Updated: Nov 29, 2021
Effective teachers are masters of narrative. They connect with students across the curriculum, make learning relevant, and motivate their students to achieve. Storytelling has been long used as a tool to pass important information from one generation to the next. It’s one of the most powerful tools at your disposal as a teacher.
To learn more about harnessing its power, see this article.
Storytelling is no new phenomenon
Five thousand years ago, nomads used stories to transmit tribal history and lore from one generation to the next.
The original man's civilizations used stories; they explained scientific and religious concepts.
Some believe that Homer’s The Iliad and The Odyssey were told by rhapsodes (privately hired or publicly retained individuals who would tell stories).
Even earlier still — some 6,000 years ago — storytelling was being used in the Middle East for rock etchings that spread moralistic tales or lessons about how to live a good life.
Storytelling should play a significant role in every teacher’s classroom. As one of the most powerful ways to engage with your students, it can help you connect with them on a deep emotional level.
Children have short attention spans, so teachers need to find creative ways to keep their students engaged. Whether you plan your story ahead of time or open up your lesson by asking your class for ideas, starting with a story can help catalyze student engagement. It keeps them interested and they don’t even realize how much they’re learning until it’s all said and done.
Storytelling is proven to help students remember their lessons
Storytelling is a great way to get your point across and create a memorable experience for your students, and it seems to be particularly effective when it comes to making lessons memorable.
There are several ways to use storytelling in your classroom. Some teachers rely on personal stories from their past, old movies or TV shows, or historical accounts from the past. Others create stories from scratch, using interesting characters and plot twists.
Storytelling is a great way to bring a lesson to life and give it meaning for students. It can help them learn the material better, and it's often more memorable than just reading something straight from a textbook or off of a slide deck.
Stories are one of the most powerful ways to communicate; they allow us to transport ourselves to different worlds and learn about things that would be difficult or impossible to understand through any other means. As teachers, we can leverage our students' natural affinity for storytelling to make lessons more memorable for them.
This is especially useful when you're trying to teach students concepts that are difficult. Concepts that have have multiple layers of complexity, like cause-and-effect relationships, the scientific method, or even dealing with peer pressure can be made easier to remember with stories.
By telling a story that incorporates these concepts, you not only help students understand each individual component better but also how they fit together in the real world.
Use storytelling to teach history, literature, science, and beyond
Storytelling is a time-honored means of instruction, and with good reason — people remember stories much more easily than they do lectures. Stories help students to retain information and give them a framework for understanding new concepts.
Storytelling in the classroom is not limited to English or literature courses. It's an ideal way to teach most subjects, whether the topic is history, science, art, or music. The following tips will help you incorporate storytelling into your teaching:
Choose a subject that lends itself well to storytelling. If you're teaching science, for example, is there a historical perspective on the topic? If so, you can easily weave a story around an experiment or discovery that is still relevant today.
The best stories are short and simple — just enough to hold your student's attention and give them an idea about what you're trying to convey.
If you're struggling to come up with a story of your own, use one that's already been told in another form — in a novel or movie, for example. Even if it isn't entirely accurate, it will give your students something familiar to work with as they learn.
There's a reason stories and storytelling have been around for thousands of years — they work. Nearly every expert in the field of education agrees that storytelling is an effective teaching tool, whether you're trying to teach a child to add, a high schooler about genetics, or a college student how to design instruction.
Storytelling holds significant advantages because, when we tell or listen to stories, we bring our own experiences and emotions into the experience. Storytelling allows us "to put ourselves in another person's place and see the world from another point of view."
The bottom line?
Storytelling is an amazing way to make learning memorable and entertaining.
Use storytelling to make math more exciting for students
Incorporating storytelling into your math instruction will make it more memorable for students.
Storytelling is an effective way of explaining math to students. Numbers and formulas are easier to grasp once the concepts are illustrated through short stories.
Teachers should think of mathematics as a language that needs to be learned, practiced, and spoken fluently. Consider what would happen if you tried to teach English without using stories. It would be impossible because our language evolved from storytelling.
When we think of narrative, we may think of a powerful teaching tool. Some math concepts can be explained through stories and metaphors that students understand and remember.
Has your high school algebra class ever used the story of Snowflake and her friends to help students with graphs? Did you learn about polynomials using the story of the sassy fox and his monomials?
Stories are an effective way to help students understand mathematical concepts. This is particularly true for children who have difficulty understanding what they read and who rely more on visual information than on words.
The problem-solving aspect of math lends itself well to story problems, because children can visualize what they need to do to solve the problem.
Here are a couple of tips for telling stories in the classroom:
Keep it short and simple -- Use simple sentences and be concise. Focus on the main points of the problem or concept you are covering. You don't want the children to get confused by unnecessary details or additional information that does not contribute to their understanding of the problem or concept.
Create a scene -- Use descriptive language so that your students can picture themselves as part of the story (e.g., "It was a dark and stormy night"). Make sure that you use verbs that will help them visualize what they need to do (e.g., "You run to catch up with your friends"). Visualize yourself as a master narrator and tell each story with character.
Try storytelling in the classroom with these five examples
Storytelling is an effective and powerful technique for engaging students in the classroom.
Storytelling in the classroom is a powerful tool that can be used to engage, entertain and help students learn.
There's a reason teachers have been using storytelling in the classroom for centuries. It makes learning fun and easy.
Help students understand content
Create a memorable experience
Enable students to see or feel what they're learning about
Provide an engaging introduction to new concepts or material
Storytelling is used in the classroom in many different ways such as:
As an introduction to a particular lesson, concept or activity
To emphasize important points during lessons
As part of an assessment when asking children to share their experiences with others
To create interest when introducing new material or topics and
As part of a social skills program when learning how to judge other people's actions and intentions
Teachers who consistently use storytelling techniques in class report improved attendance. They also note improved behavior management and academic performance among their students. Storytelling also fosters relationships between teachers and students, which can cause increased motivation to learn.
Help your students create their own stories to reflect and reinforce learning
Storytelling is a powerful teaching tool. It can help your students remember what they learn and it can spark curiosity, engagement, and creativity.
Application of the concept of storytelling in teaching takes many forms, but it can be particularly useful when explaining new concepts or introducing new vocabulary.
When students try to make sense of something new, they often draw on their own experiences to make comparisons or create metaphors. This is especially true for young learners, who are still developing their understanding of the world around them.
It's important to remember that when you're telling stories in class, you're not just entertaining your students; you're helping them make sense of the world around them, whether that's through myths and narratives or through personal anecdotes.
Students learn best through stories because they create meaning and understanding based on reality. For this reason, stories allow students to relate new information to what they already know and feel comfortable with.
Storytelling moves beyond the simple acquisition and storage of data and moves students to higher levels of thinking and engagement.
Storytelling is a tried-and-true tool for getting and keeping students' attention. It's also a proven way to help students think more creatively and solve problems. In fact, storytelling is one of the most effective ways to get your students to retain information.
Storytelling can be used in many subject areas, including science (the life cycle of butterflies, the effects of pollution), math (how much paint do you need to cover the walls?), language arts (think fairy tales), history (the story of the Pilgrims) and more.
Storytelling can teach facts, concepts, procedures, and vocabulary words. It can also engage your students in conversation and collaboration. By involving students in storytelling exercises, you can help them practice speaking and listening skills.
As long as the stories are relevant, interesting and well crafted, students will pay attention and remember what they've learned.
How we use stories:
The ones we tell:
We tell stories to remember information for a test, to connect new information with something we already know, or to help us understand concepts that are difficult to grasp by using familiar situations or images.
For example, when you're learning about the digestive system, it helps to think about what happens when you eat a piece of candy; it's easier to remember the order in which things happen in your body if you give each part of your body a name (like "the mouth" or "the liver").
The ones we read:
We read stories every day — in books, magazines and newspapers — but we also read them in school. Stories can be used as literature, mythology, social studies and history lessons, even science experiments. Stories cause us to think deeply about human nature and our place in the world. In every discipline, it's important for students to construct their own stories from their observations and experiences.
Storytelling can be used in any subject area, but it’s especially effective in the social sciences and humanities because of its ability to connect with students on an emotional level.
As we've explored in this article, storytelling is a very potent teaching and learning tool. It has been used for centuries and continues to be the most effective way to convey complex ideas and information.
We might be living in a digital age, but stories can still connect with learners like nothing else. Hopefully, the suggestions provided herein will give you the confidence to use storytelling most effectively in your classroom — capturing your students' attention through narrative and catalyze learning that sticks.