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Story-Based Education for Engaging Student Learning

Story-based education
Image Source: Pinterest

G2 came home recently and told me that his classroom had been trashed by a troll who came in the middle of the night. If I hadn’t been pre-warned by a teacher from school, I probably would have thought he was telling porky pies. And who could’ve blamed me? It sounded like a scene out of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone when the mountain troll entered Hogwarts.

Now that I’ve had more time to digest what has happened, I can’t help but admire what the teachers have done. It sounded like a program I read about earlier this year:

Story-based Education: How a Sword and Sorcery Camp Uses Immersive Role Play to Teach STEAM

…campers create their own character in an ongoing storyline that never repeats. They choose special skills and their favorite NERF Blaster (provided or bring your own!). Then they decide what to do next when opportunity (or trouble) arises. Our heroes stand shoulder to shoulder with their fellow Defenders as they fight gruesome zombies, solve scientific mysteries, protect the fragile land, and forage for supplies. The story line is based on either a literary piece (IE: George Orwell’s 1984) or an historical event (The Bubonic Plague) and involves education in science, creative problem solving, teamwork, and more. – The Story School

I remembered thinking, as I read that article, how cool it would be if I could find a way for my boys to have such an experience. It turns out that they’re already doing something similar at school, albeit on a smaller scale. It seems they’ve had a few of these before, too, except that I wasn’t paying attention.

Story-Based Education

“Story-based Education” is a term coined by Meghan Gardner, founder of Guard Up. It refers to the use of self-determined narrative adventures to help engage students in learning.

Why stories?

They are an extremely powerful medium for teaching because they increase engagement and retention of learning.

A study conducted with medical undergraduate students in Brazil found that using a cooperative role-play environment to teach cellular biology was preferred by the participants and produced equal or higher retention than traditional lecture-style classes. The researchers state that “by telling a story in which everyone takes part, there is greater student interaction and, as a consequence, we may expect better performance in their construction of knowledge.” Rather than one-way teacher transmission, knowledge is co-created by the students, which may lead to better long-term absorption of the material. – KQED

So maybe we don’t have access to the large-scale story-based education models, but that doesn’t mean we can’t do it at all. In the Great Troll Escapade, the kids learned all about being crime scene investigators. They had to use their investigative skills to examine the evidence left behind by their mysterious visitor.

The Power of Narrative

The art of teaching through stories transcends time and place. Stories make you think, reflect and introspect. Stories inspire you to shed old behaviors and adopt new ones. In short, a story contains elements that appeal both to your head and heart —probably the reason for their popularity. – Classroom Aid

Immersive, role-playing storylines are not the be all and end all because the power of narrative extends beyond dramatisation. A study on the effects of narrative on learning experiences and outcomes in 8th grade students learning microbiology revealed:

  • students do exhibit learning gains, but less than those produced by traditional instructional approaches
  • however, the motivational benefits of narrative-centered learning with regard to self-efficacy, presence, interest, and perception of control are substantial

Some of my most enduring memories of what I learned in school came from teachers who used the power of narrative to teach us. I would attribute it to the reason why I still remember so much of my Year 8 history, when so much else is hazy.


Published by Shen-Li

SHEN-LI LEE is the author of “Brainchild: Secrets to Unlocking Your Child’s Potential”. She is also the founder of (a website on parenting, education, child development) and (a website on Right Brain Education, cognitive development, and maximising potentials). In her spare time, she blogs on Forty, Fit & Fed, and Back to Basics.

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