Storytelling in the Social Studies Classroom, pp. 6 of 8

Exploring Storytelling in the Classroom

These four stories reveal the ways in which stories have been used in the secondary social studies classroom. They are used to teach morals, inspire empathy and cultural understanding, engage students, and facilitate the learning of thinking skills such as fact checking and cross-referencing. Many of these stories are uniquely Singaporean, with teachers using Singlish to bring the stories to life. Many times students participated in the storytelling, as these stories provoked responses. At other times, the teacher, like Raihanna purposefully asked students to role play parts of the story. Stories were told at the beginning, in the middle, or at the end of the lesson. They were used to teach simple topics such as being a caring and respectful citizen and complex topics such as governance. They may also be incidental or planned.

Having looked at some of the ways teachers have told stories in secondary social studies classrooms, what can we learn from them and how can we also use stories for primary social studies? Before going into the strategies, it is important to note that the ability to comprehend complexities in stories is developmental in nature and younger children have been shown to have difficulty comprehending situations when there is a discrepancy between what has been intended and what actually happens in a story (Bruner, 1985). For example, the theme of deceit is difficult for children to grasp. It may also be difficult for younger students to make the distinction between the subjective and objective (Bruner, 1985). Hence, teachers need to be mindful of the abilities of their learners and choose stories appropriate for their listeners (Sim, 2004). Some teaching ideas, strategies, and suggestions for incorporating stories into the classroom include:

1. Tell More Stories

Stories can be told at any point of the lesson to achieve various aims. They can be used to introduce a new topic, conclude an old one, or to reinforce or negate certain points. Teachers can also encourage students to share their own stories with their classmates to give the class alternative perspectives on issues. This can be very useful when students have unique life experiences such as being a foreigner in a country. The teacher’s role is then to link students’ stories to the learning outcomes of the lesson (Ang, 2014). Like Shuwen and Phillip, teachers can tell personal stories, as students tend to be interested in them. For older students, teachers need not signal that a story is being told, but to begin it in everyday language (Willingham, 2004). For younger students, who have shorter attention spans, engaging them through expressive language, appealing sounds, and physical movement is highly important (Sim, 2004). Story time is an opportunity for teachers to be as creative as they wish to be for a desired effect, they can make use of their voice, language, and gestures to draw students into the story (Wright, 2005). Like Ravi, teachers also need not shy away from telling fables as stories involving animals appeal to many learners. Sim’s (2004) article on storytelling for social studies in the primary classroom is a helpful resource on how to tell stories.

2. Encourage Students to Read Books and Watch Movies Related to Lesson Content

Books and movies can be used as teaching aids as the narrative structure helps convey complicated content. For humanities and social studies education, biographies, autobiographies, and historical fiction are genres that may be suitable. For example, students can be encouraged to read books that give different accounts of the same event, such as The Singapore Story by Lee Kuan Yew (Lee, 1998) and Comet in our Sky, a compilation of short articles on Lim Chin Siong by Poh Soo Kai (Poh, 2015). If books do not appeal to students, there are also comics and graphic novels such as The LKY Story – Lee Kuan Yew: The Man Who Shaped a Nation (Nabeta, 2016) and the award-winning The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye (Liew, 2015). For younger students, picture books may be more appealing. In another lesson when she was covering the events of the Iraq War, Raihanna had encouraged her students to watch a Bollywood historical drama film called Airlift, about the evacuation of Indians during the invasion of Kuwait by Iraq. To help convey content in the classroom, teachers can also use edited scenes from films or TV programmes relevant to the topic (Ang, 2014). It is helpful for teachers to have access to a broad base of stories that they can draw upon to contextualize the subject matter for students.

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

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