Educator Spotlight: Chronicling Ancestral Stories with Puppets

blue educator

Kaitlyn Purvis, this week’s Educator of the Week, designed a third-grade unit that helped students make personal connections to the lives of Canada’s early settlers and indigenous people. Students explored their own heritage and mapped the resulting data, learning how their classmates’ families came to Canada. After researching what life was like for both settlers and indigenous people, students created puppet videos to share what they learned.

Kaitlyn Purvis
Kaitlyn Purvis is a preservice elementary educator who recently completed her Bachelor of Education at Western University in London, Ontario, Canada. Her final classroom placement was with second- and third-graders at Sprucedale Public School in Shakespeare, Ontario. Photo courtesy Kaitlyn Purvis

Tell us about the unit you designed for third-graders at Sprucedale Public School. What activities did you include, and what inspired them?

I had the final product in mind first. I knew I wanted the students to learn about Canada’s aboriginal people and settlers, and I wanted them to tell these stories in the form of an engaging video. This naturally connected to the National Geographic Learning Framework, as students used their communication skills to tell stories of our “human journey”; how we have all come from different places to live in Canada.

Students began by filling out a sheet with their parents describing their heritage, and we mapped and graphed our results as a class using a tabletop map. We followed this with lessons about the Anishinabe and Wendat peoples as well as early Canadian settlers. Students read about how they lived, asked questions and used textbooks to find the answers, and drew posters to present the answers to the class. Finally, we created a puppet video to tell the story of Canada’s early people. Students each wrote a fact and an explanatory sentence that became part of the script. They created puppets, and I filmed their show.

Answering questions
Students created posters with the answers to the questions they investigated. Photo by Kaitlyn Purvis

How do you think using maps supported your students’ learning?

Physically mapping their heritage and seeing where classmates came from helped students make personal connections with another part of the world. They were able to understand the distances that their ancestors travelled, and they felt more connected to the topic of early settlers. At this age, students are developing their personal identities. So many of them didn’t realize that their family had a history like this, and it made them more interested in their heritage.

Educators: Download full lesson plan here.

Why did you choose to incorporate puppets into the video storytelling activity you designed?

I understand that a lot of students feel uncomfortable being the center of attention. By allowing just their voices to be heard and their puppets to be seen, students were more comfortable reading their script and being in front of the camera. Puppet theater also allowed for cross-curricular connections in drama. Because students created their own puppets, their personalities came through in their coloring and creations.

Puppet show
Students wrote a script and created puppets for a video sharing their learning. Photo courtesy Kaitlyn Purvis

How did your students react to this unit? What impact did you notice on them?

The students were most excited to get to film their part of the video and to watch it! But I think the most impactful moment was when we mapped and graphed where our classmates came from in the world. Most students had never left Ontario, and I believe this element allowed them to gain a broader perspective of their world.

Students also learned about where they came from and how their lives today compare to the lives of those in Canada many years ago. They understood the hardships and triumphs of moving to a new land and creating a new life—something their family members once did. After the unit, students continued to write stories about life as an early settler or aboriginal person, and a small group planned to make a class book.

Family heritage
Students asked their parents about their family’s heritage and shared what they discovered with classmates. Photo by Kaitlyn Purvis


This interview has been edited and condensed.

blue nominateDo you know a great educator who teaches about our world? Nominate a colleague or yourself as the next Educator of the Week!

The Educator Spotlight series features inspiring activities and lessons that educators are implementing with their students that connect them to the world in bold and exciting ways.

One thought on “Educator Spotlight: Chronicling Ancestral Stories with Puppets

Leave a Reply