When I very first started teaching I had all sorts of problems with behavior! I remember the first lesson I ever took, and about half of the children lay down on the floor and refused to sit back up again. Dark days!
Shortly after this, one of my first discoveries to counter interesting behaviors such as these was to use puppets. It was almost like a magic wand. To this day, I find it amazing that young children will listen more intently and in complete awe of a puppet much more than any human.
Puppets are, therefore, one of the very best ways of teaching anything that involves listening. And perhaps the area of education where listening is most crucial is phonics.
So how can puppets help you teach phonics?
Puppets can be used to teach phonics from the very start. The first stages of phonics involve listening games and simple activities using rhythm and rhyme, and puppets are fantastic for delivering all of these skills. As you progress, puppets are then the best way of delivering oral blending and segmenting, and then teaching sounds. When children know some sounds, puppets can help in games helping to read and even write some simple words.
Continue reading to find out the magic of using puppets in phonics, and to see some of my all time favorite strategies…
What type of puppets should you use?
Any! My main favorites are the big character puppets that you can put your arm in. I have a monkey, a parrot and a ragdoll, but any character brought to life will be great.
Persona dolls are also good to use in phonics.
Smaller finger puppets are brilliant for rhymes, and finger plays which are super for listening and early phonics.
Also teddies and simple toys can be used as puppets.
I have even used an ‘invisible puppet’ in the past. This was probably on a Friday when I had lost the will to live, and I couldn’t find anything to use. It seemed to work though!
This is a key point I have found. All of the puppets I use whisper in my ear. They do not speak to the children by themselves.
There are a few reasons for this. One, is that it is good for the children to see you say the sounds and words clearly. This is the main reason. They need to see your lips and mouth and how they move.
Eye contact is a central skill to teach in early education. If you want to find out the ultimate 12 eye contact games for children, then take a look at this.
Another reason is if you get the puppet to speak, they all start saying things like, ‘That’s you speaking!’ The children love outing you as a fraud! They don’t seem to do this, however, if you whisper. Bizarre but true.
Give the puppet an intro song
This is great for behavior and getting them to sit and listen for a couple of minutes. I have a ragdoll called ‘Tatty’, and her song goes – ‘It’s time for Tatty. Time for Tatty!’ When Tatty comes out she checks for good sitting, listening and looking. The perfect way to starts a short carpet session!
Telling stories with puppets is one of the best intros to using them. It is also good for behavior. Just get the puppet to whisper in your ear what they have been up to. It’s good if they’ve been to a magical land and seen amazing things. Or it could just be a story about what they’ve done in the setting that day.
This develops children’s listening and also memory skills. To find out the 22 best memory games to play with young children then take a look at this.
A great one for discriminating sounds in the environment. There’s a very noisy puppet. Call it something like Noisy Norman! What’s in his bag? Have a bag filled with ‘noisy’ items – e.g. a plastic bag, a toothbrush, a bell, a plastic bottle etc. Put your hand in the bag and make the noise of one of the objects – e.g. the bell. What could it be? Repeat with other objects.
Great for getting the children really listening. To make it easier show them the items before you start, and all listen to what they sound like.
All phonic activities are good if repeated regularly. The children improve every time you do it (hopefully!)
What’s in his bag?
A puppet has a bag of objects. But what are they? This game can be played in several ways:
- A simple listening game – describe the object: e.g. ‘It has four legs. It has a mane. It jumps over fences.’
- This animal is ssslithery. It is ssscaly. It is ssstealthy etc.’ (A snake) This is one of my favorite alliteration games (check out nine more fantastic ones here)
- Great for oral blending later on. In his bag he has a c-u-p. What is it?’ (A cup) If you want to find out more about oral blending (and the best ways to teach it) then take a look at this.
Using puppets is the very best way of introducing oral blending. My favorite way is to get a puppet to say a simple story, but one word of every sentence is broken up into sound talk.
For example, ‘She went to the z-oo. Where did she go?’ (‘The zoo’ you hope they say.) ‘She saw a big, fat ‘h-i-pp-o’. What did she see? It was rolling in the m-u-d.’ Keep going.
Doing this for just a minute or two minutes a day when the children are ready for it, will get most of them orally blending in a couple of weeks.
Only start when they have reasonable skills in listening and music games, however.
A robot puppet is a great way of introducing segmenting.
Segmenting is splitting words up into their phonemes (sounds). If you want to know more about what segmenting is (and how to teach it), then check this article out.
Get the children to show the robot their robot arms. This is when you move your arms up and down like a robot as you say the sounds of words. Then give them a simple three-letter word and get them to segment it. E.g. ‘Pot’ becomes ‘p-o-t. Pot!’ I always get them to repeat each word numerous times, especially when you start off. It really helps them to work out what’s going on.
Feed the Monkey!
The monkey in the game’s title could well be any other sort of animal. I just happen to use a monkey.
The monkey is going on a picnic and wants to put lots of foods into its hamper. However, we must say the foods in sound-talk before they go in the hamper. Can we do it?!
Foods such as ‘j-a-m’ and ‘m-i-l-k’, and other words with three or four sounds in are the ones I normally go for here.
To make it easier, go through the foods before you start the game, and sound them out together.
This is one of 16 fantastic segmenting games that you can check out here.
Jump the puppet over the river
Cross the river is one of the most adaptable phonics games. And, yes you’ve guessed it – is super with a puppet!
Have a piece of blue material in the middle of the circle of children. This is the river.
Get three children to come and stand on one side of the river. They can either hold sounds or words, wherever you are up to.
Now for the puppet. The puppet tells them which one should jump over the river. He will say ‘Jump over the river if you are…p etc’. It really is that simple.
Put the puppet on the letter
A stepping stones game is another phonics classic.
Have lots of sound cards or sound mats on the floor in the middle of a circle of children. Have a puppet and get a child to put it on the right sound.
You can extend this game in lots of ways. Some examples are:
- It could be words on the floor
- You could give the child a word, and see if they can put the puppet on the first sound
- You could put the puppet on three sounds in sequence to make a CVC
Use a puppet to push the sound buttons
When you begin to read three letter words for the first time, I always use sound buttons – dots that are like door-bells drawn under the sounds in words. You press the button and say the sound.
Guess what: puppets are perfect for pushing those buttons. Let the puppet push, and the children say the sound. Great for a bit of added engagement.
Sound buttons are one of the best ways to start children off with reading words. Another excellent technique is using phoneme frames.
Use a puppet to jump a word
This is great outside. Have three hoops with letters in. Hold a puppet and help him say the word, as you jump between the three hoops. For example, as you jump you say ‘p-i-g. Pig!’
Help the puppet read the sentence
Puppets can be so silly! And this game is great for a silly puppet. This is good game when you first introduce children to reading simple captions and sentences. Put a sentence in front of them, e.g. ‘I can sit.’ Get the puppet to try to read it. It can either do well, with the children helping, or do it wrong. They probably like that more. It basically does the whole thing as wrong as possible, with the children helping them out as much as possible.
Please use puppets to teach phonics! It really is like a magic listening wand.
They are fantastic for early listening games, and just getting the children to sit and listen for a couple of minutes. They are also great for delivering games involving alliteration, rhythm, and voice sounds.
Puppets are by far my favourite way of teaching oral blending, which really is the most crucial bit of phonics. Learning sounds is normally the easy bit; it’s what you do with them when you know them that counts.
Good luck with the puppets! It really is a whole world of magic waiting to happen.
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