Imagine this scene in a mathematics classroom and the topic on board is multiplication. The teacher gathers the students and starts:

There was a girl called Riya who invited all her friends for a tea party at her home. She proudly declared that 'my mum is the best cook in the world and makes delicious cakes'. All her 12 class mates waited to experience Riya's mum's baking. On the the day of the tea party, her mum received an urgent call and had to rush to the city. Riya was very upset, she did not want to cancel her tea party, but she didn't know how to bake. She had seen her mum bake cakes for 4 in their family, she had no idea how to cook for 12. Riya used her brain and thought "4 x 3 is 12, so maybe I shall make 3 cakes separately. But that will take too long!". Her sister came in and said 'Silly Riya, you don't need to make 3 cakes, all you need to do is multiply each recipe ingredient by 3 and you get measurements for a 12 people cake'....

The story goes on with Riya ending up making a cake for 12 people and all her friends praise her baking.

Compare with this classwork that teacher has written on the board for students to do in class:

Solve the word problem: If 1 cup of flour , 1/2 cup butter and and 1/2 cup of sugar makes a cake for 4 , then how many cups of flour, butter and sugar will be required for 24 people?

Which style do you think would have created a better learning connection in the students mind?

For thousands of years, humans have used storytelling as a means of communication. Imaginations, experiences, fears, beliefs, values lessons learned have been passed down generations orally and deeply imbibed in our minds. Stories have taken various forms and adapted to each successive medium that has emerged from the campfire circle to cinemas to smart phones. We all have grown up reading Panchatantra tales, Aesop's fables and fairy tales. Nursery rhymes such as "5 little ducks went out to play" were our first introduction to counting up and down. While preschoolers still learn many concepts through storytelling, as the child progresses in education, stories are relegated to language classes and hobbies. The art of storytelling has been and will always be a highly effective teaching strategy. Telling a story creates more vivid, powerful and memorable images in a listener’s mind than does any other means of delivery of the same material.

The National Curriculum Framework 2005 of India highlights the importance of storytelling as a successful means of teaching in school. However, due to lack of requisite skills and motivation on the part of teachers, storytelling as a medium of instruction has been ignored. Nevertheless , some teachers and schools have been successful in integrating the art of storytelling inside classroom to give lessons to students. Dry and tough subjects such as mathematics, history and science are made more engaging by use of stories. Social entrepreneur and educator Geeta Dharmarajan developed the concept of  StoryPedagogy which draws heavily from India’s traditional oral traditions and Bharata Muni’s Natya Shastra, a 2,000-year-old treatise on the performing arts.  In the KSL school, this technique is delivered through Active Story-Based Learning (ASBL) , which helps children to learn language, science and mathematics, and develop general awareness and critical thinking, through stories and activities. Pratham books continually release digital books in their open source Digital Storytelling portal : StoryWeaver. These books are free to read and download to anyone. At Azim Premji School in Chattisgarh, an educator Gajendra Kumar has used storytelling to effectively teach the concept of area and perimeter.

Here's how you can incorporate storytelling in your classroom:

  1. Plan: Pick a topic in which you want to use storytelling as a teaching strategy. It could be about Division where you read a story about sharing food among a class. It could be a biology topic like hibernation or photosynthesis.
  2. Create:  An effective story needs characters, setting, conflict and resolution. For example, to teach the components needed to make a spaceship, we can create a story where the main character goes on a treasure hunt to find the various components and builds one which takes him to space. While you can create your own stories drawn from your experiences or imagination, there are many free resources available on the internet to start incorporating storytelling in your classroom.
  3. Tell: Use voice modulation, role plays, props and visual media to make the stories engaging and capture the students attention. Address multiple intelligences and learning styles to ensure each child is hooked on to the concept.
  4. Discuss and Reflect: During the session, ask relevant questions to kids around the topic to keep them engaged. A story of the grasshopper and the ant, could lead to questions like - why do you think animals have to gather food before winter? The stories should not just tell the concept but also highlight values such as perseverance, planning demonstrated by the characters. A story by Roopa Pai called  How old is Muttaji  takes two kids on an exciting mathematical journey through Muttajji's memories and India's history in their quest to crack the big question. This story can end by teacher asking students to build a timeline of chronological events.
  5. Cross curriculum: If possible, use a story that can touch upon different subjects such as language, social science, science, mathematics. A story about creation of the world in different cultures can engage the students at different levels and make them curious about the social, scientific and mathematical aspects behind creation concept.
  6. Create with students: Involve the students in picking up stories or creating new stories from existing ones. Ask students to develop alternative endings to a story. Bring a storybook with two critical pages missing and ask students to fill in the missing content. Students can retell the story in illustrative or comic book form to strengthen understanding of a concept.

This framework can get you started on a small scale and based on its effectiveness , extend it to make it integral to the curriculum. Apart from teaching a concept to the students, Storytelling also builds other critical skills such as:

  • Listening and speaking skills
  • Cooperative learning environment
  • Creativity and imagination
  • Cultural and historical awareness
  • Developing multiple perspectives
  • Visual art skills; voice modulation

Stories humanize learning. Try using storytelling in your classrooms as a teaching strategy and see if it improves learning outcomes for your students.

Resources:

  1. Place Value as Storytelling: Primary Maths

2. The Power of Story