Use Storytelling to Create Courses Your Students Will Love

Storytelling in education

My high school mathematics teacher was so good at storytelling that all students achieved at least a B in exams. From connecting the derivative of cos đť‘Ą with some politician to relating negative exponentials with the pharaoh, he helped students memorize those dry concepts right in the class. 

Last year, I had the opportunity to create Python lessons and exercises for a coding boot camp. Even though technical education is considered dry, I wanted to make the most engaging lessons that helped students learn the concepts right in the practice environment as my teacher did. Hence, I spent most of my time brainstorming story ideas that were both relevant and engaging. 

The result? I received compliments as soon as my first lesson was published. Though the student testimonials were confidential, you can have a look at what my manager had to say about me on LinkedIn.

But how did I use storytelling to create exercises on topics like OOP or Databases? By asking myself the following four questions: 

1. Where are my students from and what are their experiences?

Familiarity principle is a psychological phenomenon that states that people are naturally drawn towards familiar things. Familiar things help us resonate with them and assign them a space in our memories. Think about a time when you came across stories that were irrelevant to you like explaining the process of germination at a technical conference focussing on how to defend against cyber attacks. Such irrelevant stories don’t make much sense.

Knowing where your students come from is the most important step in crafting captivating stories. Otherwise, like cyber security professionals lose interest in the germination process at a technical conference, your students will lose interest in your lessons.

Think about students’ demographics like age, location, occupation and their intent. Intent refers to the goal students have when they take your lesson. For example, do they want to learn a concept or practice real-world applications of the concept? Are they adults or young children? Are they beginner or do they already possess some knowledge about the subject?

My students came from a varied age range, diverse and non-technical backgrounds and they wanted to learn programming in simple terms. 

2. Which experience can I use to create a captivating story?

Now that you know your students, you can easily craft stories nostalgic and easy to remember stories for them. For example, explaining inventory management by relating it to refilling the pantry or teaching chess with the help of a royal story.

Since my students were from varying backgrounds, I stuck to the stories that resonated with everyone like having a dinner or attending a festival.

Brainstorm 2-3 story ideas that resonate with your students so that you come up with at least one story that steals the show.

For example, a walk in the park, adopting a new pet, cooking biryani etc.

3. How do I relate it to the subject?

You need to refine your ideas into one complete story now. Say, you are teaching client-server communication to students aged 20-30. The following story will be a good start for them:

It’s 2010 and John has to attend a New Year party at his friend’s place. All of his classmates joined the party and had loads of fun. After the party is over, instead of leaving for home, all the friends ask John to send them photos. Since John is in a hurry, he quickly connects his phone with Jane (John’s friend) phone to send photos. While John sends photos over Bluetooth, John’s phone acts as a server and Jane’s phone acts as a client. Once all the photos are sent, John leaves for home and Jane connects her phone with another friend’s. This time Jane’s phone acts as a server and the other as a client. 

This story resonates with our target audience i.e. people in the age range of 20-30 who have seen Bluetooth functional in their lives. The story also explains client-server communication clearly with the addition of how a single device can function as both a client and a server. 

4. What conflict are my students going to resolve?

This step is crucial when you’re designing exercises. Students learn more when they can relate the topic to their past experiences and daily lives, according to a study supported by the American Association of Higher Education. 

Resolving a conflict helps students build their muscle memory. In the client-server example above, John’s rush was a conflict and to resolve that we made Jane’s phone a server. 

The Bluetooth story served the purpose of explaining a concept; therefore, we presented the resolution in it. However, when you craft exercises, you ask students to resolve the conflict. 

For example, consider the following story for an object-oriented programming exercise. Don’t worry if you’re unfamiliar with OOP. The goal here is to ask students to solve a problem with the help of storytelling.

You are playing a car race game that operates on OOP under the hood. The car class has three methods i.e. start, stop, fast, and slow. Another method calculates your car’s health whenever it collides with an object. Which method will you call when your car is about to collide with a tree to avoid declining car health?

The above example states the problem and asks for its solution from the students. Since you’ve put students into a role-play simulation, they’ll enjoy finding out the solution while they are constantly reminded of the OOP principles. 

Last Words

Stories spark interest and take your audience into a new world. If crafted effectively, your audience will start enjoying travelling into your stories while building stronger concepts. 

While known as an effective teaching tool, good stories are equally useful in situations such as behavioural interviews and client pitching. The key is to tell relevant stories that are engaging and make concepts easier to understand. 

Your Turn

I hope this blog post helped you understand the four steps to creating engaging stories for students. Share your thoughts in the comments even if it didn’t.

How do you tell stories to your students or anyone else? Do you’ve any tips that bring stories to life?

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