Consider having a Jonah figure be on the end of the string. Make as a classroom activity at the end of class, or if's you're adventurous, complete most of the construction and have the students finish for their own take-home came.
Somehow when I make these kinds of crafts, they come off looking all tacky, not the martha stewarty vision I create in my head. But sticks are free. And I have canvas...and a kid to blame it on "Oh, that? Kelsey made it! Don't you just love it?!"