Using Stories for Teaching Primary Social Studies, pp. 6 of 8

Integrated Biographical Inquiry

The assumption behind the use of SBA is that students have not acquired the skills of reading and the approach will help them learn to read in the short and medium run. But the ultimate goal in the long run is for students to be independent readers so that they will be able to read to learn on their own. SBA is most appropriate for younger students but it is not suitable for older ones as they are generally independent readers. Therefore, instead of teachers reading with their students, teachers can provide stories for students to read independently and learn about social studies concepts in the process.

The idea of the integrated biographical inquiry and creation of a narrative come from Akmal and Ayre-Svingen’s (2002) work. They explain that by allowing students create a biographical narrative, they will be able to make sense of and connect with their biographical subjects’ lives. This approach can be used to help our students learn more about the founding fathers of Singapore and their contributions. Such knowledge can help to deepen their sense of appreciation of what they have and enjoy today as Singaporeans.  An example of how to use stories for students to read to learn and do a biographical inquiry is illustrated in the Strategy Example 2 below.


Sometimes instead of reading to students or getting them to do their own independent reading for the completion of a social studies task, teachers can tell them stories to engage them in the lessons. MacDonald (1993, 2001 in Sim, 2004, p 140) offers some guidelines for learning a story. She advises teachers to commence with stories which are familiar to them or which they are excited to share with their students. They need to first read it aloud and pay attention to and memorise the key phrases, chants, songs or onomatopoetic words or cultural specific or well-written openings and closings. The purpose is not to reproduce the story word for word but to communicate its intent. The story structure is analysed by breaking it into the    opening, the episodes (of development) and the closing. Knowing the story structure is crucial for teachers to find their way through the story should they forget. They will need to rehearse the story in their own words a few times without any text reference and “repair” the story by taking note of and practising those parts which are problematic. Reflection on their own strengths and weaknesses after each telling will help them improve. Practice stops once they are thoroughly familiar with the story.

After the story learning, the next step is to tell it. MacDonald (1993, 2001 in Sim, 2004, pp. 144-145) makes several suggestions in this area. Teachers need to get the environment ready for storytelling. For example, they may ask their students to rearrange their seats in a circle, or alternatively,   they   may   create a special

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!