Once Upon A Time: The Knowhow Of Storytelling
Greetings everyone! Today I’m going to tell you a story about Ahmed. Ahmed is twelve years old. He has tousled hair, black rimmed glasses and wears an innocent smile. Ahmed is very naughty mind you, but he would never hurt anyone. He lives in the suburbs of Karachi with his parents, younger sister and grandparents. Unlike most of his friends who prefer spending their free time playing video games, Ahmed likes to read. So much so that if you ask him he would say “books are my best friend!”. Would you like to meet Ahmed? You can always find him in the library, lost in books. His love for adventure could keep him occupied there for hours at a time. World History, English Literature and Urdu Adab are his favourite. He studies other subjects with the same zeal but there is one question on his mind. A question to which he could never find an answer to. Not even in his precious books. He wanted to know why math, science and geography are not as magical and wonderful as the Alf Laila stories his grandma reads to him or as mysterious as the horror stories he narrates to his cousins during sleepovers? Then one day, a new teacher came to his class and said something that left him spellbound till the end of the lesson. She said “Greetings everyone! today I’m going to tell you a story …”
I think it is safe to say that storytelling is as old as time itself. “Hare and the tortoise”, “thirsty crow” and “sour grapes” are some of the famous stories we’ve all grown up with. But unfortunately, colouring books, puzzles, stuff toys, playdough, and storybooks are left behind as we pass out of early school years. But with the right mindset and skills, storytelling can be used as a teaching tool for any class and any subject.
“If you are a teacher then you already are a storyteller”
All of us are hardwired to tell stories. It’s in our DNA. Our ancestors used stories to teach and it still exists as the oldest form of communication. We narrate events of our day like different parts of a story because this is how we think, express, learn about and understand the world around us.
What can storytelling offer?
Stories create magic and a sense of wonder at the world. Stories teach us about life, about ourselves and about others. Storytelling is a unique way for students to develop an understanding, respect and appreciation for other cultures, and can promote a positive attitude towards diversity.. Using storytelling as an innovative teaching tool also:
● Promotes a feeling of well-being and relaxation
● Increases a child’s willingness to communicate thoughts and feelings
● Encourages active participation
● Increases verbal proficiency
● Encourages the use of imagination and creativity
● Encourages cooperation between students
● Enhances active listening skills
Not all stories stay with us
We’ve read, heard and narrated countless stories in our lives. But do we remember all of them? Out of hundreds only a few stay with us. And the ones that stay are the good ones. Consider the following story:
“A group of mountain climbers had to stop their journey because of bad weather conditions ..”
I have a second draft for your perusal:
“23rd March 2019. Five brave mountaineers packed their bags, determined to reach the summit of mount K2 before the break of dawn. But they were met with an unforeseen challenge. A killer frost breeze washed over them unexpectedly. They were almost out of supplies now and had lost connection with the base. They were left hanging between life and death ..”
Why is the second draft more engaging?
The addition of literary elements in a story work the same magic as key ingredients do in an old family recipe. One of the most important elements is the Setting. It provides an exact or abstract idea of where and when the story is taking place which enables it to transport the audience into the universe the author is trying to create. Second, are the Characters or “life” of a story as I like to call them. A story can have either one central character or multiple supporting ones. This is the element in which the audience invests itself because they are interested in the hero’s journey. Next, throw in a Conflict to make the story compelling, a Plot or clearly defined ultimate goal the characters are trying to achieve, a Theme or underlying message and you’ll be good to go! Can you think of a theme for the above story?
How do you do it?
Once you have a captivating story with all the key elements, it’s now time to narrate. Over the years storytellers have picked up and practiced a few tips and tricks for effective storytelling which are actually very similar to traditional teaching methods. They don’t rely on just “reading” the story. They don’t sit still in a chair either. Instead, They talk slowly and keep alternating their tone. They walk around. It is advised to use your hands and facial expressions. And most importantly take a pause when needed to create drama, sound effects, and involve the listeners by asking them to answer questions, or even to make suggestions. The key here is to keep eye contact and maintain a charismatic presence.
If you are a teacher then you already are a storyteller. But it will take practice to further push and polish your skills. Reading as many fables and folktales as you can along the way can help boost your imagination, increase your vocabulary bank and enhance your confidence. The countless benefits of storytelling as a teaching tool definitely make it worth a try.
“Storytelling is like a thread that can weave a closely knitted bond between students and teachers, and also connect them to the practical world”
Do you have an Ahmed in your class? Then, you too can make a magical difference in your classroom as you continue the process of learning and development.