5 Ways to Teach With Story

Multiple Intelligences

A number of years ago a neuropsychologist at Harvard University, Howard Gardner, proposed that the way we thought about intelligence needed some revision.  Gardner proposed that there were different types of intelligence and that each of us approach learning with a blend of these.

“The basic idea is simplicity itself. A belief in a single intelligence assumes that we have one central, all-purpose computer—and it determines how well we perform in every sector of life. In contrast, a belief in multiple intelligences assumes that we have a number of relatively autonomous computers—one that computes linguistic information, another spatial information, another musical information, another information about other people, and so on. I estimate that human beings have 7 to 10 distinct intelligences (see www.multipleintelligencesoasis.org).” WashingtonPost.com

What this means to educators is that a wider variety of instructional methods will yield greater success with more students.  The trick is how to incorporate these styles of intelligence into curriculum.

The Way Our Brains Work

Our brains are well suited to learn by story.  Listening to stories stimulates creative thinking and problem solving.  It engages the listener, strengthening listening and visualization skills.  It gives the listener the opportunity to experience emotional and intellectual processes that are unique and powerful, in a safe environment.  Listening to and experiencing story offers an opportunity to practice empathy.

Current research has shown that our brain doesn’t differentiate between what we are imagining and what is physically present with us. This indicates that we can learn about ourselves and others in a meaningful way by listening to stories. We can ‘test drive’ our emotions and responses to difficult situations. Teachers and leaders can guide students to a deeper knowledge of self, as well as the world in which we live by sharing stories and discussing individual responses.

Teaching Through Storytelling

Here are some activities that teach to each type of intelligence which can be used with storytelling.

Intrapersonal, Linguistic – Choose one of the problems the character encounters in the story.  Think about how you would handle this problem and then write the character a letter telling them your advice.

Visual-Spatial, Interpersonal, Kinesthetic – Create a storyboard:  divide a piece of paper into 6 different sections.  Draw the scenes from the story in the sequence in which they occurred.  Draw images that were most vivid for you, then fill in the background from imagination.  Try retelling the story from your board to partner.

Visual-Spatial, Kinesthetic – Draw a map of the country in which the story takes place.  Trace the character’s journey; include pictures of buildings, landforms, animals, plants, etc.

Logical-Math, Linguistic, Interpersonal – Each story holds information unique to its culture.  Discuss conditions, events, or situations in the story which illustrate the different ways in which people have lived.  Is there a political system evident, if so what kind?  Does the story talk about any customs or religion?  Can you tell what traits are valued in this culture?

Musical-Rhythmic – Have the student create a chant or song to relate the story.  Utilize recordings of music authentic to the culture and time period, or use a simple percussion instrument to give the story a beat.

A Happy Ending

Including storytelling as a foundational element in teaching means you and your students will have a greater variety of avenues with which to access the material. Story, itself, offers a multi-sensory approach that supports the goal of individualizing curriculum. It provides virtually unlimited ways with which students can connect to what is being taught and does most of the ‘heavy lifting’ for the teacher. Making the shift to story-centered learning does require a commitment and open-mindedness. Making that investment will result in a satisfying, and happy, ending.