Shadow Puppet Play

Art Culture Literacy Science
Time 1 hour
Age 7 & up
Group Size 10-20
Tags China, Light, Shadow,   more...
Teamwork Theater

Tell a story with your shadow puppets!

Along with all of the literacy benefits to having children write and act in their own plays, in this activity they will also learn to read, listen to and tell stories; to work effectively and cooperatively in an ensemble; to create a play with a beginning, middle and end based on an original idea; and to plan, improvise and write or record a play that includes the “five W’s”: who, what, where, when, and why. And by introducing children to Chinese shadow puppet history and/or stories, they will grow to understand the visual arts in relation to history and cultures.


This activity is a follow-up to the Shadow Puppets activity.

Setup your “Shadow Puppet Theater” with the white sheet as the screen and a light source shining behind it.

Shadow Puppet Play

Suggested Materials

  • Shadow puppets from the Shadow Puppets
  • Oak tag, construction paper or other thick paper
  • Markers
  • Scissors
  • Hole punchers
  • Brass fasteners, 1/2″ (100)
  • Straws or craft sticks (100)
  • Large white sheet
  • Flashlights, clamp lamps or an overhead projector
  • Paper and pencils

Make it Matter

Opening Discussion

This is a follow-up activity to Shadow Puppets – try that one out before you put on your play!

Ask your students if they have ever seen a play before. What kind of play was it? Was it happy, funny or sad? Was it a play or a musical? If they could write their own play, what kind of play would it be?

If you have done any research on Chinese shadow puppets, this would be a great opportunity to introduce anything you have learned. The history of these puppet shows is rich and diverse. See the Suggestions section (in the “Make it Better” step) for a list of books you can show to your students.

The Challenge

Work with your team to create a play using all of your characters!


Make it Happen

Doing the Activity

  1. Divide your students into teams of 3 or 4. You can arrange these teams purposefully, or better yet, select randomly (have students count off, divide by birthday month, choose names from a hat, etc).
  2. Introduce the challenge to your students—they will create a short shadow puppet play that uses all of the puppets in their team. They will have to be creative here—some teams may have puppets that naturally go together, but some may not—how will they write a story that uses everyone’s puppet and still makes sense?
  3. Give children the option of making changes to their puppets, but make sure they are only slight changes—the main purpose of this activity is to write and perform the play! Hand out paper and pencils, and set your students off to their challenge.

Make it Click

Let’s Talk About It

After 10–20 minutes, when teams have begun the process of writing their story, bring the whole group together to talk about what they have done so far. Ask each team to share with the others what their story will be about. If they haven’t decided yet, have them share what their characters are, and ask the rest of the class to help brainstorm what kind of story they might tell. Ask teams to focus on the “5 W’s”: Who is in their story (the characters)? What will these characters do? Why will they do it? Where does their story happen? When does it take place? Suggest that each team decides on a title for their play before you send them back to finish writing. This discussion should last no more than a few minutes.


Make it Better

Build On What They Talked About

Send them back to finish writing their play. For teams that finish early, have them rehearse their play together. When every team has finished writing their play, gather everyone together as an audience in front of the Shadow Puppet Theater and ask for a team to volunteer to perform first. Remember that this is a shadow play, so the performers will be behind the screen, projecting shadows onto the sheet for the audience to see. Before each team performs, have them share with the audience what the title of their play is. Turn the light on behind the screen, dim the room lights or turn them off and then watch your students perform their play!


  • Some students are unfamiliar with what it is like to be a member of an audience. You might want to go over some rules before the performances (ex. no talking during a show, do not stand up, clap at the end, etc).
  • Depending on your class size, you might want to set a limit to how long each team’s play is. You can set a time limit (2 minutes, 5 minutes, etc) or a page limit (1 page, 2 pages, etc). If you would rather not limit them, be aware that the performances might take more than 1 class session.
  • These performances are great for family/parent nights, presentations to the community or to other classes, etc. Also, think about filming these performances for later viewing—the children won’t get a chance to see their own play unless it is captured on film!
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