What an amazing concept! Every parent’s and teacher’s dream is to be able to teach in a way that your message will go into the hearts of those you’re instructing and stay with them their whole lives.
Educational research has confirmed for years that using engaging stories to teach will cause your message to by-pass the brains short-term memory, and be stored in long-term memory where it will remain for most of a person’s life.
So how do you do it? How do you teach with stories?
Looking back on how this amazing teaching technique worked for our family, I have listed five guidelines that I believe will make teaching with stories easy, fun and most effective.
- Use stories that are exciting and engaging to your children or students.
It’s not YOUR imagination that needs to be engaged here, so find stories that those you are teaching will find exciting. I used my Tales of Larkin stories because I wrote them to grip my children’s attention and to teach them godly character and spiritual lessons; but any exciting story will work. I do think the teaching part will be much easier if the story is written from a biblical world view and has a spiritual focus. (I will address in a later post where you can find fun and exciting books that fit this description.)
- Read a section of the book to your children or students at a regularly scheduled time.
If you are doing this as a family pick a time for reading the story together, and put it on your schedule so that the children will look forward to it. During meals ask them what they think might happen next in the story to build excitement and anticipation. I read my Larkin books to my children on special occasions we called “Larkin Nights”, but that was because it might take me weeks to finish the next chapter. We had other stories that we would read together in the evenings before bedtime. Those times became valuable to me as family bonding times. The more often we did it, the more it blessed my family. My adult children still occasionally talk about those times.
- As soon as you finish reading the section of the story together ALWAYS take a few minutes to ask questions about what you read.
This is really the most important thing that you will do! While the listeners emotional centers of their brains are still engaged with what you just read ask them leading questions to get them to discuss the important lessons you want them to remember from the book. You could ask questions like:
“What valuable character qualities did Sage show in risking his life to warn his friends?”
“When Hawthorn told Rush, ‘Over the last several days I’ve seen that there is an awful lot of Renegade in me,’ what did he mean?”
“How did Hawthorn’s painful fall into the creek bed give him hope?”
(Discussion questions taken from the appendix in Tales of Larkin: Hawthorn’s Discovery.)
Because the emotions of the children or students are still engaged from experiencing the reading of the story, the teaching you do with these questions and the discussions will be picked up by the emotional center of the brain and store the information in the hippocampus, which is the site of long-term memory.
- Have your questions prepared beforehand.
If the book you’ve chosen doesn’t have prepared questions for each chapter, spend some time going over the passage you intend to read and look for the important character and spiritual lessons you want your listeners to get from this reading. This part of the story might be about someone who shows bad character. Have them discuss that as well, and ask what the consequences of the bad behavior were or what the consequences might be. Also ask how Jesus would have us handle a similar situation. There are many ways to find valuable teachable points if we just start looking for them. I think it’s best if you have your questions prepared ahead of the reading time but be sensitive to what God might be doing in the hearts of your listeners. Be ready to let the discussion go in a direction the Holy Spirit might be leading.
- Always pray for God to open the hearts of your listeners before you read. After you finish discussing the story remember to ask to Lord to establish His truths and important lessons in their hearts.
Using stories to teach to hearts is a powerful teaching technique but it is no substitute for God’s Spirit working in our hearts. All heart change ultimately comes from our Heavenly Father.
I hope this short post helps take some of the mystery out of teaching with stories. If you have questions you can reach me at StoriesChangeHearts@gmail.com, or if you want to read more about this wonderful teaching method click here.
May God bless us as we shape hearts to know and love Him more.
In His Service,