Storytelling supports learning, imagination, and creativity

24 03 2010

“One lesson we can learn from pre-industrial peoples is the power of storytelling. I am struck by how important storytelling is among tribal peoples; it forms the basis of their educational systems. The Celtic peoples, for example, insisted that only the poets could be teachers. Why? I think it is because knowledge that is not passed through the heart is dangerous: it may lack wisdom; it may be a power trip; it may squelch life out of the learners. What if our educational systems were to insist that teachers be poets and storytellers and artists? What transformations would follow?” – Mathew Fox

Tonight I saw Maya Angelou speak – and in that hour that she sat before a black curtain wearing a beautiful black dress, she sang and read and laughed and smiled. But mostly, she talked about three things (at least, these are the three things I heard most) – in that hour she talked a great deal about teaching, poetry, and storytelling.  She talked about the importance of the first two, and talked about them through stories of her own life. I’ve been working on this particular blog for several days now, never finding the time to finish it, but I came home tonight inspired and thankful that I hadn’t finished  it, because there was so much more that I wanted to say.  Tonight was yet another learning experience that reminded how much the learning process is never over, and how much there actually is out there  to learn. And while that thought is mostly overwhelming, it’s also really exciting.

“The Storyteller’s Creed I believe that imagination is stronger than knowledge, That myth is more potent than history, That dreams are more powerful than facts, That hope always triumphs over experience, That laughter is the only cure for grief, And I believe that love is stronger than death.” – Robert Fulghum

This spring, creativity and imagination have been everywhere around me: in novels and movies, and on the stage. Spring break, my experiences ranged from reading Mister Pip, a novel by Lloyd Jones for an adolescent literature education class, to watching The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus and Finding Neverland, (both of which have Johnny Depp in) to seeing performances of both Les Miserables and A Chorus Line on stage.

In his article, A Better Way to Education through Storytelling!, Indiana Bones writes: “Storytelling can be an incredible teaching tool. In the classroom, the role of storytelling can go far beyond the acquisition of literature. I believe this is due to the additional emotional content that can be delivered through a story. Information that is then even more thoroughly retained, because the input of facts is received on an emotional as well as an intellectual level, this allows for the new information to be stored in a much deeper part of the memory within the human brain. Because of this often overlooked fact, I feel that oral storytelling should be considered one of the better ways to educate and teach information. It can be used in all aspects of learning if applied properly.

Telling stories, reading and writing all work together to better communicate the lesson. By weaving storytelling into the curriculum, Educators can tap into a deep need in the human spirit, to receive information through stories and emotion… Due to this neurological emotional imprinting, storytelling can be a powerful classroom addition. It supports speaking and listening skills, motivates reading and writing, stimulates the imagination and develops and enhances students’ response to literature, history, social studies and many other components of the curriculum.

Storytelling in the educational setting is arguably one of the most effective teaching tool we have. Stories can teach, reinforce and introduce curriculum in the most logical and creative fashion imaginable. Almost any subject matter can be presented or introduced in story form.

Storytelling can also entice students to strive for greater academic achievement. As a storyteller I have been hired on numerous occasions as an incentive to encourage students to read in state wide completion such as the “Battle of the Books” and as a reward for those who have succeeded in reaching academic excellence, reading goals or other successful educational hallmarks.

Storytelling strengthens the imagination. To imagine is to envision and to see beyond what is readily apparent. The ability to imagine and envision is the proven basis of all creativity and creativity creates the power of problem solving in many different occupations, learning modalities and life situations.”

From: A Better Way to Education through Storytelling! by Indiana Bones

Only once have I ever had a teacher, a professor, who I could describe as a storyteller.  He seldom came to class with even a bag much less a notebook, and if he ever had an actual agenda, I wouldn’t know; but just as we always came to class, so did he with a desire to discuss the books we were reading and a thousand stories about those books, and their authors  and their author’s wives and the cities he’s lived in and the cities the authors had lived in and the food they did or did not eat and the things their wives said. And while there was not even one exam for this class – only a journal we were required to write in each week and a final paper on a book of our choice for  a final grade – I remember more from that class than I do any other English or literature course I’ve ever taken in college. This professor taught me a great deal through storytelling and about the power and importance of storytelling. Maya Angelou reminded me of this power tonight.

In an article written by Wendy Haight, featured in School Talk, entitled Stories as Tools for Teaching: Lessons from Sunday School at an African American Church, Haight sites ways in which storytelling supports learning: “Storytelling helps to accomplish educational goals. When asked how they accomplish their educational goals in Sunday school, adults at First Baptist Church discussed stories as an important activity. Pastor Daniels explained: “We are convinced that it is out of life that the best applications of any kind of principles can be found. And, certainly, if you’re going to make sense of it, you have to relate it to life. When we tell our own personal stories, there’s almost an immediate connection with the youngsters” (Haight 2002, pp. 82-83).

Storytelling is relating a tale to one or more listeners through voice and gesture. It is not the same as reading a story aloud or reciting a piece from memory or acting out a drama-though it shares common characteristics with these arts. The storyteller looks into the eyes of the audience and together they compose the tale.  The storyteller begins to see and re-create, through voice and gesture, a series of mental images; the audience, from the first moment of listening, squints, stares, smiles, leans forward or falls asleep, letting the teller know whether to slow down, speed up, elaborate, or just finish.  Each listener, as well as each teller, actually composes a unique set of story images derived from meanings associated with words, gestures, and sounds. The experience can be profound, exercising the thinking and touching emotions of both teller and listener. -The National Council of Teachers of English in support of storytelling in the academic classroom

One wonderful resource I found is This website offers hundreds of free articles on the benefits of storytelling, along with wonderful storytelling stories and examples. It also has a Find Tellers tab which allows you to find storytellers in your area (in Pennsylvania there are seven registered storytellers), and an “Amphitheater” tab which features podcasts on storytelling! ” In the most recent Amphitheater podcast, Sean Buvala is doing “one of his favorite things to do, and that is to talk to people who are working storytellers, exploring the art form in their own places.” Awesome, right? He interviews Tim Ereneta, a storyteller from California – and if you get a chance to listen to all four parts of the podcast, part two, on theater, is my favorite.

Through some link surfing on Poetry Foundation, I also found this event/link, CelebrateStory: New York City’s Storytelling Festival. Each month, CelebrateStory features a story through YouTube. This month’s story is “Who Knows What the Future Will Bring?” and is told by the Artistic Director, Diane Wolkstein. Here’s to inspiring:

Lastly, as a future English teacher, I love this quote by Maya Angelou: “I know you very well, and I know you need a good English teacher.”




2 responses

26 03 2010

Laura, when Sean interviewed me for, l thought that it would be heard by a small circle of colleagues. Nice to know that it’s given some food for thought to people outside the storytelling community.
I hope storytelling, poetry, writing, and the arts continue to inspire you as you continue on your path to becoming a teacher. Your students will be lucky to have you in their lives.

6 04 2010
Self-assessment « Teach Simplicity

[…] ones that i enjoyed writing the most:  Writing out of the blog rut, Teachers and/or technology and Storytelling supports learning, imagination, and creativity. My previous blog, Creativity, education, and the future was one of my most enjoyable posts to […]

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