Cave paintings
Inside the Classroom

The Power of Storytelling in Education

In 1748, the fourth Earl of Sandwich enjoyed playing cards in his leisure time. He also enjoyed snacking during these games but wanted to keep one hand free to hold the cards. Out of necessity, he came up with the novel idea of placing meat between two slices of toast, which allowed him to have his wish of eating and playing cards at the same time. This resourceful idea of his took off, and today this combination of foods is known as a “sandwich.”

Now, take a moment to think about what you just read. How likely are you to remember the story of how the sandwich was invented? How much more likely are you to remember the story if it’s presented in a bulleted list or another information-only format?

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Storytelling Is Old News

We all enjoy a good story, and 27,000-year-old cave paintings indicate that this has probably always been the case. Oral storytelling can be traced back almost 200,000 years. Historically, stories have been used to inform, teach, entertain, form friendships, and pass down family beliefs and values. Storytelling has always been a powerful method of communication. This could be because of the brain’s knack for finding patterns.

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Storytelling and the Brain

When you’re presented with information in bullet points or something similar, two language-processing parts of your brain are activated that allow you to decode the words into meaning. When listening to information in story form, the same two parts of your brain are activated along with any of the other parts of the brain you’d use to experience the events of the story. For instance, if you listen to a story about motion, your motor cortex is activated, and if you listen to a story about the taste of a certain food, your sensory cortex is activated.

What this tells you is that when you listen to a story, several areas of your brain are activated to process the information and make connections to your own experiences.

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Storytelling in the Classroom

Storytelling could be one of the most underused tools in education. Here are some powerful benefits of storytelling:

  • Connections between the past, present, and future are formed.
  • Understandings about the past, present, and future are strengthened.
  • Visualization, decision-making, and critical-thinking skills are strengthened.
  • Complex concepts are introduced, explained, and explored.
  • Vocabulary knowledge is expanded exponentially.

We’ve come a long way from cave paintings, but the power behind storytelling remains the same. Consider how you may be able to incorporate storytelling into your next lesson plan!

About the Author

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Katrina Brewer

Katrina is an Editor at Edgenuity on the Career Education and Electives team. She was a classroom teacher for six years before joining the world of online and blended learning with Edgenuity in 2011. She graduated from the University of Arizona with a MA in education. She is an educator at heart and enjoys being a part of and sharing with others the positive effect technology has on student learning.