Teaching Research With Stories

Back in April at our conference, Carmen Agra Deedy inspired us to contemplate the power of stories and storytelling as teaching tools. I found a line in my notebook from that day – “Storytelling – (inc. into teaching research?)”

As a school librarians, we teach the research process. I have been wondering about how stories and storytelling might improve and spice up the teaching of this process, connecting inquiry to human experience in ways that feel relevant and vital to students. I’d love to help them progress through a research process using story to engage and illuminate, and in so doing, revealing to students that they, as researchers, are creators and storytellers. How to do this? I’m sharing ideas here that are still baking in the summer sun, so I hope you’ll consider and comment freely especially if this reminds you of something you already do or know about. While I’m inspired to learn more about storytelling and to begin to practice it, I’m not quite there yet. So far, I’ve thought of two texts that might help serve as stepping stones to engaging students in the process through story.

This summer I picked up The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin, which had been on my list for some time but until now had remained unread (yay, summer!). Benjamin begins each part of the novel with a quotation from the main character’s science teacher, Mrs. Turton; each part of the story relating to a section of a scientific paper and lending the novel that sense of structure:

“Background: Your background provides the context for your scientific quest. What do we already know? What don’t we know? Why does it matter – Mrs. Turton” (63).

How about a collaborative research unit with Middle School English and Science teachers, beginning a research process with a study of this novel? Has anyone done this or something like it? A summer idea to mull over!

Another book that could work to incorporate visual storytelling into teaching and supporting students through the research process is Grant Snider’s relatable and adorable The Shape of Ideas: An Illustrated Exploration of Creativity. While meant to relate to artistic creation, I think that parts of this simple book in the graphic format are wonderful illustrations for students identifying research topics, exploring information, formulating research questions, making connections between ideas, struggling with originality and procrastination, and reflecting on the process.

If you have this book in your collection, I recommend taking a look at its application to high school researchers as an illustrative guide to and validation of their process and feelings. It also helped me feel better about not knowing what this post would be about until pretty recently.

Benjamin, A. (2017). The thing about jellyfish. New York, NY: Little, Brown and
Company.

Snider, G. (2017). The shape of ideas: An illustrated exploration of creativity.
New York: Abram Comicarts.

Snider, G. (2015). Asking questions [Comic strip]. Retrieved from
http://www.incidentalcomics.com/2015/08/asking-questions.html

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