Build your own treasure house of stories

The writer feels that every subject taught can be enlivened by a relevant story. Her article looks at how teachers can bring life into their classes through story-telling.

There’s no happier time in a child’s life than story time and a child who is surrounded by storytellers is a fortunate child indeed. Like Shakespeare’s quality of mercy, a story is twice blessed: it blesses him (or her, of course) that gives and him that receives. Every subject that we teach can be enlivened by a relevant story. Every subject has at least one story embedded in it. There are stories of kings and queens that deal with mathematics and mathematical problems and there are stories about scientific discoveries that have all the excitement and romance of a novel or a crime thriller. Teachers have to be on the lookout for them and enjoy using them: the more use they make of the storytelling technique the more they develop the instinct to know unerringly what stories to use and when and how to use them. The ‘what’, the ‘when’ and the ‘how’ are important, because a wrongly- timed story, like a badly or indifferently told one, can be rather ineffective. And more is the pity, because story telling has infinite potential as a teaching aid.

The advantages of storytelling are quite innumerable – as teachers who use stories will know for themselves. Storytellers discover them as they go on from one day to another. Anyone who has told a story to a class (and ‘told’ doesn’t mean ‘read out’) will agree that storytelling is direct communication, that it brings with it eye-contact and shared emotion, as you and your listeners laugh together, shed tears together and are scared or in suspense together. You are together when you are telling a story, you are involving all of yourself – and at the same time involving the whole listener. The classroom becomes transformed into a warm, intimate and joyous place when you tell a story. Perhaps for this reason the best stories are told in the mother tongue. But as this is not always possible, the nest best thing to do is to make the effort to work with the language of instruction and get a feel for it and its hidden music.

No one can teach you how to tell a story or what story to tell when. These things teachers discovers for themselves – and in the discovery will be awakened many other latent qualities in them that they weren’t aware of. In other words, storytelling has a way of bringing about sensitivity in the teller. But that is provided they care.

Thus, when a teacher cares she will always have her ears and eyes open to listen for stories and to find them in every possible situation. If she cares, she’ll tell them to herself and her friends and discover ways and means to heighten their beauty and effectiveness. In her own way she might experiment with voice and facial expression – maybe practise before the mirror, maybe practise when she is alone. May be she’ll experiment with puppets and paper cut-outs which means she’ll discover quick and easy methods of making these aids.

You will read more, because you will enjoy adding stories to your repertoire – and you will remember your stories because they will sink into your subconscious and rise quickly to the surface when needed. There’s no harm, I suppose, if you plan the telling of a story, but a story is infinitely more effective when it comes forth unplanned and unbidden, just like a spring of water that you come upon accidently. But there must be a source, a treasure-house within, to which you add constantly – for where else would you draw stories from if not from your own self?

As you proceed with this delightful activity you will find yourself enjoying your classes, your pupils and the many, many rewards that will come to you – some open, but most hidden.

This article first appeared in Teacher Plus, Issue No. 1, July-August 1989 and has been adapted here with changes.

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