Using puppets to help primary students with simple maths and basic arithmetic

Using puppets with maths may not be something that’s occurred to you before. But it’s a great way to bring a subject to life, and unfortunately in many places maths classes aren’t exactly imaginative. Of course, this can be true of many subjects, even these days. Teachers often explain things in the same way they were taught themselves, which was usually by rote-learning and memorisation. That was certainly the case in my school, anyway.

Even so, there were some students in my school who could see the logic behind maths, and even talked about the ‘beauty’ of numbers. Myself, I could never see it, and still can’t. I think one of the reasons I dreaded maths was just the uninspired way that it was taught. We never ‘played’ with numbers, and it was never brought to life. For maths to be exciting and interesting, students have to master the basics and start to feel they can do it.

So here are some simple ideas…starting off with simple addition and subtraction. Remember, maths, like every subject should be about fun and exploration.

Helping Charlie (or your puppet) to do things that the kids can do better than Charlie always works well. You place the flashcards on the floor in front of Charlie and ask “Charlie, two plus two equals?” and Charlie points to 3. The children correct him.

Using puppet for teaching and explaining fractions

Charlie has a bag of sweets/piece of pizza and has to share it/them out with his puppet friends – who gets what? You can use this for counting or for introducing and explaining fractions.

Counting (without puppets)

Another activity my students really love doing and I like this too as it can be do with the students at their desks. In groups of threes or in pairs – two students put their hands behind their backs, when the third student says “go” the students pull one of their hands from behind  their backs with outstretched fingers and the first person to add up total of fingers  (in English) is the winner. Other options are using two hands or multiplication. Often I demonstrate this with one student, by asking him to copy me and then doing the maths and the children have to work out the ‘rules’ of the game, I don’t do that very often as it can be demotivating and frustrating for some students.

Maths beats

Using either rhythm sticks, a tambourine, a plastic box or anything that you can use to create a beat. Get one of your puppets to bang/tap the instrument and at the same time count out each beat and ask your class to join in. Then, ask the children to do the same again, but count the beats silently. Bang the instrument a couple of times to start off with so that they get the idea and then ask the children how many beats they counted. For some reason, this activity is always works much better if the puppets are doing it rather than the teacher. Another variation is to let members of the class to take it in turns to tap the instrument. For added difficulty, beat and count different sounds. For example, a bang of the drum, two taps of the tambourine, and one tap of the rhythm sticks. Depending on the age/level of the students you can ask the students how many times you tapped each instrument, what the total was, what the total of the tambourine was etc.

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