Tips on Teaching

Using Story as a Tool for Teaching

Textbook imageby Lindsey Joyce MSN, RN, CNL, CNOR, Adjunct Instructor School of Nursing

With technology all around us, it can be difficult to grasp student’s attention during times of learning. So, what can we do to enhance learning and engage students? Story has been used as a pedagogy for many years in various subjects, for a variety of purposes. It is a fundamental way in which we share and interpret our experiences. Those experiences allow educators to connect concepts in class to students. Stories capture students’ attention and allow for more engaging conversations and learning to occur. Stories can make instructors seem less threating and more approachable, which makes connecting with students easier.

Students want to be able to link what they learn in the classroom to the real world we are preparing them for. Sharing stories can help link the classroom to actualities in the real world. Promoting problem solving skills and motivating and demonstrating vocational relevance are other ways educators might consider using stories.

So how can storytelling be successfully performed? There are several things to keep in mind when using stories. Good stories often include the following characteristics:

  • Have elements that can be taught effectively
  • Allow for facts and realities that students may face in practice
  • Possibly tap into emotional connection
  • Are complex, ambiguous and have relevance to the course and its objectives

Consider the timing for when using stories in a course might have the most impact. The following are a few ways to think about the timing of a story:

  • As an introduction or end to a program
  • To tie into future concepts
  • To tie into a learning objective
  • To draw a group’s interest back into a concept
  • To start a group’s discussion
  • To enhance a participant’s comments
  • As an energizer when groups look bored
  • When a participant asks for an example

Finally, if you have not used stories in your classroom before, there are a few additional effective practices to keep in mind:

  • DO be sincere and genuine.
  • DO keep the story brief and to the point
  • DO share the story with enthusiasm, varied tone and intensity
  • DO tie the story into the skill or concept by explaining how it relates or why you are telling it
  • DON’T use too many personal stories and remember to involve the group and ask for their experiences as well
  • DON’T tell stories about controversial topics such as politics, race, gender, age
  • DON’T tell unrelated stories as they may cause you to look unorganized or trying to kill time
  • DON’T tell a story that isn’t fresh to you and contains facts you may have forgotten


McNett, G. (2016). “Using stories to facilitate learning.” College Teaching, Vol. 64, 4, 184-193.