Guest Post: Learning The 4C’s With Shadow Puppets

This post was written by Suzanne Dionne a Visual Arts Teacher Pre-kindergarten – Grade Two at Rotella Interdistrict Magnet School in Waterbury, CT. Suzanne recieved the Connecticut Art Education Association Outstanding Art Educator award for 2013. View her blog Visual Arts Events by clicking here

Shadow puppet imageAre you looking for an integrated art project that covers all areas of 21st century learning? Shadow puppetry can combine the core subjects of English, Reading, and Language Arts with the Arts. All 4Cs considered to be essential skills for success in today’s world can be incorporated in a shadow puppetry program: critical thinking /problem solving, communication, collaboration and creativity/innovation. Life and Career Skills that can be taught through puppetry include: adapting to change, be flexible, manage goals and time, work independently, be self-directed learners, interact effectively with others, work effectively in diverse teams, manage projects, produce results, and be responsible to others.

Shadow puppet theater offers a wide range of educational potentials. Puppetry can be used effectively as curriculum based class projects to teach historical events, stories, world cultures (multicultural) and more. Using one’s imagination is an important part of the educational process. Puppetry breaks down barriers, invites participation, and leaves students with a long remembered educational experience. It lends itself to rich integration: writing, literature, design, craft, acting, drama, art, music, dance, movement, technology, school themes and more. Puppetry is easy to do. It can be done economically. There is quite a bit of research on the values of puppetry. Based on many reports what was found was that: drama improved reading readiness, reading achievement scores, oral language skills, story understanding, development of independent thinking, problem solving, collaboration skills, putting creative ideas into action and more.

Shadow puppet theater meets all nine standards of what qualifies as a “Best Practice” defined by the CT State Department of Education: A clear and common focus; high standards and expectations;strong leadership; supportive, personalized and relevant learning; parent/community involvement; monitoring, accountability, and assessment; curriculum and instruction; professional development; and, time and structure. Shadow Puppet Theater also fulfills National Standards for Visual Arts. All six content standards can be included.

Our school has a yearly theme that, whenever possible, is integrated into curriculum. The school theme for the 2012-2013 school year, beginning in the summer academic/enrichment program is “origins”. I decided to implement shadow puppet theater for the visual arts class. I became very interested in this, after attending a workshop at the NAEA Conference in 2012. Shadow puppetry originated in China. Therefore, I chose the Chinese story The Four Dragons by Tom Daning.

The first week of class (approximately four hours) included an introduction of shadow puppets and theater. Students watched 5-10 minutes of the Tangshan Shadow Puppet Theater on the Smart Board. Next, the story was read and the pages were shown to the students. A list of characters was already in place and students were randomly chosen for roles. They were shown how to draw outlines of the figures and were given assistance as needed. Once these sketches were completed on drawing paper, they were sketched over onto oaktag. The shapes were carefully cut out. Next,the movable parts, such as, arms and legs were drawn and cut out. These were joined by using hole punchers and paper fasteners. We also used thick yarn craft hair, doilies and pieces of colored cellophane. Skewers were used for the rods and attached to the puppets with craft straws and tape.

The second week of class the puppets were completed. A script was written from the story and narration parts were written on cards. Special effects were being researched, developed and tested. Students learned how to move their puppets. They were beginning to learn their narration parts, the story, and the performance. EVERY student had made a puppet(s). EVERY student had a narration part(s). I was fortunate to have a high school student assistant who helped tremendously with assisting and organizing the students with the narration. During this time, I was working with special effects. The classroom assistant helped with organization tasks.

By the end of the third week, we were in the recording studio. Our video technician taped and edited the four performances. Music was inserted. Adobe Premiere was the software used. Each student would receive a DVD of their performance.

Our performances were shown at the end of the summer school program at the end of the fourth week. The remainder of class time included a written assessment and two art activities: crayon resist painting and scratch art.

Currently, during our integrated art periods, our five kindergarten classes are working on shadow puppet theater performances. We have selected five different stories that will be taped and shown to our school and parents. These performances will be posted on by the end of this school year.


Professional Example Video

Student Example  Shadow Puppet Theater by Rotella Interdistrict Magnet School


Online Resources


Production & Puppets Materials Used

  • Skewers or dowels
  • Paper fasteners
  • Masking or scotch tape
  • X-acto knife with extra blades
  • Black Cardstock/Oaktag
  • Scissors
  • Craft Straws (to connect dowels to puppet)
  • Cellophane
  • Doilies
  • Craft Hair
  • Light Source – Overhead Projector (s) * Bulbs
  • Special Effects – various materials depending on effect(s) Refer to the book Worlds of Shadow Teaching with Shadow Puppetry.



1 Comment

  • May 5, 2014


    This is such a creative way of teaching kids the 4 C’s. I’m going to adopt this idea and use it in my lessons. I think the kids will love it!

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