Personalizing learning by telling stories -- before digital story telling became 'a thing'

I have often been told by my students that they remembered what I was teaching because I attached it to some crazy story about an adventure or about my family. Even in word problems I wrote for math class, Bob, my husband, was a regular character. The length of his nose, his love of cookies and pizza, how far he was working away from home -- these were all subjects I alluded to regularly. I would wait for someone to get up the courage to ask, "Who's Bob?" and for another student who'd opted to take second course with me to have the pleasure of replying, "Her husband!" I think these stories help foster a sense of family in class.

In that spirit, I have posted in my blog a story for you all about a crazy Christmas adventure I had when was living in the Yukon in the early 1980's. What stories do you tell your students when you're trying to make a point in class? I'd love to hear some of them.

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What a great Christmas adventure. I had not heard of Robert Service's poem before but it definitely fit the situation.

I teach German and I usually teach the new vocabulary through silly stories. My students tend to remember the vocabulary better and they are also more enthusiastic about class in general when we have stories. I also lived in Germany for some time. I'll tell them stories about things that happened to me while I was there.

One of their favorite stories is the time I took a group of American students on a bike ride. Unexpectedly, we rode past a nudist colony. Most of the boys in class are very excited to hear this but when I tell them that most of the people there were either older men or overweight women, I hear many comments such as "gross. eww, disgusting." As it happened my kids were riding their bikes and they were trying not to look but they couldn't help themselves. It was like trying to avoid a bad accident on the highway. You slow down and look even though you know you shouldn't. As the kids slowed down to look, they weren't paying attention and they ran into each others' bikes. There was quite a tumble as biker after biker fell down in slow motion pretending they weren't looking at the nudist colony. It was one of the biggest bike accidents I've ever seen in my life. I wish I had it on video. Fortunately the only things bruised were my students' egos. The cool thing about this story is that I tell in in German and most of my students understand most of it. They also remember it for quite a while, which means they remember the vocabulary also.
That's a great story, Julie. I'm chuckling as I read it. What a great tool you have for getting the students to see you in a different light. I think these kinds of stories are real life savers in class. I could tell from the atmosphere in the room when the class needed one, and they could tell from the look on my face that I was about to tell one. They'd hush each other up in anticipation. It was always my preferred classroom management technique. Now I work in an individualized setting and miss that sort of classroom dynamic. Thanks for sharing it with me. --Sue
Thanks, Sue. I have often heard that storytelling is the oldest form of education we have. I don't have any resource for that "stat" but I do see how storytelling engages kids. I have heard that math terms and science terms stay with kids longer if they are woven into a story and given characteristics, i.e. Mr. Triangle was an unusual individual with 3 elbows (or something similar).

Although you miss the classroom dynamics, I'm sure you see much more progress and motivation with your one on one teaching situation. I know I would definitely miss my "class" but I sure would love to be able to teach at the learner's pace instead of at the group pace. There are advantages to both situations. Even though you don't need the stories for a management technique, there is nothing wrong with sharing stories in you individualized setting. All the best to you!
Great post! I was pondering this the other day. I make free YouTube videos teaching SAT vocab, and sometimes I pick use and anecdote or personal story to illustrate the word and make it more memorable. So far, the comments have been positive... or maybe I should say, no worse than for my other videos :P
Jack -- jello or fruit = vascillate! I got it and loved it. What a great way to teach kids how to do quick & effective videos as well. Can anyone join this contest? We're in Canada. Would you post a list or a source of vocab words? My students do not have to write SAT but this is a great way for them to improve their vocabulary. We have several doing Communications 11 and 12, & 2 teachers who I think are ready to learn how to do videos. I'd love to get them going on this in January. Thanks.
My students love to hear stories. They especially like when I tell humorous stories about my family. One of the most popular assignments during the year is to tell a story about your own family and to turn it into a fable. I give examples using stories in my own life as examples and the kids come up with morals that I could use to create a fable. They especially like hearing the story of how my husband bragged about how he could do a snap-up. However, he forgot we lived in an attic apartment at the time. He struck his head on the ceiling and fell onto the bed behind him so hard he bounced 2 or 3 times. After asking if my husband was hurt, which he wasn't, they come up with some great morals. My husbands personal favorite is a braggart who fails looks foolish.

I agree that sharing stories fosters a sense of family. Students love both hearing my own stories and sharing their own. One of the most telling comments I have heard from a past student is that he felt like I cared about him as a person because I shared who I was as a person.
This is hysterical, Tanya!! I could see it all in my mind's eye as I read it. Thanks.
Great idea of turning personal stories into fables.
Kids today miss out story telling as they are too busy watching TV or playing Computer Games...and keeping the art of story telling alive in Schools and Classrooms is so wonderful.

This is wonderful...I shall remember Bob too when I am teaching something like this..

Maggie -- I have to admit after a while not all the Bob stories were entirely true -- but they could have been and the kids enjoyed them. And when he recently took some funny 'nose related' video of himself just after he bought his own laptop and video cam, prince that he is, he let me put the footage into a Voicethread my family here in BC assembled as a collaborative Christmas present for my mum in Australia and my mum got a good laugh when she badly needed one. He thought he had a black spot on the end of his nose and kept trying to rub it off. It took a while for it to sink in that it was a shadow caused by the lighting.
This story is hysterical. Thanks for sharing.
Maggi, I remember reading an article about how our children growing up in a very visual world have difficulties dealing with some books and literature in school. They don't know how to create a visual image from words they read since they are so used to having the image presented to them through video, TV, computer games, etc. The article mentioned that we teachers need to demonstrate how to form pictures in our students' brains while they are reading. One way to do this is for us to tell our own stories and make them as visually graphic as possible. Another way is to ask students questions about their reading that illicit pictures in their brain. For example if the character is walking down a tree-lined street, ask about the trees, how tall, how wide, what type, what else is visible on the street, etc.

Too bad I can't remember the source of that article. Its content has made a difference in my teaching.



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