The Power of Story

“Let me tell you a story.”

I LOVE those words. Don’t you? From childhood tales around a campfire, to friends sharing a recent weekend event, those six words spark your interest. You are instantly engaged and want to know more. Are the surrounding woods haunted? Did your friend meet the love of their life? Did they mistakenly erase every iPad in the district (not that that would ever happen) ? You have to find out!

More than just social engagement, story telling is a powerful tool for both persuasion and learning. As a method of information delivery, history has shown it to be more powerful and longer lasting than any other method.

Why is story telling so powerful?

Our brains are wired from birth to learn lessons from story. When we hear them, our bodies change. Stories elicit a physical response – our pupils dilate, our heart rate quickens, our brains release chemicals that cause us to react empathetically with the characters in a story. This all results in our attention being focused on the story and the storyteller.

Storytelling also generates a related emotional reaction that other methods of presenting information fail to. This makes it a powerful tool when trying to call people to action – in our schools and classrooms, at a parent/community club meeting, a school board meeting and any other time we ask for the support of others. In her book Resonate, Nancy Duarte summarized it best by saying “there is a difference between being convinced with logic and believing with personal conviction.” People rarely act by reason alone, they need to be moved by emotion.

All of these reactions (biological, chemical and emotional) cause us to remember more of what is being presented and act upon.

The importance of Storytelling for Educators

As educators, we have our toolbox of essentials skills we draw upon as we develop lessons, integrate technology and manage our classrooms. Storytelling is a way to more deeply engage students in learning. Although ancient in origin, storytelling is still an extremely effective tool in our modern world. It can be used to transform your classroom when combined with technology.

If you are just getting started you could have students craft a narrative story showcasing what they have learned in eBook form. Any number of tools could be used: the Book Creator app, Google Slides, or even Pages and Word. Students love telling stories and digital publishing brings their work to a wider audiance.

Going deeper, we should introduce students to storytelling structures such as narrative arcs and have them develop speeches and presentations that use them. Their classmates will be more engaged in what they are presenting and they will demonstrate a deeper understanding of the content. They are forced to do more than just copy bullet points out of a book onto a slide.

As an instructor, I encourage you to incorporate story telling into your classroom presentations no matter the age of your students. Students will be more engaged, retain more information and develop a stronger connection to the material through the use of story. Stories provide context and meaning to data to make it easier to understand. We’ve all experienced death by a PowerPoint riddled with bullet points and driven to a stupor by isolated numbers and information bits. Friends don’t let friends do that to students. Tell a story. Engage. Connect.

Lastly, as teachers, administrators and supporters of education, we need to advocate for our schools. We need our communities to have a vested interest in, and be connected to our districts. Storytelling gives us a powerful medium to share the great things that are happening in our classrooms and districts. Stories can motivate and encourage people to look inside themselves and support change.

Knowing the power of storytelling, I ask you this: What are YOUR stories and how will you share them with the world?

Resources and Works Cited:

  • How Stories Change the Brain []
  • Nancy Duarte Talks at TEDx East []
  • Duarte, N. (2013). Resonate: Present visual stories that transform audiences. John Wiley & Sons.