Ventriloquism in the Classroom

By Carol A. Greene

This material was used as part of a sixth grade speech unit. Every student achieved success during the six weeks. They gained much poise in front of an audience, wrote scripts, researched comedy and human mannerisms, gained tactful critique skills, and developed self-esteem. The pages in this section of my home page may be reproduced for the students in your classroom. Get set for an exhilarating learning experience!

How to Begin

Students are fascinated with ventriloquism. They become quite excited when they realize that it is possible for them to do this almost magical illusion. If you as the teacher are not a ventriloquist, just explain to your class that ventriloquism is something that you have wanted to learn, and do it together. Whenever I take this approach and learn something new with my class, a very special relationship develops between my students and me. They are very helpful and supportive to me, just as your class should be for you if you try this approach.

Day 1: First, teach them the basic sound substitutions on page 2. Do this without a puppet -- just have them use their hands. This method allows for complete concentration on the technique when they are not distracted by an unfamiliar puppet.

Next, say a sentence, reviewing sound substitutions, then have the whole class repeat the sentence together three times. Divide the class into three sections and have each section say the sentence three times. You can offer suggestions. Here are some suggestions for common difficulties:

	"Look at your puppet." 
	"Move your thumb with each syllable."  
	"Have your puppet look at the audience." 
	"Open your puppet's mouth when it speaks."
	"Lightly place your fingers on your lower lip to 
         feel if your mouth is moving."
	"Slow down and punch your syllables to better 
         understand you."

Then ask if there is anyone who would like to try it alone. There are usually a few brave ones. As the class sees how successful these students are, then they get very enthusiastic. More and more students will want to try.

After a few sentences, then sing "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" with no lip movement. Let them try other songs, too.

"Mistress Shady" is a real challenge. They will definitely move their lips when singing it, since the purpose is diaphragm development. On the first attempt, stop at 7-10 weeks. As the students practice, they'll be able to go longer. Some of my students were able to go 22 weeks without taking a breath!

Then give each student the sheets, Basic Ventriloquism and Ventriloquism Exercises. Tell them to practice 15 minutes each night in front the mirror or a pet as homework. Emphasize that they should stop at the first sign of voice strain. They could also make a sock puppet.

The first few days should be informal. They could practice sentences with partners and small groups. If it gets too noisy, move outside to the grass or playground. An informal atmosphere gives everyone time to develop more confidence and skill.

Weeks 2-6: Then begin performing the First Dialogue. Participate in a friendly critique after each performer: "What did you like about it?" and "What should (s)he work on for the next dialogue?" Use the Ventriloquism Scoresheet for an positive way to show progress. Everyone will perform every dialogue. It is amazing to watch the improvement with every new dialogue. After the Fourth Dialogue, have each student write and perform a completely original dialogue.

After the final dialogues have been performed, it is fun to arrange for some of the students to go perform for the principal and office staff. My class always encouraged about five students to "volunteer" to go brighten up the principal's day! If you have a very outgoing class, some may want to perform for other classes, too. Just relax, have fun, and watch your students grow!

Mistress Shady

The Song "Mistress Shady" is an old folksong. These are the words:

Oh, Mistress Shady, (go up the scale D-E-F#-G-down to D)
She is a lady, (go down D-C-B-A up to E)
She has a daughter (go up D-E-F-F#- down to D)
Whom I adore (D- down to C- up to D- down to B)
I used to court her, (up to D-E-F#-G- down to D)
I mean her daughter, (D- down to C B-A- up to E)
Every (F#- down to E)
Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday afternoon at (all on D)
half past four. (up to E-F#-G)

First , sing the song as it is written. Next, sing the song again, then repeat the days of the week without taking a breath in between. Every time you sing the song, add a week without taking a breath between the weeks. Challenge yourself to see how many weeks you can sing without taking a breath!

Basic Ventriloquism

  1. Hold your puppet at your side, shoulder level, facing the audience.
  2. Close your teeth and smile.
  3. Look at your puppet when (s)he speaks, so it looks as if (s)he is talking.
  4. Make your puppet's voice higher, lower, or a different quality than yours.
  5. Open your puppet's mouth for each syllable, moving mainly your thumb.
  6. Speak slowly, punch the words.
  7. Talk making sound substitutions for the following letters:
  8. Take a deep breath, then slowly let it out as your puppet speaks. You develop your diaphragm and learn to project your voice when you do ventriloquism. The folk song, "Mistress Shady" is a great exercise for developing the diaphragm.
  9. Ask your puppet questions, and have the puppet answer. It's amazing what your puppets will tell you!
  10. Sing with your puppet. Start with "Row, Row, Row Your Boat."
  11. If you lightly place your fingers on your lower lip, you will be able to feel if your mouth moves. Have fun practicing in the mirror and listening to yourself on a tape recorder!
Copyright © 1991 by Carol A. Greene