This is a great project for older elementary through adult. In addition to exploring characterization and puppet manipulation skills, it builds teamwork and can bring a cast to a closer collaboration. (It's also great for corporate or faculty team-building events, if you're into that sort of thing.)
You Will Need:
A whole lot of old newspapers. Figure a stack 6-12 inches tall for each group of three or four students.
Tons of masking tape. Figure four or five rolls per group. (Masking tape is fortunately really cheap.)
Making the Puppets
Divide the class or cast into groups of three or four, and give each some newspapers and some tape.
Each group must build a giant figure--it can be a person or an animal, real or fantastic--out of rolled up, folded or wadded newspaper and masking tape. Generally limbs are made by rolling paper into long, stiff tubes held together by tape, while solid masses, such as torsos are made by loosely wadding paper and wrapping it thoroughly with tape. There is no such thing as using too much tape! I usually allow no scissors, but paper may be torn to shape. In general the figures should be about the size of the students themselves (although they are of course much lighter) and the more flexible joints and movable limbs the better. (I once made a marvelous spider.)
Even as they are building the figure, the group should be thinking about how it will move. This is not the kind of puppet one puts hands inside, but rather the kind one manipulates from the outside. All team members should have a role in manipulating the finished puppet. (For instance, one might operate the feet, one the hands, one the head, etc.)
Manipulating the Puppets
When the puppets are finished, including whatever changes have to be made to accommodate movement, the groups rehearse manipulation. They must focus on working together so that their creature moves as a unified whole rather than a collection of independent parts. They may experiment with the sound their creation might make. They rehearse until they can smoothly operate the puppet.
Finally, in a controlled way, bring two or more puppets into interaction. Do they fight? Fall in love with one another? Fear one another? Cooperate on some task? Coach the students to explore all the possibilities.
When the project is over, I usually end up just tossing the puppets in the trash. That's the beauty of a rough-and-ready puppet project like this. (Naturally if someone really wants to take a puppet home I allow them to do so.)
With older students I compare the process of manipulating our Newspaper Puppets to other puppet techniques they may have seen, such as the huge, multi-puppeteer creations in The Lion King, Mexican Muerte skeleton puppets, Bunraku, etc. We also discuss the level of concentration and cooperation necessary to make the puppets work.
My students always love this project.