Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Students as Puppeteers, How to Make 80 Rod Puppets in a Week

I teach a lot of students. I mean I have a crazy number of students (over 500). This means that when we want to do any sort of art project I have to be able to do it for an entire grade level. This means that 80 kids need to be able to create puppets in the same week. It's a little overwhelming to say the least. For my upper grades I really try to do a meaningful puppet with them, so we create rod puppets.

I love rod puppets. They are easy to make and look great. I also like to introduce Japanese Bunraku Puppetry with this unit, even though technically Bunraku puppets are much more complex then the rod puppets we make, the students get a kick out of learning about a new culture. I use this video to introduce Japanese theatre. The link on amazon is down but you can probably find it somewhere. After the students study Bunraku we are ready to make our puppets.


Materials per puppet (buying in bulk helps save money)

12 in dowel any diameter
Masking tape
Newsprint or any scrap paper
Tissue paper or construction paper (I like tissue but construction works and is cheaper)
Googly eyes
Popsicle sticks rubber bands
Craft accessories (yarn, scrap fabric, pipe cleaners, feathers, anything you want rid of)
1 square foot of fabric (ask your parents, fabric stores or friends, there is usually someone who will donate this, I haven't bought fabric for years, if you can't get anyone to donate go to good will and buy lots of sheets, you can get plenty of colors for so much cheaper than at a fabric store)

The cost for me to do an entire grade level is relatively cheap

80 dowels -$10
Sheets - $10
Scrap paper - free
Tape - free 
Popsicle sticks 1000 count - $4
Rubber bands - free
Eye 700 count - $6
Yarn assorted -$8
Other accessories - free (scavenge your room and others, people always have stuff they are throwing out.)
Total about $40 (that's about $0.50 a student so not to shabby)

Step one.

Give each student a rod, square of fabric, tape, scrap paper, and tissue paper. 
Crumple the scrap paper into a ball and tape onto top of rod. I like to make a ball with one piece of paper, then cover it with more onto the stick until it is the size I want. Tape paper to stick head. Make sure some paper is actually taped to the stick.

Step two.

Once you have a big head (haha) add tissue paper to give you puppet a face color, tape this down.

Step three.

Cut a small hole in the middle of the fabric. Pull the fabric up over the stick and tape in place underneath. Hold puppet up. You now have the basic puppet done!

Adding arms 

If I have time on the first day we add the arms, if not wait until the end of 2nd day. Add Popsicle stick to end of fabric secure with rubber band.

Final Product.

Allow kids to decorate their puppets. To save supplies I tell the kids they can choose only 4 items. Every one chooses different supplies and their puppets are always end up being as unique as they are.


I always like to have the students perform with their puppets after they make them. This year we learned about flashback and foreshadowing. Students had to write a mini scene that represented one of those vocabulary words and perform it with the puppet. This turned out great! The students always love this project and they learn a ton about theatre!

I hope you liked this project. Let me know if you try it in your class I would love to know how it turns out.