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Social Studies and Storytelling

I like to think that each discipline that is taught within classrooms around the world have their own unique methods and flavour that can draw students into their beauty. For me, I fell in love with social studies many years ago. I have always been fascinated with how human beings interact with each other and how we organize ourselves into societies. As a youngster, I loved learning about the local history where I was from. I wanted to know who came before me and how did their decisions impact the world I live in now. As I grew older I became more fascinated in human behaviour and how we interact in various systems that perpetuate the oppression of some human beings and privilege for others.

As a social studies teacher, I want to share my love of history, political science, economics, sociology, anthropology, geography and many more disciplines with my students. But most of all, I think social studies is best taught when you can teach it from a storytelling perspective. When you can link all the disciplines that are comprised within social studies into a cohesive story of human interaction between individuals and nations, you can formulate a narrative and encourage students to think about specific and important questions. What events took place to create the current world we live in? Why do humans behave the way they do? Challenging students to think critically about these broad questions is essential to developing critical thinking skills.

Now, when crafting the story of social studies you have to understand the interconnectedness of the discipline and the issues that  live within all of them. I frame my courses and story around a social justice perspective. I want to tell students the stories of those who fought for justice and freedom in their lifetime. This doesn't necessarily mean that I leave out the stories from "great men" of history but I also want to tell the stories of those who have often been marginalized or silenced.

The reason I like to frame social studies around storytelling is that it draws students into the discipline. Social studies has so many characters from the past and present that you can weave into your classroom narrative to present a variety of terms, concepts and ideas. There are stories of triumph and sadly many stories of when human beings have acted violently towards one another.

Each day I tell my students just a piece of the larger story of the class they are taking. I often have students sit in a circle as I attempt to create a fun and engaging narrative for the first 15-20 minutes each day. The best part of learning to story tell is that you have to learn how to tell a good story. You must be entertaining, engaging, funny and informative. After I set the class up at the beginning with my story, students will have 10-15 minutes worth of questions for me about some of the topics I mentioned. I like to engage students in dialogue at this point to discuss different meaning for concepts I used and to talk about why some of the characters did what they did. Establishing storytelling and dialogue at the beginning of many classes can lead students into larger inquiry projects and research where you as the teacher can take a more hands off approach to allow students to investigate the ideas on their own.

Storytelling is an essential part of human life. There is no reason why we shouldn't be incorporating it into our classrooms to engage students into the narrative of social studies and getting them to think about the purpose of why this discipline is important. At the end of each of my courses I conclude by telling my students that I expect them to create their own stories of their individual lives and to contribute to the story of our world by making it a better place for all.


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