Your Storytelling Questions Answered

Your Storytelling Questions Answered.jpg

“How to teach statistics with Storytelling? How to encourage students to tell stories as well? Find the answers here.”

Photo: Bigstock

What exactly is “Storytelling?” We’re so glad you asked “that” question. Many of us were wondering as well!

We talked with professor Regina Freyman, an expert in Storytelling. Teachers from different parts of the world participated in the conversation, which was followed in total by 158 people who share an interest in exploring how we can integrate Storytelling into our classes or improve our teaching practices.

The following graphs show the profile of the people who accompanied us in the webinar, “The Power of Storytelling for Learning.”

Several questions arose during this webinar offered by Regina Freyman, such as: How can storytelling be used with disabled children? What methodology should I follow for building a story? How can I promote human rights through storytelling? How can I evaluate academically using this teaching methodology? How can I teach statistics with storytelling? How can I encourage my students to tell stories as well? Freyman answered these and other questions during the webinar. The answers to all of them are found in this article.

“We are all born ‘preloaded’ to be great storytellers. What we need to do is to develop the performative skills to do it in public.”

 - Freyman, 2019 -

Your questions on Storytelling answered by Regina Freyman

  1. How can Storytelling be used with disabled children? (Anonymous)

    RF: This semester, one of the girls in my class, Grace, was blind. She hadn’t been able to see since birth. It was very interesting for the whole group to try to learn, think, and perceive things in the same way she does. We conducted an experiment in class that was extremely gratifying for her and all the other students. We went to the modern art museum, and each student selected a painting. The mission was to “tell the story” of the painting to Grace using any media other than sight. So, how could they communicate and help her understand the colors or shapes represented in a picture? Some students recreated the picture with textures, while others used olfactory methods, putting different herbs and wet soil in little jars. Other students assigned musical notes to the colors. It was interesting to see how the students recreated the paintings so Grace could “see them with her soul” using the elements they appreciated in these pictures. In another exercise, all the students were able to describe and, therefore, get to know a sculpture that was completely covered.

  2. What competencies does a teacher need to carry out Storytelling activities in the classroom? (Wilder, Peru)

    RF: In my opinion, we are born “preloaded” to be storytellers. What we need to do is to develop our performative skills to do so in public. So, we should talk about confidence, intonation, dramatization, and, above all, stop feeling self-conscious. Ultimately, nobody cares whether we did it well, so-so, or poorly, but rather that we were committed to the story. Practice will gradually improve our technique. Of course, planning is basic, because some people think that standing up and improvising is easy, but if you haven’t practiced a lot, it can be quite difficult. Consider who your audience is. Knowing them is key because they are the protagonists who truly generate synchrony between the listener and the storyteller.

  3. How can I implement Storytelling activities in the classroom with children? (María, Argentina)

    RF: Use story stones which are small stones that the children can collect and paint to tell a story. We can also use puppets, roleplay, and shadow theater. Using our hands to “tell stories” is very important for children. Techniques using figures made by the children, such as Legos or Storygami, are also very helpful. Also, with Story Cubes, everyone can work together to string a story.

  4. How can I engage adult audiences from the beginning of the story? (Marilu, Perú)

    RF: You need to know your target audience and which type of stories will make their hearts beat faster. The better you know your audience, the easier it is to select and prepare the best story. Always start with something compelling or a phrase that will captivate and take the audience by surprise. For example, I started this presentation with: “Regina Freyman is addicted…” then I paused before completing the sentence “... to stories”. Afterward, we try to find a way to draw the brain out of a sort of “lethargy” to become interested.

  5. What methodology can I follow to build a story? (Adriana, Mexico)

    RF: There are many methodologies. You can, for example, explore the method used by Pixar in its story scripts: “Once upon a time... Every day... One day... Because of that… Until finally...” This is known as the Pixar pitch. It’s how this company synthesizes all its stories. It’s very efficient, because, in six acts, it describes what’s happening to a character who faces an obstacle and how he or she resolves it to defeat the enemy in a battle and triumphantly return home.

  6. Should a story have specific elements to be considered as Storytelling? (Yara Almanza)

    RF: Yes, the structure of Storytelling should be pleasing to the human brain but not too long (our brains have an efficient attention span of 18 to 20 minutes). Narrations should be segmented into periods of 18 to 20 minutes. We talk about archetypical elements because we can’t talk about a fully developed character in brief narrations. That’s why we use 12 basic archetypes that the mind recognizes instantly. For example, we can recognize a ruler or a hero without needing to know anything more about them or other dimensions of their character. Similarly, plots must be easy to decode. Storytelling is a tool that helps us assimilate information rapidly and efficiently.

  7. What are the 12 archetypes and the 7 plots? (General question)


    • The 12 archetypes are:

      • The Caregiver (protective figure, e.g., Mother)

      • The Jester

      • The Hero

      • The Ruler

      • The Seducer

      • The Sage

      • The Ordinary Boy or Girl

      • The Innocent

      • The Explorer

      • The Creator

      • The Rebel

      • The Magician

    • The 7 plots are:

      - Overcoming the Monster

      - Rags to Riches

      - The Quest

      - Voyage and Return

      - Comedy

      - Tragedy

      - Rebirth

  8. How can I use Storytelling to teach statistics? (Francisco, Spain)

    RF: Stories are made up of regularities, meaning that we always have a protagonist, an adversary or an enemy, a context, and a wish pursued by the protagonist that is the central idea of the story. So, statistics can be converted into a story. How can we condense all the data to create a meaningful story? For example, how did a disease in a region transform and spread to other places? Daniel Kahneman, who won the Nobel Prize in economics with his book "Thinking Fast and Slow," tells us how the brain quickly or slowly translates information into emotional and rational matters. All this helps us to predict the future. We all tell stories to suggest variations of “What happens if ...,” so, combining Storytelling and statistics offers a way to make predictions, too.

  9. How can you teach natural science with stories (without discussing epistemologies)? (Juliana, Argentina)

    RF: For example, the dissection of a frog can be a whole story. You can get students prepared to understand it by asking them to imagine they are biologists needed by NASA after discovering that frogs have a substance that will help us to live in space. Then, we create an entire narrative and conduct the experiment while immersed in this narrative. Also, remember what I told you about "escape rooms." In this case, we transformed the classroom into space where students have to find and solve clues in order to get out, to escape. So, we can imagine different situations and create a narrative for each one. Any subject can be turned into a story.

  10. What do you recommend for incorporating Storytelling into the fields of engineering and science? (Pedro, Mexico)

    RF: We can use Blogumentaries, which are documentaries that discuss processes, experiences, and projects through a blog that combines videos, texts, podcasts, resources, and statistics. Ultimately, the contents of the entire blog series become a great documentary on the topic in question; everything becomes a great story.

  11. From what age can Storytelling be used with children? (Edith Villa)

    RF: Experiments have been conducted with pre-linguistic children, using puppets with six-or-seven-month-old babies. The storylines are extremely simple, showing two bears eating or fighting. The children’s reactions are very interesting. In the end, the children are asked to select a bear, and they usually choose the “good” bear, meaning that they already can conceptualize.

    A huge problem with learning and reading comprehension in our country (Mexico) is that parents abandon telling stories to their children. In the first years of life, parental reading forms very strong bonds with the children, but then the parents hand this mission over to academics or school. This leads to a certain reticence in children towards the stories they loved so much previously because what used to be part of a family gathering ritual becomes transformed into a dreaded school assignment.

  12. Do you have experience in the use of Storytelling to promote human rights? (Javier, Ecuador)

    RF: Not personally, but it must be very effective. Human rights are perfect stories in themselves. All feelings have a protagonist, a recipient, and a cause. Love, hate, or justice are narrative sources in themselves.

  13. Can you recommend any stories for child therapy? (Ana, Bolivia)

    RF: Author Boris Cyrulnik wrote a book called “Ugly Ducklings,” which explains how stories can be used for healing. He tells the story of Hans Christian Andersen, a man who managed to become a resilient child despite his difficult childhood. All the stories he wrote helped him overcome many situations.

    In contrast, he tells us the story of Marylyn Monroe and how this woman, also orphaned at a very young age, unfortunately, was unable to cope and eventually committed suicide. Stories for child therapy are very important because children learn from the stories told by their grandparents, parents, and teachers, the people who protect them. Another psychologist who has written a great deal about child therapy is Sheldon Cashdan. I also recommend his book, “The Witch Must Die.”

  14. Where can I find publications on Storytelling projects implemented in basic education? (Magali, Mexico)

    RF: I recommend the website, Scholastics Teachers, where you will find tips, tools, and tales that you can use in class. The stories on the webpage cuentosparadormir (bedtime stories) can also be adapted to your class. Museums have a lot of information and publications on the lives of painters or artists that can be used in class with Storytelling.

  15. What activities can I provide after telling the stories? (Patricia, Argentina)

    RF: Manual activities and rituals multiply sensorial impacts, causing the senses to etch the story just heard in memory. For example, you can carry out a manual activity using a sort of memory totem (symbolic objects made of natural materials such as tree trunks or stones and that symbolize personality facets), in which the story is translated into a drawing, object or sculpture. You can also perform rituals. Another example is that at the end of my Storytelling workshops, I tell a story about a huge apple tree that will transform anyone who eats its apples into a great storyteller, and then everyone eats a slice of its delicious apple.

  16. Which is the most commonly used application for Storytelling? (Lara, Mexico)

    RF: The most suitable, commonly used application is the human voice combined with personal presence and the warmth of a look. Studies were conducted at Stanford on what happens to the brain in the person who is listening to a story and the person who is telling the story. Both synchronize and see the same story in their minds; in fact, many of their vital signs acquire similar rhythms. There are many other applications we can use, including Storybird, Thinglink, Canva, Videoscribe, and Storycubes.

  17. How can I use stories in physical education classes? (Yuri, Peru)

    RF: Stories told with the entire body are marvelous. You can carry out hunts and rallies where exercise accompanies the telling of a story. Place stations in different spots that represent “something” in a race and the entire race will become a story. You can “borrow” all the Greek and Roman myths that led to the creation of the Olympic games and tell these to encourage children to participate in sports.

  18. What resources do we need to work with Storytelling in the classroom? (Mercedes, Uruguay)

    RF: Remember that we tell the story with everything - our voice, our look, our gestures. Above all, our imagination is a magnificent tool, as well as a love of stories and an absence of self-consciousness in telling them. Be adventurous and dare to try out new strategies.

  19. What type of activities will encourage children to tell stories? (Andrea, Argentina)

    RF: Children need to feel that they are in a safe, trusting environment. We, the adults, can start the story and say, “Now it’s your turn to continue the story.” When a child begins to tell his or her version of the story, the others get caught up in the tale, and the narration flows, but we shouldn’t force it. We need to make the children feel that it’s a game in which everyone participates.

  20. How can I develop the skills to tell good stories? (Verónica, Ecuador)

    RF: First, remember that stories need conflict. What problem will the protagonist be facing? And then, practice whenever you can. We are all great storytellers. When you begin to enjoy narrating, you enter into a trance-like state in which the story itself is the protagonist.

  21. How can this methodology be evaluated academically? (Rafael, Colombia)

    RF: There are several layers. We would need to talk about the students’ performative capacities: how do they express themselves? How do they dramatize and use their voices? Then, their information management: How do they manage information? Was it appropriate for the information they were asked to provide? How efficient were they in synthesizing the information? Creating a character and making it empathic: Did they manage to engage us? Did they use suspense to make the story fun or entertaining? So, we move from the oral to the performative aspects, to the story content, and, finally, to the delivery, which can be oral, written, or visual. We need to generate a rubric that encompasses all the elements and, of course, a contextual component: What is the context? Why was it necessary? What was the objective? Was the objective fulfilled?

  22. 14.   How can Storytelling be applied to research, development, and innovative projects? (Guillermo, Nicaragua)

    RF: First of all, collective design techniques, such as design thinking, allow us to develop innovative ideas. This can lead to the development of a story. A sales pitch is a story that can be presented in simulations similar to Shark Tank. We can cover the whole process from the product conceptualization and innovation and then tell a story about how it can be used and how it can be implemented. Presenting it to an audience is a form of Storytelling.

If you have any other questions on Storytelling, please share them in the comments section at the bottom of this article. You can also share how you use Storytelling in the classroom so that we can all learn from your experiences.

Please take this opportunity to see the materials we have developed concerning the Storytelling topic that might be of interest to you. Remember that all the educational resources developed at the Observatory of Educational Innovation are free, and you can share them with your colleagues. 


The Observatory of Educational Innovation Webinars gives you the opportunity to approach an expert and ask any questions or discuss concerns you have on the relevant topics. Don’t miss the webinars we have prepared for you for the 2019-2020 academic period. You can also view the previous webinars and even propose any topics that are of interest to you.