There once was a man named North. His last name was America.
He fell in love with a beautiful woman named South. They got married and she took his name so she became South America. They honeymooned in Europe. This couple was blessed to have four daughters whose names all began with the letter A. Their names were Africa, Antarctica, Asia, and Australia.
By the time you have told this story aloud at least three times and students have gotten up and re-told the story to several partners in the room, students remember the continents. Why? Because the continents are not learned in isolation. They are learned within the context of a story. Storytelling, one of the oldest forms of instruction, used to be the only way that people had of passing information from one generation to the next.
If you don’t think stories are important to all brains, watch when a speaker or minister tells a story. Everyone gets quiet! I don’t, however, believe in telling stories that waste instructional time. Every time you tell a story, be sure that it teaches or reviews a concept. When student remember the story, they remember the concept you were trying to teach.
What The Research Says
Telling good stories is like weight lifting for the brain since stories force listeners to make connections between their world, feelings, and ideas (Stibich, 2014).
When a listener hears a story, the story activates parts of the listener’s brain so that the experiences and ideas in the story become those of the listener (Widrich, 2012).
Storytelling is an effective way to enhance a student’s emotional connection to the content and conceptual understanding and helps students’ digital brains become more attentive (Sprenger, 2010).
Make It Happen
- Have a story stool or bench in your classroom and sit on it every time you tell students stories related to a concept being taught. No notes are taken during storytelling so that students can give their undivided attention to you in this nonthreatening environment. Remember, never tell a story unless its purpose is to teach or reinforce a curricular concept to be remembered.
- The brain needs a purpose. Whenever giving students either narrative or informational text to read silently or orally, always give them the purpose for reading. For example, say to students, We are reading the next two pages to find out why…
- Have students create stories, fictional or factual, that can be used to remember a concept that has been taught. Stories are particularly helpful when recalling a multistep process or events that happen in sequential order. Have students retell their stories several times to their classmates. Have them recall their original stories each time they attempt to remember the key concept on which the story is based.
For more examples of instructional activities that engage students using storytelling, consult the 3rd edition of my best-selling book, Worksheets Don’t Grow Dendrites.