Using a puppet or live character to help teach the verse to children is in no way a new concept. My first experience was seeing Willie George trying to get Uugene to learn a verse. I would cackle my head off at his mistakes. It’s rare not to see a traveling kids evangelist use a puppet or live character helping with verses or main points of the lesson. Why is it so popular? Because it works.
I was emailed recently about a puppet character I had performed while speaking for the AG Southern Missouri Kids Camp in 2012 called “Super Star”. He was a hit with the kids and the adult leaders. The email was from a pastor who wanted to start a similar thing in their own service and wanted to know if I had any advice. I realized that I had never written anything on the subject. Below are the results of answering that question.
9 Things To Consider When Using A Puppet To Teach Verses
1. The puppet talks to a person. The person is the “straight man” and the puppet is the “comic”. The straight man is trying to teach a simple lesson, the comic tries to mess things up. Two puppets talking to one another isn’t engaging enough to keep the kids attention. A straight man up front can gauge the kid’s interest and behavior and help make corrections when a person operating a puppet cannot. Think of the handlers that the costumed characters at Disney have following them around.
2. The puppet gives us a reason to repeat the verse. Repetition is boring… unless there’s a reason. Our puppet character hears the verse, but then repeats it a wrong (and funny) way. The kids are then asked to repeat the verse to the puppet only to have him mess up again. The third time is the charm as the kids repeat it again and the puppet finally gets it right. The kids naturally think that they are teaching the puppet the verse… they feel in control, they feel smart (even though they’re reading off of the screen)… so they love repeating it over and over. Meanwhile, they’re learning it themselves.
3. No script needed. There are no lines to remember for the straight man or the puppeteer. All pre-verse and post-verse chatter are from off the cuff. The sermon notes would simply have the verse and the three mistakes (so that I don’t forget) and that’s it. That leads to the next point.
4. The straight man and puppeteer should have a good relationship. That’s why husband and wife work well (my wife and I have done Scripture man for nearly 13 years together). At kids camp with Super Star my assistant Liz and I had a good connection from her being my middle school leader at church. She knew my personality and I knew what buttons to push to get a good reaction. If you get someone who can’t take a joke or is easily offended, this is not a good person to put on either side of that puppet stage.
5. Write the mistakes in advance. Here’s how. I try to have each mistake build on the next. Meaning the first mistake is in the first 1/3, the second in the middle, the third near the end. If there are any “hard” words or concepts in the verse this is a great way to explain them to the kids, sorry, to the puppet. This would be the only time I would loosely script anything for the straight man. Giving them the definition or explanation for a key point is a kindness. You don’t want to put them on the spot. I make the ‘mistakes’ by trying to find words or phrases that sound similar to the real word or phrase. I’ll do an example live here. This is how it would look in my service schedule/sermon notes
Verse: Blessed is the one who obeys the law of the Lord. He doesn’t follow the advice of evil people. Psalm 1:1 (NIrV)
- …who eats coleslaw from the Lord.
- …He doesn’t do the addition… (Advice is like getting ideas from someone. We don’t get our ideas from evil people).
- …follow the advice of evil (Teachers name here).
And that’s about it. The trick is to do it pretty much the same way every time. The kids get to like the flow. Once in while I’ll throw stuff out (like we did each night with Star Dude)… but the jokes without the props are just as funny. It’s all about how the straight man responds. Which reminds me.
6. The Straight Man determines how funny the skit is. The straight man doesn’t make jokes and doesn’t fight back… they are the ones that get picked on by the puppet. The kids root for them against the puppet character automatically putting the kids on the straight person’s (teacher’s) team. The puppet may want to go crazy, take rabbit trails and be offensive… it’s the straight person’s job to corral them just as they would an out of control child. They allow the joke to be said, laughed at, but then start to set things right and focus on the verse.
7. Have a catchphrase for fun. I have the character say it whenever he hears the phrase “Victory Verse”. Could just as easily be used for “Memory Verse” or “Live Verse” or “Scripture Verse”. Whatever.
“Victory verse? Did you say victory verse? Is it from the Bible? The B.I.B.L.E yes that’s the book for me? Woooooheeeee! I love those Victory verses. What’s todays?”
I stole it from my mentor and I’m sure he stole it from his. Whatever you use (if anything) you’ll find that the kids love to repeat it with the puppet. They get to “change sides” and be bad along with the puppet for a while.
8. The puppet itself doesn’t matter. I’ve always used a “Scripture Man” character. We put together the Super Star dude for camp with the same personality, different name and accent. I’ve seen kids, girls, ladies, creatures… anything used in the place of the start dude and it works. It’s all about the connection between the straight man and the puppeteer, and the wit of the puppeteer.
9. Theme song with planned interruption. I’ve always used a theme song to introduce my verse puppet. The straight person gets up like they’re planning to do the verse alone (every time) and as soon as they say the key phrase “Victory Verse” The music plays. Before I had the technology for music I would just have him say his phrase above whenever the straight person first said it. (Victory verse? did you say victory verse?…)
I hope I’ve covered everything. If you have questions about puppet characater or live character practices and theory you can contact me through the comments below or email firstname.lastname@example.org