Using Stories to Help with Learning

“What is 5 – 2?”

This is a boring question. It has a boring answer. There is no tie-in to reality or even fantasy.

“Nick has 5 apples. He gives 2 apples to his friend Paul. Now, how many apples does Nick have?”

Though the root of the question is the same, this way of asking sparks the imagination. You wonder about Nick and Paul. What do they look like? How do they sound? And the apples: are they green or red? Big or small? These details don’t distract, they enrich the learning experience.

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Stories create context, a vitally important part of any well-designed lesson. Below are a few ways you can use stories to help your children better learn, retain, and apply their knowledge.

Problem Solving

In the example I gave above, Nick, Paul, and the apples add a few new pieces of information to the basic problem. By framing the question like this, perhaps my apple-loving kid will finally have an interest in doing his math homework.

Who are we kidding? Nobody really cares that much about apples. But what if we replaced apples with something more relevant to the student’s interests? Whether that’s dolls or dollar bills, some minor modifications like these can make a world of difference.

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When creating a story problem, think about the units, the actors, and the outcomes for right or wrong answers, and have some fun with it!

Language Teaching

A story used in a language teaching environment can have a range of benefits, depending on how you choose to use it. They can be used to introduce new vocabulary; review sentence patterns; demonstrate correct tone, stress, and emotion; and more.

Stories can even be turned around for kids who are already at a higher level. Let them tell you the story and fill in the details and convey emotion as best they can. Empower them by letting them quiz you on it afterward or compare your perspectives by drawing a picture based on the story they’re telling you.

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Critical Thinking

Stories don’t have to give any direct answers; they can also be used to encourage higher-level thought.

I’m not talking about reading The Great Gatsby and writing an essay on the corruption of the American dream or anything of that sort. They’ll get to experience that joy in due time.

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For younger students, a simple story is enough to get the gears turning. Ask them an open-ended question like:

“What did you like about the story?”

“What do you think will happen next?”

“Why?”

These types of questions, even if they seem very straightforward, require thinking back on the story to give an answer. At worst, it will test your listener’s memory.

Overall

One thing you can try is creating a larger context within your learning environment. Maybe one day you are taking a trip to the moon, so your stories are space-themed and focused on a couple of aliens? And another day, perhaps you’re going under the sea? These overarching themes, while not extremely popular in traditional classroom environments, are widespread elsewhere, adopted to great effect by popular children’s TV shows, private language training centers, learning-oriented video games, etc.

These are just a few examples of ways you can use stories in teaching. If you have any more, please feel free to share them with us in the comment section.