Would you rather learn about an important event by reading a textbook OR by hearing a story? Students enjoy listening to stories, so why not use stories to capture their attention and draw them into history? My favorite way to start a social studies lesson is by telling a story. Telling a story sparks students’ interest and provides a preview of what they are about to learn.
You don’t have to know all about an event to tell a story about it. Just learn the important details and look for some interesting details to throw in. I would have to say that my all-time favorite story to tell students is about the Boston Tea Party. I tell students about the secret meeting to plan the protest on tea and about the desire of the men to remain anonymous, which is why many of them painted their faces and wore Mohawk Indian disguises. I describe the quiet, disciplined march that the men made on their way to Boston Harbor. I explain that the men boarded the ships and hacked open the chests of tea and dumped the tea into the harbor. Their purpose that night was to make the tea unusable, not to damage or destroy the ships. I tell them of the eyewitness reports that the men actually swept up the mess before they left the ships, careful to make the point that they were only out to destroy the tea. This story mesmerizes my students every year. After telling this story or any other historical story, I introduce our lesson work for the day. My students are exponentially more engaged after being drawn into history for the day.
What if you’re not a good story teller? It’s ok! Start simple… find a historical event or person with which you are very comfortable. Tell your students the basics and include any details that you find interesting. Chances are that if you enjoyed hearing about something, your students will enjoy it too.
Telling stories in your social studies classroom is not just about engaging students in content. Enrich your students’ knowledge of a person, time period, or event and make history jump off the page. My favorite example of this is when we talk about Patrick Henry’s fiery 1775 “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death” speech to the House of Burgesses. I guarantee that your students will have no idea that his personal life was in shambles during this time period. I enjoy talking about the personal lives of our Founding Fathers (and Mothers) because getting to know a person beyond their public actions provides depth and dimension to students’ understanding of history.
I challenge you to try out a story on your students tomorrow. It doesn’t matter if you are in the beginning, middle, or end of the school year, just do it! If you are interested, I created short activities for my students with some of the most interesting people, events, and cultural norms that I’ve studied during the Colonial and Revolutionary periods. These are some of the most engaging stories I’ve come across! I add more stories frequently, so be sure to click the “Follow Me” star when you visit my store to receive new product alerts sent to your email!