One of the most powerful, yet taken for granted teaching strategies is storytelling.
Have you ever noticed when you are reading a captivating story (in a book) to students, you have all eyes and ears? Students are engaged, they can’t wait to hear what comes next, hanging on your every word and waiting for the page turn. The second you close the book. Bam. It can be so easy to loose their attention as eyes glaze over and voices start chatting as you give the directions. This doesn’t always happen, but is a pattern I’m sure you’ve seen from time to time. I know I have!
What if your lessons were as engaging as that storybook?
What if students were hanging on your every word in order to learn something new?
What if you suddenly stopped barking directions and became fun and captivating?
These what if’s can come true if you start to incorporate storytelling into your everyday lessons. I would like to share with you three types of stories you can easily weave into your curriculum. Hey- you can even throw any of these stories together off the cuff with no extra planing, and see results immediately.
3 Storytelling Tactics to Engage Students
1. The Historical Story
The first type of story you can easily start to incorporate into your teaching is a historical story. Art teachers have a lot of history to share.. How the cave painters made their own paint out of berries and coal, or perhaps how Monet decided to drift away from traditional methods of painting and get out side to paint… What about the story of DaVinci and how he would sneak around against the law to discect bodies in order to learn the anatomy… Always a favorite.. DaVinci cutting off his ear.
Find the gem stories in art history and use those as a hook to get your students engaged. Get excited as you tell about the artist, make big gestures, act as though you have some sort of secret to tell the students, that will only be revealed at the end of the story. Change your voice, and get excited. Stand on a chair. Anything to make this story seem so important, EVERY student won’t want to miss a single word. I absolutely guarantee what you highlight and deem important in your story will be the facts and ideas students will never forget.
Some of my favorite stories to tell:
- How the Mona Lisa was stolen
- How Grant Wood Painted American Gothic
- How the Aboriginal people painted on bark
- Why the Native American’s used every part of the buffalo
- How DaVinci took the Mona Lisa everywhere with him
- How Monet painted in an impressionistic style. (oh and my favorite is to do a really crazy French accent as I prevent to paint not smoothly, but choppy like an impressionist…. They can’t take their eyes off of me!)
- How Matisse’s style changed when he became wheelchair bound
2. The Process Story
Tell a story about the process of making art. These stories are great for giving students non examples and telling the directions in a nontraditional way. Let me know you an example:
I like to tell a story about what happened to “last year’s class” when we were doing printmaking. I make a huge deal out of it. It goes something like this,
“Boys and girls, can I tell you what happened to last year’s class when we started the printmaking project? Oh, I just get so upset even thinking about it… Last year’s class had a huge disaster, because they didn’t listen to my directions and their art was ALMOST RUINED… Listen carefully.. Last year’s class kept forgetting to only use a little bit of printing ink! Can you believe it? These kids would slap on the ink, and it would seep into the cracks of the foam. I told them over and over, but their art was ruined and they had to start over. Oh I was so sad. They just globbed it on like this (demo the non- example) and do you think their art turned out very nice? NO.. Oh it just made me want to cry to see this happen to these expensive art supplies. I BET that won’t happen to this year’s class, Oh I sure hope it won’t, because you are all rockstars at printmaking, aren’t you!?!?”
Now that i have everyone’s attention I can go over how to use the brayer, ink and clean up procedures… I’ve captured them. Surely they won’t want to make the same mistakes as last year’s class. Did last year’s class really have these troubles? Maybe. Mabye not. It’s ok, it doesn’t maker. This strategy really works and you will see considerably less troubles with processes and new supplies with THIS year’s class if you try this type of story.
3. Back When I was Little….
I know this sounds more like something your grandparents would say “Back when I was a kid….” type of story, but these are interesting to kids. It’s fun for your students to think of you as a kid. One way I engage students regarding my past, is through something I like to call “Balsley Originals.” Yes, that’s right. I have ALL of my art from when I was a kid, and I’ve adapted some of my old projects for my students do create today! (by the way I had an amazing art teacher ). I share with the students my own sample from when I was little and tell a story about how I did this project in 3rd grade, but they are going to do it in 2nd grade, because they are so advanced. I tell them I called my old art teacher and she showed me all of the imporntat tricks for us to do the project with success…I can’t wait to send her photos of their work. I tell them I bet they are going to do even better than I did. And I got a gold star. wink.
The photo below is one of my 5th grade architecture collages, which inspires an entire architecture unit I do with my 5th graders now! The next photo is a sample of my student’s work from last year.
I also like to tell students that I didn’t learn 1 point perspective until 8th grade, but they are going to learn it in 5th grade. This instantly grabs student attention and makes them feel special. I find this really ups the ante when it comes to student willingness to try hard.
Moral of the “Story”….
If you are losing student’s attention, try the ancient art of storytelling. It may just be the difference between having those last few kiddos on board with you, learning the art concepts, or not. Our goal is to reach all learners and I am sure this will really help.
What other kinds of storytelling have you found to be effective in captivating the hearts and minds of your students?