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The Power of Teaching With Storytelling

The Power of Teaching With Storytelling

By Sherry Norfolk

From the beginning of time, storytelling has been the means by which cultures and societies have preserved and celebrated their memories, passed on their values and belief systems, entertained, instructed and reported. Long before there were written records—much less computers—storytellers taught through the oral tradition.

This ancient form of communication is a powerful tool for education.

Today, teachers can use storytelling in the classroom with the assurance that it still works. In fact, recent brain-based research supports intuitive belief in storytelling.

“There is strong reason to believe that organization of information in story form is a natural brain process…We suggest that the brain research confirms that evidence and begins to explain why stories are important,” according to Renate and Geoffery Caine, Making Connections: Teaching and the Human Brain.

In a nutshell, neuroscience is discovering that the brain is wired to organize, retain and access information through story. If that’s true—and it is—then teaching through story means that students will be able to remember what you teach, access that information, and apply it more readily. Everytime you employ storytelling as a tool in your classroom this critical wiring is reinforced.

“…teaching through story means that students will be able to remember what you teach, access that information, and apply it more readily. Everytime you employ storytelling as a tool in your classroom this critical wiring is reinforced.”

The benefits of storytelling don’t end there. Discover why this age-old tradition is one you can’t ignore in the 21st century classroom.

Improves Memory

Story aides memory because it puts information into a meaningful context, to which other information can be “attached.” Storytelling also puts information into an emotional context, and research indicates that emotions play an essential role in both memory and motivation. When emotions are present, hormones released to the brain act as a memory fixative. Story is engaging—it evokes emotion, which provokes learning.

Creates Building Blocks

Storytelling is indeed powerful. It provides the foundation, the building blocks, for learning. Storytelling teaches students to listen actively and analytically, improves verbalization skills, increases imagination and visualization abilities, and increases comprehension and retention.

Develops Listening

Listening is the basis for all language skills and storytelling connects all the skills necessary to teach students how to listen.

storytelling lessons

Without the building block of listening, you are building without a firm foundation.

Encourages Imagination

Imagination and visualization are essential to literacy, since these are the tools that allow a reader to give meaning to the words being decoded. These skills, in turn, lead to comprehension and retention.

Imagination and visualization are also essential life skills—they are the primary tools we use for successful problem solving in science, math and daily conflicts. Storytelling builds all of these skills while motivating students to explore the wealth of folktales and stories found in books and history.

Shapes Life Values

Storytelling is a gentle way to guide children toward constructive personal values; the listener is vicariously placed in situations in which the outcome of both wise and unwise actions and decisions can be experienced from the safe distance of the imagination.

“Story is engaging—it evokes emotion, which provokes learning.”

Teaches Acceptance

With storytelling, students are able to explore and celebrate each individual’s full range of creativity. It’s also an opportunity to broaden their understanding heritage and culture, both theirs and those of others. In doing so, they learn to accept and appreciate their own creative efforts.

Strengthens Important Life Skills

Storytelling strengthens important skills that will follow your students far beyond the doors of your classroom, into college and the workforce. With storytelling, your students:

  • Learn how to listen actively and analytically.
  • Improve verbalization skills.
  • Increase attention spans.
  • Increase imagination and visualization skills.
  • Increase comprehension and retention skills.
  • Explore folktales, myths and legends from around the world.
  • Learn how to employ focusing techniques to tell stories without memorization.

Empowers All Forms of Communication

Storytelling helps students explore the use of body language, gestures, and facial and vocal expression to bring a story to life. When telling a story to you or their peers, they also learn how to feel comfortable in front of an audience, which improves their poise and enhances self-esteem.

Re-Telling is Powerful Too

Sharing one story one time is just one part of the equation; re-telling is important too. “The study offers rigorous empirical data and anecdotal support for the educational value of retelling stories. When so many skills are improved through its use, storytelling cannot be thought of as a frill. Classroom story role playing and retelling stories to friends and to the teacher need to be encouraged,” from Children Tell Stories: A Teaching Guide (Richard C. Owen Publishers, 1990).

“I had given up on him—he has never responded successfully to anything in the classroom. But now I see that I was wrong. Thank you for helping me recognize how to reach him!”

In a second grade classroom, the teacher observed a student who had been classified as “educably mentally retarded” re-tell a story fluidly and confidently in perfect sequence. Tears streamed down the teacher’s face as she said, “I had given up on him—he has never responded successfully to anything in the classroom. But now I see that I was wrong. Thank you for helping me recognize how to reach him!”

That’s not an isolated incident—this has occurred in various forms in classroom after classroom. Some storytellers call these incidents “small miracles,” and so do the teachers. While they may not be miracles to everyone, they’re significant indicators of the power of storytelling.

Benefits of Storytelling for the Teacher

An important by-product of teaching kids to tell stories is what the teacher learns from listening to their students. Over and over again, teachers report that they’re astounded by the results.

Experience it for yourself—bring the power of storytelling into your classroom.

Learn more about your fundraising Read-A-Thon at Learn2Earn.

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  1. Pingback: 9 Steps for Using Digital Storytelling in the ClassroomLearn2Earn Blog

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