Stories can help things stick. I’ve been noticing this more than usual lately. One time I noticed was just this week when my 4 year-old daughter came home from vacation bible school and started telling me all about what she was learning. Both she and my 5 year-old son were telling me the details as they bounced the story back and forth telling me what happened to Jonah and the big fish.
When I taught Native Americans in second grade, I came to realize what storytelling could do for me as a teacher – it could make the content come alive for my students and for me. I never was really interested in history until I started to understand that history was really one big story. When I took this idea and redesigned my weekly social studies lessons from dry facts to living stories, both the students and I were happier.
During those times, I would hold my stuffed buffalo and walk around the room, telling my students another story about the Native Americans. The story may be about where they lived and how they survived or about a buffalo hunt or it would be one of the many picture book stories we had in our classroom library. Regardless, we were all engaged and it was fun.
Actual storytelling is something we don’t do enough of in school. We are so concerned about having the students write, write, write. But storytelling can be a powerful tool to use as a pre-writing activity. I witnessed how storytelling was a natural connection to drama during the grad course I taught last week. The participants had just finished telling a story about a teacher who was hesitant to use arts integration in her teaching but with the support and encouragement of her colleagues, became excited and successful. In the process of coming up with the story, they worked on the elements of the story, developed the character and practiced telling the story about 3 times. Then, after being asked to take the story to another level, they jumped right into performing their story through drama. They did not rehearse; just came up with a 60 second plan and started. It was a great performance too!
During the last two days of school this past year, I, in a scramble to find something of substance for some of my students to do, gave them my handmade storytelling cubes. One cube had 6 different characters on it and the other one had 6 different problem images (thunderbolt, broken heart, etc.) I told them to roll the dice and come up with a story. This group of 7 boys jumped on this like something I’ve never seen before. When they broke off into smaller groups to roll and tell stories, a couple started getting the materials to make their own version of the storytelling cubes. Their enthusiasm to tell stories not only surprised me, it inspired me. “Why don’t I do more of this?” I thought. Well, you can bet I will this coming year!
If you really think about it, story telling is something we do a lot of and is what can make a boring conversation interesting. In fact, it can make many things more interesting, including the content in the classroom and writing assignments. This coming year, I will be sure to use more storytelling in my teaching.
Do you have stories to tell about the use of storytelling in your teaching?
I am absolutely in love with storytelling, and teaching through story (especially with history… I mean it has the word story built right in!) I really liked your idea of storytelling as pre-writing, and having it naturally lead into performance. It sounds like you had such fun in your grad course! I am also planning on making my own set of storytelling cubes now! Thanks!