#nakedteachingday Storytelling

“We say in Africa, when a griot dies, it is like when a library burn.”

Story telling appears in all cultures, from the bedtime fictions of England to the recalling of history of the African griots. We all love a story. There is a tonne of research into how storytelling fires up our brains in a different way to a list of facts. We emotionally invest in stories and can recall their content for years to come. On #nakedteachingday you could harness storytelling to get your pupils emotionally invested in their learning no resources other than yourself. Weave in content or vocabulary that you want them to recall later and explore unlimited avenues of possibility though the power of storytelling.


What concept, skills or content do you want them to learn? Get this clear in your mind and ensure that this is at the heart of your planning. Learners remember what they think about so make sure that your story has them thinking about what you want them to learn. For example, in a history lesson, you may want them to learn facts about key historical figures. If you create a story that has lots of different settings, more characters than those you wish them to learn about and you go off on a tangent about the context, you are not putting what you want them to learn at the heart of your story.

An example of getting this right came in a history lesson created to learn key facts about Nancy Wake, Joseph Goebbels and Alan Turing. The story was fictional and set in one place – a sinking ship. Learners were told that they could only choose one person to survive. I gave them the bare minimum of information about each character and they began debating who had the most to live for. Many went for Joseph as he had six children so it seemed that he was the most needed. I then began drip feeding more facts using thought bombs. A LINK TO FULL LESSON HERE

When they learned that Joseph had killed his six children and Nancy had killed a man with her bare hands, they were so emotionally invested in the characters that the noise level was incredible. The shock and horror on their faces when they opened up each new fact was fantastic to watch. They had emotionally engaged in the story and were hungry for the next piece of information.

What made this successful was the fact that I had given them power over the outcome. They were part of the story through discussion and decision making. The setting – which could lead to the misconception that these key figures had all died in a boating accident – was so unrealistic that we could remove that easily once we began learning about context. However, the facts had been presented through an ongoing story that aroused emotions of hatred, shock, fear and admiration. These facts stuck with them. The facts were at the heart of the story and how they were presented allowed them to stick.

Plan your story carefully. Think about how you can tap into their emotions but keep your learning outcome at the heart. Do you want them to understand what it is like to live in a particular place? How powerful maths can be in life? How computing changed the world? Know the history of story telling through song? Whatever it is that you want them to learn, there will be a story to tell. Get to know your story before you enter the classroom and be prepared to use your story to emotionally engage them in learning.


Remember that this is #nakedteachingday so we are aiming on using little or no resources. I usually start with an image on a Powerpoint to inspire them visually but you don’t actually need that. The power of words to create images in the mind is enough to engage learners. A story will have them creating their own pictures, using what they already know to empathise with what is being said. Think carefully about what they already know. If the content of your story is pitched too high, they will be unable to picture it. Plan to explain new concepts or vocabulary that you know they may not understand. The more you can tap into what they already know, the easier the story will stick.

Rethink your teaching space so that it supports the feeling you want to create. Perhaps you could remove all of the furniture and create a story telling circle on the ground. Is your story light hearted and fun? Or is it dark and spooky? You could close the blinds or light up the space to match the mood of your delivery. One dark and rainy day, my class sat in a circle and told ghost stories. The weather had been perfect for my plans as the atmosphere was dark and spooky. The pupils were my resource as they brought stories they had been told with them. I didn’t need to flip the learning; these stories were with them already. We used their own knowledge to analyse the genre of ghost stories by looking at similarities and differences between what each person told. No need for anything other than my subject knowledge and what was already in their minds. The outcome was to be able to recognise the key features in a specific genre. They could later recall the stories told and what made them a ghost story – outcome achieved.

Think carefully about what you want them to do with the information. In the above history lesson, pupils were expected to debate the facts. During the English lesson, pupils were to recall story features and create a list of similarities and differences. Perhaps you want them to rearrange information, explore new ideas, unpick actions or recall knowledge that can solve problems. Whatever it is, get them thinking about what you want them to learn and use the story as your hook.


Image from Nina Jackson's time in Ghana

Image from Nina Jackson’s time in Ghana. A little girl chanting numbers. Her only resources, a blackboard and stick.

Telling stories is easier if you have images on a Powerpoint, short video clips or access to technology that can bring your story to life. However, #nakedteachingday is about stripping back teaching and learning to the people involved – the teacher and their learners. It was inspired by the work of WWEP who work with schools across the globe to improve education for those most in need. Many schools operate without resources; they simply do not have the technology, pens, paper or spaces that we are so lucky to have. We want schools to explore what is still possible when you take away the resources and put learning at the heart of your lessons. Whatever you try out on #nakedteachingday we want you to share your experiences so that your creativity and ideas can be taken out and shared with the global education community. The creative lessons taught on #nakedteachingday should be able to be adapted and taught in the most basic of spaces, meaning teachers who have nothing but their own subject knowledge can be inspired. Blog, photograph and film your success to let us know how stripping back went for you.

Of course teaching is easier when you have resources. For that reason, we hope that teachers taking part in #nakedteachingday may also contribute to our #Naked4Ghana campaign. We want to raise awareness but also funds for school supplies. As well as your excellent ideas, we can take out a container of school supplies to create better learning spaces for those communities that have little or nothing to use. Anybody can get #Naked4Ghana, not just teachers. Check out the info on the Just Giving page for details of how you, your learners or even your granny could get involved. More information can be found here:

Further reading about the power of stories on our minds and education:

Why Don’t Students Like School

Little Book About the Brain

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