Storytelling has a rich tradition, and it has evolved and expanded to assume a dynamic, contemporary presence across settings and functions. Telling stories allows individuals to narrate our own experiences, and explore or pronounce fundamental elements of our identity.
According to Bruner (1986), “[Narrative] deals in human or human-like intention and action and the vicissitudes and consequences that mark their course. It strives to put its timeless miracles into the particulars of experience and to locate the experience in time and place.”
Stories resonate in social settings, and have the potential to pass across backgrounds that often separate us (Alexander & Levine, 2008). Storytelling in the classroom often provides a powerful opportunity to embed elements of narrative, identity, and writing into classroom pedagogy. Stories provide a realistic and authentic opportunity to capture students’ attention and help them listen and learn more actively than other forms of instruction by providing a vehicle to bring facts to life, make the abstract concrete and, through meaning making, make disciplinary literacies more accessible (Ellis, 2005).
Storytelling as knowledge construction
Young children construct knowledge of their world through the stories they hear and participate with. They interpret and comprehend literary stories by constructing the “world” being described through text (Semino, 2009).
When we read or hear stories, different parts of our brain actively track different aspects of the story as if the individual were experiencing the events firsthand (Speer, Reynolds, Swallow & Zacks, 2009). Rather than mere recipients of the story being told, students become active participants and may help co-construct the narrative (Alonso et al., 2013).
According to brain research, storytelling engages areas of the brain related to cognitive control (Lehne et al. 2015), emotion (Hsu, et al. 2015), empathy (Brink, et al. 2011), and social norms (Berthoz et al., 2002). Stories create an opportunity to help students comprehend and emote while connecting “new knowledge with lived experience and weaving it into existing narratives of meaning” (Rossiter, 2002, p. 1)
Making the abstract approachable & accessible
Storytelling provides an opportunity to explain and illustrate abstract ideas or concepts in a way that makes them more approachable and accessible. Stories offer a vehicle to bring facts to life, make the abstract concrete and, through meaning making, make disciplinary literacies more accessible (Ellis, 2005). Wells (1986) posits that storytelling is a fundamental means of meaning-making as a knowledge construction process.
Educators are experts in their field and may be accustomed to using discourse that can intimidate and overload novice learners. Storytelling breaks down the communication barriers between experts and novices and forms an accessible bridge for both to meet intellectually as they collaboratively connect one object to the next (Papert, 2000).
We are all storytellers
Want to learn more about what makes a story great? Be sure to check out this great class from Pixar in a Box. The class is a partnership with Khan Academy, and focuses on an exploration of the storytelling process at Pixar.
Learn more about the elements of a story, character, story structure, visual language, film grammar, and pitching & feedback. The expertise will help you as you write, blog, vlog, and communicate with others.