When I was young, the neighborhood my family lived in was extremely flat, so when it snowed, we had to improvise if we wanted to go sledding. I remember one occasion where I was staring down our long, narrow backyard, hunkered down on a plastic political sign we had found, as my father and older brother each grabbed an arm and prepared to fling me down the yard. The tense anticipation I felt as I waited to either sail across the snow on my sign or fall face first in the snow without it is one of my most vivid childhood memories.
Much like my improvised sled, a well-chosen and well-told story can be the vehicle to carry a lesson forward. It can build excitement and enthusiasm for the lesson's learning, increase cognitive and affective engagement, motivate new learning, communicate important ideas, and anchor abstract ideas to a concrete situation. Perhaps most importantly, telling a story about yourself shares a small piece of your life with your students, which helps make connections and build relationships in your classroom.
For more information on how to use this strategy in your classroom, click on read more below.
Everyone's life is composed of stories, whether humorous or sad, complex or simple. The trick is remembering those stories. In the book High Impact Instruction: A Framework for Great Teaching, Jim Knight describes a simple process for finding your stories. First, draw a horizontal line across a piece of paper as a timeline of your life. Above the line, list the events of your life, both big and small, and below the line, list the people in your life. Spend several minutes on each list, and don't worry about the stories yet - just focus on creating your lists. Next, go through and jot down some notes about interesting stories you have tied to those events and people. You can also continue to add to your timeline and flesh it out over time.
When you are preparing your lesson, pull out your timeline and look through your notes to find a story that fits your lesson. The story may or may not explicitly teach the lesson's content, but it should always support the lesson's learning objective. Whatever story you use, Knight identifies six characteristics of effective stories; they are concise, vivid, emotional, surprising, humble, and, perhaps most importantly for our students, "not lame." You should also think through how you will present the story - having to stop repeatedly to recall or correct parts of your story breaks your flow and may cause your students to disengage.
In the video below, Knight discusses how to use stories in the classroom with Ryan Berger, a kindergarten teacher.
The stories you integrate into your classroom are unique to you, so you will have tailor this strategy to your experiences. Some of the stories I might use from my own life might include:
Using stories in the classroom supports district indicator 5.1, which deals with motivating and affectively engaging students. As discussed above, stories help create emotional connections with our students and motivate them by providing interesting situations to discuss or intriguing problems to solve.
Post by: Tony Harman | High School Instructional Coach
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