Share your story, share your wisdom: How to make learning memorable

June 14, 2012

There I sat in my professor’s office, sobbing. “But it is such a lousy grade,” I said. “I’ll never get another scholarship. Then, how will I pay for school? I’ll have to drop out.”

I hated statistics, but it was a mandatory course in my research program. My grade was a passing one, but just barely.

Tim, in his Northern English fashion, didn’t really have much use for tears, but he knew that I was hurting. He retorted, “Look, you’re not going to drop out of school. It will work out just fine.”

“But how?” I sniveled.

“Let me tell you about the time I got a terrible grade in one of my courses in grad school…” He went on to tell me about an experience that paralleled my own. “I made it through OK, and so will you. After you’ve crossed that stage and you have your degree in hand, no one is going to ask you what your grade in statistics was! You passed. That’s enough. Now go on, and get back to work.”

Having my teacher and mentor share a story with me about his own shortcomings did not diminish his professional excellence in my eyes; in fact, it made me respect him even more. My point to you is this: Through our personal stories, as teachers we have an opportunity to create memorable learning experiences that motivate, inspire and teach our learners.

Here are some tips on how to incorporate stories into your teaching practice:

Be vulnerable 

Stories that show your humanity and your vulnerability are likely to resonate the most deeply with others. We are not talking about melodramatically pulling all your skeletons out of the closet and putting them on parade. It is about show-ing that you, too, are human. Adult learners in particular, can be hampered by a fear of failure. By sharing our failures and vulnerabilities, we become approachable and believable.

Get personal (just a little) 

Stories that are drawn from your own experience will have the most impact. Professional speaker, Patricia Fripp calls it “mining your experience”. Find the golden nuggets of your life and polish them. Then offer them as gifts of the heart.

Unless there is a good reason to do otherwise, tell your stories using the first person. They are your stories, after all.

Speak your truth 

Your stories will be more believable if they are true. A little bit of literary license is allowed, but at least 90% of the story should be accurate and true. If there is too much embellishment, others will pick up on it. If they do, then you lose credibility as a storyteller — and as a teacher. It is OK to massage the truth, just don’t stretch it too far.

Keep it short 

Keep your stories crisp, clean and to the point. Someone once told me that a story that relates directly to your lesson should take up a maximum of 5% of your teaching time. In a 60-minute class, your story should be a maximum of 3 minutes. If it is longer, students may tune out or get impatient. I have used that guideline in my teaching practice and it seems to work well.

Focus on the learner 

Your teaching stories may be about you, but they are for your learner. Edit out unnecessary details. Ask yourself, “How will this story help my learners?”

Make a point 

In teaching, we do not tell stories to simply to entertain our students. We use the entertainment and emotional elements of a story to create memorable learning experiences. The connection between your story and the point you are trying to make may not be obvious to the listener. Use transitional phrases such as “My point to you is…” to help others contextualize the story you have just shared with them.

How can you create memorable learning experiences for your students with stories? Your life is a gold mine of experience. What nuggets of life do you have to share with your students? The wisdom contained within them is priceless.

Related posts: 

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If you are interested in booking me (Sarah Eaton) for a presentation, keynote or workshop (either live or via webinar) contact me at sarahelaineeaton (at) gmail.com. Please visit my speaking page, too.


The wisdom of your story: Storytelling resources for teachers

January 27, 2012

Storytelling is a practice that dates back centuries. Sometime in the last 20th century however, its use in the classroom began to diminish, but researcher, Melanie C. Green, reminds us that “stories are a powerful structure for organizing and transmitting information, and for creating meaning in our lives and environments”.

How-to articles and resources

Storyteller.nethttp://www.storyteller.net/– This site has a sub-page called “Articles” with dozens of links and resources

Storytelling: How to tell a tale – by LibrarySpot.com – http://www.libraryspot.com/features/storytellingfeature.htm – This article goes over the essentials, and learning the art of storytelling. It also has links to a variety of other resources.

Storytelling Lessons, lesson plans and activities

Storytelling – Oral Traditions (lesson plan for grades 4-6) – by Teachers’ Domain – http://www.teachersdomain.org/resource/echo07.lan.stories.lporaltrad/

Storytelling – ProTeacher.com – This site is a collection of links to other resources, including lesson plans and activities – http://www.proteacher.com/070163.shtml

Professional organizations

National Storytelling Network (U.S.A. ) http://www.storynet.org/

Research articles

Storytelling in Teaching – by Melanie C. Green, published in APS Observer – http://www.psychologicalscience.org/observer/getArticle.cfm?id=1562

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Update – January 2018 – This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.


Global Trends in Language Learning in the 21st Century: Webinar

July 14, 2010

Did you miss this webinar? Check out the follow-up post for links to the slides, handouts and recording.

Global Trends in Language Learning in the 21st Century: Webinar
http://www.learncentral.org/node/86167
Tuesday, July 27, 2010
Login start: 09:45 Mountain Time
Webinar: 10:00 – 11:00 Mountain Time

In this webinar we’ll talk about the findings of my new study that reveals what’s hot and what’s not in language learning in the 21st century.

The study, “Global Trends in Language Learning in the Twenty-First Century”, found, among other things, that public speaking and presentation skills, even for second language students, are enjoying new levels of prestige in the Obama era. “For the first time in decades, there is a U.S. President who is wooing young people with his power to communicate verbally. This is having an impact not only in the United States, but across the globe. Second language speech contests, debates, poetry readings, and story telling are particularly trendy,” the report reveals.

This is just one of a number of new trends in language learning you’ll want to hear about.  Join me as I share the highlights of this new research. The webinar will include a 20 minute presentation and 35 minutes for discussion.

How to join the webinar:

1) Mark the date and time of the event in your calendar

2) at 09:45 Mountain Time (adjust for your time zone!) on July 27, click on this URL:
 https://sas.elluminate.com/site/external/launch/dropin.jnlp?sid=lcevents&password=Webinar_Guest

3) Have a pen and some paper handy to take notes.

With thanks to our sponsor, Elluminate (www.elluminate.com), for providing the technology to make this webinar available to you free of charge.

Remember to convert the time of this webinar to your own time zone. You can do this at http://www.timeanddate.com/worldclock/converter.html. In the top of the box where it asks you to “Select time and place to convert from” choose “Canada – Alberta – Canada”. In the box under that, select your country and closest city.

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Update – January 2018 – This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.


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