Once upon a time, teachers told tantalising, creative stories that piqued the interest of the novice mind into applying and learning challenging concepts in various domains. These stories ignited a light that formed lasting memories so that they could be applied to solve everyday problems.
The problem with today’s teaching is that it elevates exams over inspiration on the claim that the balance between inspiring young minds and coaching them for exams is tough to strike. This argument is compelling given the time scheme we must work with and the ridiculous expectations parents and school administrators have for us.
Let’s face it, though. Of all the knowledge that your teachers attempted to instill in your minds, those goofy stories they told from time to time seemed to leave the longest-lasting impression. There’s something about stories that stick with us. Something about an organised narrative teaching strategy that serves as a unique kind of glue, lingering with us long after the facts and formulas fade away. It’s exactly this kind of adhesive that I want to leverage for my own students, weaving the skills and information they need together with the magic of storytelling.
I must also mention that story telling isn’t just about language learning. Stories don’t just work well for narratives; they can be used to illustrate scientific or mathematical processes as well. Take for example the difference between learning a formula, and the ability to solve that problem in the context of a real-life example. Stories simply bring information, knowledge, and truth to life.
In its simplest form, storytelling humanises learning, offering the opportunity to connect to like-minded characters. They touch our emotions and make us laugh, cry, fear, and get angry—a sharp contrast to a plain old presentation. Plus, no matter how organised or detailed a textbook might be, there’s something about the shape of a narrative—the exposition, the problem, the quest for a solution, the resolution—that resonates with our mental makeup.
That having been said, how do we make it work? Despite the magnetic nature of stories, it is difficult to pry time away from our busy day-to-day lesson plans. Should we schedule time for it, or should it be organic? Should we attach requirements to storytelling, or simply allow it for fun? Honestly, there’s no right or wrong way to include them. They can come as a hook at the beginning of your class or as an exposition for a concept – it is at the teacher’s discretion as long as the main content of the lesson is not neglected. Just as we encourage students to use attention-getting devices for their essays and speeches, we can use the same technique as educators.
Similarly, when hammering through a relatively difficult concept with your class, one easy way to explain it is to illustrate the concept with a story. When facts and figures won’t do, simple narratives sometimes can. Tie storytelling to learning goals. Some students experience difficulty connecting to drab textbooks or abstract concepts. However, those same learners typically have little struggle connecting to stories. Through telling stories, you make life and learning more relevant, giving reluctant learners a better angle of engagement.
The best way to impact student’s lives is to share with them other people’s inspiring experiences. This will bring reality to the classroom and motivate them to exploit their full potential. At the end of the day, you will not be remembered for the content you covered but, most importantly, by how you taught it!
The writer is a Language Consultant