Table of Contents
1. Why is learning to tell a story important?
If you learn how to tell a story with the right attitude, it can really help you on several occasions! This is not an exaggerated statement!
I was 29 and looking for a new job. I had just finished a job interview at a major marketing company, but my shyness played a bad joke on me once again: I was convinced that no one would call me back.
I had just begun the descent in the elevator to the ground floor when it unexpectedly stopped. I looked for reassurance at my “travel companion”, whom I had barely noticed until then. He was a man in his forties, very elegantly dressed, tanned, and perfectly shaved. But the thing that struck me most about him was his terrified look. I didn’t have time to open my mouth when he said to me in a faint voice:
“I suffer from claustrophobia.”
“Don’t fret, somebody will let us out soon …” I sounded the alarm and after a while, a soothing voice informed us that the technicians had already been informed and asked us to stay calm.
“With the traffic at this time, they will take at least half an hour to arrive!”
“Don’t worry. There is no danger … “
“Easy to say,“Don’t worry. There is no danger … ” you don’t know what I’m going through. I feel suffocated… “. He kept his eyes closed and was growing pale. His forehead was sweaty, and he was starting to breathe heavily.
“You are right, tell me if I can do something to help you”
“Tell me a story”
“I have to get out of here, at least with my mind”
“Ok … er … let’s see … once upon a time …”
“No no no… Do I look like a child to you? Try to be credible, please! “
“Forgive me, I just have my head somewhere else … my employer urgently summoned me: a demanding client wants a proposal for his next advertising campaign. I only have half an hour to find a slogan for your coffee … I’m sorry, I’m just digressing … “
“I don’t understand marketing … but I’m a good coffee consumer …”
“In less than a month it will be International Coffee Day and we need an idea to submit to our client … I studied all night, but I don’t know where to start, I don’t drink coffee anymore…”
“You don’t know what you’re missing … but why?”
2. Storytelling for an effective teaching
2.1. Storytelling: definition and functions
- sharing experiences
- conveying emotions
- establishing social and religious values
- providing entertainment
- directing towards a choice
- explaining natural and historical phenomena and events
- creating relationships
- educating and transmitting knowledge
2.2. Storytelling, teaching and STEAM
- First of all, the use of narration in some phases of the didactic activity can prove to be functional as it allows for the creation of an alternative communication channel (Norris et al., 2005). Through storytelling, we can leverage the sphere of imagination, fantasy and feelings. This positively influences the reaction to the didactic proposal, generating positive expectations. Organizing a lesson starting with “Now I’ll tell you a story” ensures that students perceive the beginning of a parenthesis that is accessible to all, as if it was an invitation to get comfortable and listen, to let their imagination work.
- The facts and actions told in a narrative seem more concrete and understandable. This approach makes everything more familiar and allows students to be involved through the recognition in the story of known elements, which evokes memories;
- A narrative approach involves telling something new and unexpected, insinuating a doubt, or even adopting an unusual point of view. This creates curiosity and keeps the attention alive, placing scientific and non-scientific language on the same level (Avraamidou, L. et al., 2009). Technical rigor and narrative approach are therefore conciliated through creativity.
- Storytelling allows to organize thought and content within a logical path that involves multiple channels of communication, from visual to auditory, thus stimulating cognitive, linguistic, and mnemonic skills at the same time. Moreover, today we can easily produce not only words and images, but also videos, graphics, diagrams, maps, animations, etc. We speak of “digital storytelling” meaning the organization of such, contained within a transmedia narrative structure created thanks to digital tools and technologies.
2.2.a Search for a new point of view on a problem and/or theme.
2.2.b Propose new interpretations
2.2.c Use gamification
2.3. Some inspiration for STEAM Escape Rooms
- It is a great day for Felix Baumgartner, the Austrian skydiver: all the televisions in the world are connected to watch his new launch from the Stratosphere, which will go down in history as a new record! But an envious rival put him to sleep and locked him in a secret cell (or maybe in the spacecraft that is orbiting the stratosphere!). His salvation is in your hands!
- We are in what used to be Einstein’s house and we have to find out where a very precious letter from him is hidden (which he may have kept using a system of clues based on his studies!). We do not know what the letter contains, but it could be unpublished research that could surprise the whole world!
- In 1719 John Harrison, the son of a carpenter, who is just twenty years old, builds a series of particularly frictionless wooden clocks. Being aware of his skill, he decides to focus on the Longitude Act award. He went to London to present his idea to the commission composed of prominent astronomers and watchmakers but discovered that the latter had never met due to a lack of valid projects to examine. John then decides to present his project by knocking on the house of George Graham, a member of the commission. What the books do not tell (or rather, the conflict of our story) is that he was received by a strange butler who locked him in an underground cell, wanting to take over his studies. Only with your help can this be prevented!
- To test the effectiveness of his/her work, the publisher of the biology textbook used in the classroom has developed an innovative test. The publishing house has just informed that the class has been selected for this test, informing that an interesting reward will be made awarded to the children for this inconvenience. It will be necessary to exit the locked classroom and the puzzles to find it are inspired by one or more chapters of the book! It will be good, as promised, to guarantee a reward, but a simple day without homework or questions could be very welcome!
3. What are the keys to good storytelling?
- personal point of view
- structure of the narrative that raises questions and provides non-trivial answers
- use of emotional and engaging content
- economy of the narrative (you can say a lot with little)
- pace appropriate to the narrative modalities
3.1. A possible strategy
- Building trust in the narrator: Our feelings towards a narrator influence our reaction to his/her story.
The feelings towards a storyteller influence the reaction towards the story.
You can use elements that serve to strengthen the story and, above all, try to enhance your point of view. One method is to fill the story with some information or observation that can make it clear that you are not telling something that does not concern you, but that in some way you have also been involved. This helps to build credibility and trust (in the opening story of the guide, for example, the girl adds more credibility to the story by telling an episode that – apparently – she experienced first-hand).
- Conveying familiarity: The more familiar a story seems, the more powerful it is. The public needs to recognize familiar elements in the story, which evoke memories, familiar faces, and already lived experiences. To do this, it is possible to compare the characters in the story to familiar people, linking the problem with something that our audience already knows (in the story the girl observes the man and creates a scenario and characters from some familiar elements).
- Leaving space for imagination: stories are more persuasive when readers work their meaning out on their own. Effective storytelling is one that evokes a message, leaving the interlocutor the space to create an image in which he can recognize himself.
- Working on emotions: Stories require dramatic development and emotional dynamics. The storyteller must engage the audience. When he/she tells a story, he/she should feel part of it. It is not enough to tell the facts as if our interlocutors were passive listeners: our goal is to make the public experience emotions and sensations to remember (fear, curiosity, serenity, fun, etc.), always stimulating their imagination.
- Using simplicity: Simple stories are strong stories. It can be useful to eliminate everything that is not necessary for the narration: for example, cutting events, joining two minor characters, or minimizing mentions to other places. Concrete examples can be effective, and even the usage of common words.
- Encouraging immersion: The more readers are involved in the story, the more likely it is to produce an effect, that the call to action is effective. It may be helpful to include questions. This serves to create direct contact between the interlocutor and the listener, and facilitates the creation of a solid bond within the story.
- Identifying “allies” in the story: it is easier to keep the attention and curiosity high if we use elements that can revive them at the right times (not too often but not too rarely). Twists, false leads, unexpected events ensure that the public does not lose the curiosity to know what is about to happen, how the story will evolve. Especially speaking of preparatory stories for an E.R. experience, objects can be valid allies they can in fact create surprise, suspense or curiosity … For example: what is a gift package doing in a crime room? They are important if we manage to animate them almost like characters if they contain particular meanings. Let us not forget to correctly introduce those that represent something important for the story, which can be linked to the conflict and the solution. A few details, well examined, may be enough to have the strength to remain etched in the minds of the listeners.
3.2. Empathy: how to create it
The strategy described above pursues a very specific objective: to create empathy. Without empathy, it is impossible to make the audience feel like an integral part of a story and the interlocutor will remain a simple passive spectator. Hence, the story will hardly be effective. The narrator can’t permit it, especially if he/she is creating a call to action to kick off an Escape Room’s experience.
To create empathy, it is necessary to build a conflict that pivots the whole story. It is the main element that the storyteller can use to be able to enter the mind of his/her interlocutors. Conflict can take the form of a trial, an unpleasant event, or as an antagonist. It is an apparently insurmountable obstacle that separates the protagonist from his goal. It is in the face of a conflict that the listener / reader finds the motivation to contribute to the protagonist’s cause. Empathy makes the reader feel the desire to support the protagonist in finding a solution and overcoming the problem (Call-To-Action). Motivation, will, and determination therefore play a very important role.
3.2.a Starting idea
- Theme: focus on the target. By knowing the audience, the narrator can identify what generates interest, curiosity, and attention in it;
- Characters: we imagine characters that are able to captivate our audience and create a vision in the mind of our interlocutor;
- Setting: we choose non-trivial scenarios that we can contextualize correctly, even if with a few elements, so as to be credible and to enhance the story.