This post was written by NCTE member Kristen Kalenowicz.
In a recent position statement on the importance of incorporating storytelling in the classroom, NCTE asserts that “when [students] get a chance to craft and perform stories of their own, they work hard and have fun doing it.”
This has been my observation, too, as I’ve watched dozens of sophomores weave original narratives into writing and delivering speeches. Now, students approach the challenge with their own flair and intensity, using personal stories to convince their audience to respect others’ mental health or take a stronger interest in their own finances, for example.
Connection to English Skills
In many high school classrooms, students are taught to remove themselves from their papers; they assume they must avoid the first-person perspective completely. Yet every day we are moved to action by stories. It wasn’t until I emphasized storytelling that I saw a real shift in how my students approached writing.
Choosing a Topic:
Students are first coached on choosing a topic: something they want their audience to do or believe. I encourage them to choose an area with which they have experience, and to illustrate their unique connection to the topic.
Studying Rhetorical Appeals:
Students practice using various effective means of persuasion: appealing to the audience’s emotions, establishing credibility, and introducing logic and reason. They focus on refining diction to create an appropriate tone when telling their story, and we discuss how an anecdote can work to both establish authority and evoke emotion.
Students learn the science behind public speaking: the origin of stage fright, why we experience it, and how to mitigate its negative effects. We also discuss strategies for embracing nervous energy. Since students have more familiarity with their topic–their own stories are familiar–the stage fright is lessened significantly.
Connection to Social Emotional Learning
To fulfill state standards, students evaluate their classmates’ speeches, including the degree to which they were persuaded and the speech’s overall impact. Yet by listening, they gain even more–they begin to develop empathy.
Listening to Each Other:
Because the speakers are more passionate about their subject-matter, their stories are richer. Students love hearing their peers tell lively stories about their own lives, and students’ revelations often remind us that there is more to learn from one another if we just listen.
Imagine this: One quieter student demonstrates model-making and garners respect for his technique, a second details her father’s struggle opening his own business, and a third zips in on a skateboard to pitch the need for a local skate park. These stories awaken us to the interests, beliefs, and values of those in our midst.
What a fun way to establish classroom community?
Connection to the World
After introducing the storytelling element, I witnessed a shift. Students wrote and delivered with more passion, authenticity, and skill. The audience felt it too.
But perhaps more importantly, they learned skills that are transferable.
While the experience of delivering a speech can be daunting, when students tell a personal story to illustrate their connection to a topic, thus establishing their authority, the experience is enriching, entertaining, and intrinsically motivating. Anxiety is replaced by excitement, and young people witness how their own enthusiasm is a strong persuasive tool.
Kristen Kalenowicz teaches English, creative writing, and AP Research at Cedarburg High School in Wisconsin. She previously taught in the Milwaukee Public School District and in Madrid, Spain. You can connect with her on Twitter @KristenKaleno or LinkedIn.
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