like to see a puppet show about. The two things that they wanted was a good show about the importance of math and the importance of literacy. We knocked out a fun one about math in a couple hours. We are really stuck on the literacy one. We can't figure out a plot or anything.

Can you help me out? How can you convey to elementary age kids that reading is important?
posted by magikker to Education (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Idea for now, perhaps more later.

A plot where two main characters (school friends) write notes to each other and get into a grand mix-up because they can't read/discern similar words from one another. Notes could be notes in class, cute I-like-you love notes from other students, postcards from pen-pals, notes from teachers to parents, etc.

The notes themselves could be funny, and it could involve audience participation where star readers are invited to come up and read a note as part of the play. Another idea would be that the notes could be passed through the audience so they could feel involved, a la pass-it-on style notes.
posted by cior at 9:00 PM on April 4, 2007

A treasure map? Each clue leads to another but one group of puppets can't read (like when it says "take three steps back from the X, or don't go that way (with an arrow) there are dragons that way. One character could pretend like he can read and send them the wrong way thinking the next arrow sign is a warning but it really says "Short Cut This Way". Meanwhile, there's a puppet who can read and he is avoiding the dragon and not falling into holes because he can read the warning signs. By the time the illiterate, dirty, hungry, tattered puppets get to the treasure, the reader has beaten them to it and eaten all the goodies, Is wearing all the Jewels etc...
You can have the kids help you "read" signs which have misleading graphics on them.
posted by BoscosMom at 10:09 PM on April 4, 2007

Instead of having the puppets speak, have them hold up signs with their dialog. The children will quickly grasp that they need to learn to read.
posted by TypographicalError at 11:17 PM on April 4, 2007

You could get a lot of mileage from this one:

One puppet on the end of the stage is reading a book out loud. As he narrates, other puppets appear on stage and act out the story - maybe a familiar story like Red Riding Hood to keep it simple.

Of course, he can't read very well, and when he gets words wrong, the wrong things happen on stage, and the puppets (and the audience) react to them.

Example: "Once upon a time there were three pears." (Three large pears with faces appear on stage. After the audience laughs or screams "bears", he says "I mean bears," and the bears replace them.)
posted by mmoncur at 3:02 AM on April 5, 2007

(Depending on the reading skill of the audience, you could make that one much more interactive by handing out a copy of the text the puppet is reading, or making the book on stage large enough for everyone to see.)
posted by mmoncur at 3:03 AM on April 5, 2007

There's a recent picture book called "Take Care, Good Knight": three little dragons volunteer to take care of the cats of a wizard who's going on vacation. He leaves written instructions, illustrated with pictures, but since the dragons can't read they end up going by the pictures-- they take the cats swimming instead of giving the cats water. That might provide some inspiration.
posted by Jeanne at 3:57 AM on April 5, 2007

What is your goal? Is it to please the grownups (the teachers) and make them feel like you're delivering something "educational"? Or is it to really get the kinds interested in reading?

I ask, because most adults (even most teachers), don't tend to think really deeply about what REALLY promotes learning or appreciation. So they'll be happy if you just make the effort and keep everyone entertained (while seemingly delivering an "appropriate message.")

If you really want to get the kids jazzed about reading, two BAD strategies are (a) lecturing them about the value of reading, and (b) showing them how reading can solve a problem (e.g. help them find treasure). I've never met anyone who got into reading for these reasons.

In my experience, people read for three reasons:

1) because they must (e.g. for a job),
2) because they feel socially compelled to do so (e.g. they want their smart friends to think they are smart, too),
3) and because they are compelled by the content of the books (e.g. they want to know how a story ends)

I don't see how a puppet show can tackle 1 and 2 (which aren't the most rewarding reasons for reading, anyway). Sure, you can show someone not-getting-their-job-done because they can't read. Or someone becoming popular because the can. But these are things that need to be felt to be effective -- not seen in a play.

Kids dived into Harry Potter because of the content. I'm a live-long, voracious reader. I know why. It's because, when I was a kid, my parents instilled in me a love of stories. They read to me every day. They read me great stories, one chapter each day. Sometimes I got so into them that I couldn't wait for the next day to find out what happened. So I'd pick up the book and read the next chapter myself.

So tell a compelling story in your show (maybe adapt a classic fairy tale) and then hand out the story in written form. If your story is really good, you could tell only the beginning and the middle but not the end. End on a cliffhanger and then let the kids read the rest, if they want to know how it ends. This is a bit unfair (the social contract, when telling a story, is that you'll tell the whole thing), so you can only get away with this if your story is really really good.
posted by grumblebee at 7:04 AM on April 5, 2007

Response by poster: We give these shows to kids from high income areas (where the professors live) to very low income areas. One of the schools has 92% of the students on free or reduced lunch. We really would like to try and make a difference for these kids, but we know that a couple puppet shows aren't going to change the world. Thank you for the ideas. I'll bring them up at our next meeting. Any other ideas are always welcome.
posted by magikker at 12:29 PM on April 5, 2007

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