Storytelling in the Social Studies Classroom, pp. 4 of 8

Provocative story

For this next example, under the chapter of “Governance”, Philip, a teacher in an independent school, had introduced the concept of big and small government to his secondary three students and then asked for their opinions whether Singapore is a small or big government. This story came towards the end of the lesson. Several students had raised their hands to say it was a big government. One of the students Philip called on said, “There are a lot of laws and people are punished for what they do.” Underscoring what her classmate said, another student added, “Even those who commit suicide will be punished.” Philip at this point introduced his story,

“Let me tell you a little story. I was very very young then. And the sad fact for me was that I actually saw it happen. You know there’s this belief that if you were unhappy about certain things and want to take revenge on someone, you wear something red. So what this woman did was that she was in a red nightgown in a balcony somewhere. And she basically jumped. I so happened to be up early that morning. I saw her leap off. It wasn’t exactly a very ugly sight, to be honest with you. But it was traumatic after I got to know what it was all about. I was still very young then. Her body fell and landed on the ground, it sounded really loud. There was a very loud thud. But what traumatized me after her body fell to the ground was the fact that the police came and handcuffed her. And I asked my mother, “Why do they handcuff the body?” And my mother said, “Oh, it’s an offence to kill yourself.”

Some students appeared bewildered by the  story   and   exclaimed,   “But   she   is already dead!” They could not understand why a dead person should be handcuffed. Today, this practice is no longer carried out in Singapore, however, periodically such tales are still being told by the older generation to the younger one. Sharing such stories that are uniquely Singaporean helps to build a collection of shared stories among Singaporeans. Pedagogically-speaking, Philip likely told this story to elaborate upon the student’s comment about the strict law enforcement with regards to suicide in Singapore. The students were clearly engaged by the story and it achieved a “shock” effect as seen by the reactions of the students.

Thinking Skill Story

The following story is a departure from the previous three incidental telling of stories as it was carefully crafted by the teacher to teach a thinking skill. In this next example, Raihanna creatively combined storytelling, video, and role-play to tell a story with a purpose. First, she gave students some background to the video clip entitled, “The Jerk” with this guiding question: Can we use what we have learned about reliability to help someone? Then, she introduced three characters: Tom, an eligible bachelor, Joanne, Tom’s fiancée, and Veronica, Joanne’s friend. She gave the background of the story, “Now what happened is that Tom and Joanne have been engaged for one year, and they are going to get married soon. One day, Joanne goes shopping with her friends to buy things for her wedding. After a while, they are very tired, so they sit by the roadside café chatting and drinking coffee, and while they chatted, they were looking at the street lined with cars.”

An Inspiring Quote

"[Open-mindedness] includes an active desire to listen to more sides than one; to give heed to facts from whatever source they come; to give full attention to alternative possibilities; to recognize the possibility of error even in the beliefs that are dearest to us."

~ John Dewey, How We Think

Newsletter Subscription

Subscribe to our newsletter and stay up-to-date with new journal issues!