Using Stories for Teaching Primary Social Studies, pp. 2 of 8

In the classroom, teachers can use stories as supplements to the primary social studies textbooks to spice up lessons and to pique students’ curiosity and interest. Stories can enhance their content mastery and deepen their understanding of big ideas in the form of concepts and generalizations. They can grow their knowledge of their own culture, history and heritage, and broaden their awareness and appreciation of other cultures. Stories can also develop their empathy, social and moral values and attitudes, self-confidence and self-esteem. In addition, they can bond the class together when students participate in telling a story and solving the protagonists’ problems as the plot unfolds. They can feel proud of their performance and experience the joy of sharing stories. Stories can also develop their abilities to listen, speak, imagine, compose phrases and create stories. Because stories can speak to the heart, students can be motivated to be story readers, tellers and creators themselves (MacDonald, 2001; Raines & Isbell, 1999; Spagnoli, 1999 in Sim, 2004, p 140).

How to Choose Stories to Read or Tell?

Teachers can draw from children’s literature to read or tell stories during primary social studies lessons. The question to ask is what is good children’s literature? According to Roxburgh, Zolotow, Engle and Kruse (1982), it is impossible or futile to define what is good children’s literature because the definition would impose or set limits which are “specious, plausible but not genuine” (p 262). Heins (1982) agrees that defining good children’s literature is “almost terrifying in its ambiguity” because one needs to find a common denominator for the diverse forms of children’s literature which include fiction, non-fiction, poetry, folklore and picture books. Despite the difficulty in defining as highlighted by these scholars, it is still meaningful for teachers to bear in mind the traits of good stories for teaching especially with the smorgasbord of children’s literature that cuts across different genres and cultural settings.

Gregory (1996 in Sim, 2004, pp. 140-141) provides several helpful criteria for consideration: Stories should appeal and speak to the reader’s/teller’s and listener’s hearts. This is critical because appealing and meaningful stories make the greatest impact on teaching and learning. Stories for teaching should be relevant to the curriculum taught. For example, “Lim Bo Seng: Singapore’s Best-Known War Hero” retold by Clara Seow (1998) is suitable for the Primary 4 unit on “Journey towards Independence”. Stories from “Earth Care: World Folk Tales to Talk About” by Margaret Read Macdonald (1999) are appropriate for teaching attitudes such as environmental care in Primary 3. Stories should also help to achieve lesson objectives.

The suitability of the story for students is also vital. The content and illustrations should be age and developmentally appropriate for them. For young students, suitable imaginative or expressive language with appealing sounds in stories is particularly essential to capture their attention and imagination. For older students, the plot and character development are the important considerations. In addition, stories should offer possibilities for students’ actions and participation. Stories, which allow for students’ involvement such as singing, clapping, making sounds or dancing, will enhance their enjoyment and engagement of the lesson. The text and illustrations in stories should be free from bias and stereotyping. This will ensure the inculcation of appropriate values and perspectives in students. Additionally, text and illustrations in stories should be accurate to enable students to learn the right thing. The illustrations must support the text and offer clues to the plot or concept formation, character traits, moods and settings. Stories should have elements of humour, suspense or drama which are the ingredients for a good story to sustain student interest in the story and lesson. Changar and Harrison (1992 in Sim, 2004, p 141) have also suggested other factors for consideration. A good story should have a clearly defined theme, a well-developed plot with each incident related to the plot, quick actions, believable and well-defined characterization and vivid word pictures.

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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