Creation Guide


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”

“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! “

I had grasped the concept, but it was not at all clear how to do it … I didn’t know anything about him … how could I invent a story on the spot that intrigued him? I observed him, looking for inspiration: he had red hair (which reminded me of a classmate I had a crush on) and weird sideburns (like an actor I had seen at the cinema whose name I didn’t remember at all); in his hand he held a magazine entitled “The Molossers: special French Bulldog”; he seemed to frequent the gym assiduously, judging by his broad shoulders… I realized I was searching in the dark. Trying to keep calm, I took a deep breath and noticed his scent: it was very aromatic, it reminded me of the smell of coffee. This last detail reminded me of a piece of news I had read that morning while eating breakfast.

“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?”

Nothing was true (except International Coffee Day, like I read in the newspaper!), but maybe I was on the right path …
“It’s a long story … Three years ago, the boy I was in love with told me: “I have to talk to you, let’s meet in two hours and have a coffee”. I thought I was dreaming!
I was so excited that I set out for the appointment well in advance. A sudden storm forced me to take refuge in front of the entrance to a cinema along the road…”
My fantasy had taken over. But now he had his eyes open and was looking at me with a hint of curiosity. He listened in silence. This seemed to be a good sign …
“I was anxiously waiting for it to rain, I was without an umbrella and I never wanted to go to the appointment completely drenched! Just then, he came out of the cinema… along with my best friend! “
“And what did you do?”
“I went to the appointment and drank that coffee with him … Obviously, I was prepared, and I knew how to react as if that news didn’t surprise me at all. To console me, I went to the kennel and adopted a dog … Spartacus! He’s a mongrel but he’s a beautiful cross with a French Bulldog. It is really adorable! That was my last coffee. The very thought of it disgusts me and I just don’t know how to convince others otherwise. “
“Well, it’s understandable… But this shouldn’t compromise our work! Let’s not waste any more time, don’t you just have half an hour left? “
Searching for the right slogan, we started an interesting discussion, we talked about bistros, aromatic awakenings, pleasant breaks with friends, but above all… French Bulldogs! He has three of them and confessed that Spartacus’s adoption was the part of the story that had struck him the most! Indeed, shortly before the arrival of help, he developed the winning slogan in his opinion: “Behind every brilliant idea, there is always a good coffee!”

2. Storytelling for an effective teaching

Even if you probably won’t be locked up like the storyteller, it may also be useful for you as an educator to discover how stories can help you establish a constructive approach in particular moments of teaching. The storytelling technique, especially, can help you to start a learning experience that requires motivation and involvement, such as Escape room.

2.1. Storytelling: definition and functions

Let’s start by providing a definition: “Storytelling” is a communicative method that uses stories to convey a message. The goal is to attract the attention of the listener/reader, generating in him/her the desire to follow the story to find out “how it ends”. The main goal is the involvement: a user involved in a story will inevitably end up paying the utmost attention, taking up the story’s message.
This discipline is widely studied and used in various fields (business, didactics, advertising, etc.), as it can be extremely effective. It responds to multiple needs, including:
  • 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
Actually, storytelling was considered a privileged form of communication from ancient times, not only for the transmission of tradition and cultural identity of a population, for the construction and sharing of a system of values, symbols and ideas, but also for educational and training purposes. Homer and Aesop, in ancient Greece, the Epics of Gilgamesh, in the Mesopotamian civilizations, Hesiod and the Old Testament, among the Jewish people are just a few examples that demonstrate how in ancient times education was based on narration.

2.2. Storytelling, teaching and STEAM

Indeed, storytelling represents a formidable element for the learning purposes, as it stimulates interest, curiosity, engagement and memory development (Conle C., 2003).
It is undeniable that some topics and matters lend themselves better than others to transposition into a narrative approach. Although it can be more immediate to apply storytelling to the humanities sector (for example, to explain feudal society through a story), when it comes to STEAM, some difficulties might be faced. However, these difficulties do not lie so much in the arguments or opportunities, but rather in the greater creative effort that must be used to find the right approach! For example, physicist Richard Feynman was able to explain energy conservation with a fairy tale (Feynman, R. P., 2000).
Actually, some elements determine the success of storytelling in STEAM teaching.
  • 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.
How to concretely apply storytelling to STEAM teaching? Let’s see some possible approaches:

2.2.a Search for a new point of view on a problem and/or theme.

It is common to start from current events or contemporary history to introduce new topics or ask questions. This makes it possible to create a link between the learning experience and life experience, through the transmission of skills according to a cause-effect logic.
For example, we could tackle the theme of calculating speed, distance and time in physics starting from the competitions in which the refugee team that for the first time participated in the Olympics in 2016, not competing for any nation, but under the aegis of the Olympic flag.
Or tell about the living legend Felix Baumgartner, an Austrian skydiver, and his leap from the Stratosphere which marked an era to introduce an earth science lesson.
Or even take a leap in 1714, when a prize entitled “Longitude Act” was established which guaranteed 20,000 pounds (comparable to about 8 million euros) to anyone who solved the calculation of longitude to prevent the perpetration of a series of catastrophic shipwrecks.

2.2.b Propose new interpretations

It is possible to tell the life of scientists to make students appreciate that what they study is the result of the work of “everyday people”. In this way, they can discover the more “humane” aspect of famous people (for example that Albert Einstein had difficulties in school or that Isaac Newton had an unfortunate childhood).

2.2.c Use gamification

This approach is one that leaves more space for creativity. Through a story, our goal can be to open a scenario to simulate the most varied situations. This can allow us to bring listeners into a mission, imagine a prestigious competition, simulate a scenario in which characters with different roles have to propose different solutions to a problem, create teams that have to collaborate, and so on. Scientific theory becomes the set of rules of our game, which can be provided in equally imaginative and possibly contextualized ways with respect to the story.
In this case, the narrative triggers a call to action, as in the case of a scenario that precedes the experience of an Escape Room, involving students to approach a topic as an integral part of the story.
The Escape Room experience can be contextualized in this last point, but the creation of stories and scenarios can also draw inspiration from what we have said in the previous points.

2.3. Some inspiration for STEAM Escape Rooms

Let’s try to suggest some examples of plots:
  • 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?

What can help you to realize good storytelling? Joe Lambert, founder of the Center for Digital Storytelling in California, identifies some useful elements:
  • 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
The stories don’t necessarily have a happy ending, but rather, an important element that increases the user’s attention is the perception of authenticity (Fontana A., 2009). Even if we are telling of an alien abduction, we can be credible and convey authenticity if we are convinced of the purpose of our story!

3.1. A possible strategy

Starting from the elements identified by Lambert, let’s try to understand what your strategy should be:
  1. 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).
  2. 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).
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
Let’s imagine all this before we start writing, and in as much detail as possible. This will facilitate the writing process.

3.2.b An effective and exciting introduction

The introduction allows us to quickly gain (but also to lose just as quickly) the interest of our audience. It is precisely the moment in which an empathic bond is established with the public. Try to make sure that the introduction to our story is intriguing and exciting. Its function is to present the protagonist, the context in which he/she finds himself/herself, his/her strengths and weaknesses, but there is no need to be didactic! Indeed, we can find the most captivating thing in the story and try to start from there.

3.2.c Rythm

In order not to bore our audience, let’s use a fast pace and don’t get lost in digressions. Eliminate what is not strictly necessary.

3.2.d Call to action and solution

The positive resolution of the conflict must require the participation of our audience, who must feel indispensable to help the protagonist overcome it. We act in this way on motivation, which also can be solicited by revealing the benefits of becoming allies of the protagonist. We make sense of the whole story, leading anyone who is reading to be convinced that helping the protagonist represents an opportunity that can bring concrete benefits for ourselves or for others.

3.2.e Tone of voice

This is not a small detail: our voice must be confident and convincing. We transmit strength and conviction by expressing ourselves with our story.
Once the work of creating and defining the story is completed, the next step will be to look for the resources that will help us to make our work as concrete as possible, based on the final output we want to realize. The next chapter will provide a useful overview of the resources available on the web.

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