Train the Trainer: Storytelling as Teaching

Storytelling as Teaching

It is a proven fact that the use of storytelling – called “the narrative approach” in teaching lingo – is one of the most effective ways to add interest and engagement to a presentation.  Storytelling works in just about any educational platform from lecture to discussion to on-line, and can help you reach your audience on both an intellectual and emotional level.  A well-placed story can make theories or abstract ideas concrete and accessible, can spark interest in new material, and can help students memorize facts.

To put it simply, properly used, storytelling is a great teaching method.   I’ve used storytelling as a teaching method for decades, and would love to share with you all some of the specific ways I use stories.  Hopefully, some of them will make sense to you and you’ll be able to use them in your teaching as well.

 Use stories to spark interest when introducing a new concept.

Familiar stories, especially those from literature, movies, or popular culture, can be useful to ease the transition into a totally new subject matter. I use the familiar Edgar Allen Poe story “The Cask of Amontillado” as an introduction to the subject of Sherry. Despite its status as one of the world’s leading wines, Sherry is a very foreign subject to most of my culinary school students, and Amontillado is the only real Sherry they have ever heard of, even if they do not yet know what that means or why it matters! 

 Use stories to “sum up” the subject matter at the end of a presentation.

After a long, information-packed class, I like to tell a story to tie all the  information together and re-energize the students about the subject matter  before I conclude the class.  Some of my favorite stories and topics to use include Chianti and the Story of “The Hungry Black Rooster,” Charles Heidsieck and “Champagne Charlie,” and The History of Hungarian Wine and “Bull’s Blood.”  All of these wine stories can be found on this blog…just look  under the category “Tales of the Vine.”

Use stories as a “repetition” of important facts or concepts.

After I tell a  lecture or assign a reading that involves certain basic facts that are very important for students to remember (in other words, just about every class), I try to “weave” those facts into a historical or fictional story.  I find this to be one of my most effective methods for “pouring facts” into  my students. 

I often use the story of Emperor Charlemagne and the Vineyard of Corton-Charlemagne to prompt memory of the basic facts of Burgundy Wine, such as the type of grapes permitted, the many different vineyard names and the vineyard classifications.  Another cool trick is to tell the story at the beginnng of class – including all the pertinent facts, and re-tell the story at the end of class, but this time have the student “fill in” the facts for you. It’s a kind of “story-based quiz.”  

Use stories to tie new concepts to something students already know.

It’s a proven educational fact that all new knowledge if built off of information already in long-term memory. (Check back for a post on Constructivism as a paradigm for teaching and learning – if you dare!) Thus, tying new information to something students already know will increase their interest, engagement, and memory potential immensly.  If you can find  something in popular culture that your audience enjoys (such as a song, television show, or movie) that involves your subject matter, you have hit the jackpot, educationally speaking!

You can use the familiarity (dare I say popularity?) of Dom Perignon, Veuve Cliquot, or Cristal to interest your audience in the story of Champagne. Use the stories to spark interest in grapes, production method, and aging underground. It wil make terms like “sur lie aging” and “assemblage” much more interesting.  I have even used scenes from “James Bond” movies that feature Champagne to peak my audience’s interest in the science of the wine.  There are some awesome James Bond movie posters featuring Champagne out there you can use as visuals as well.

Use stories to engage or “wake up” your audience at any time.

Before you begin a course, seminar, or sales pitch, be armed with at least a few stories that relate to your subject.  Then, if you ever sense your audience losing interest, hit them with a story.  It’s bound to re-invigorate your talk! 

 Remember, storytelling is one of the oldest forms of teaching. 

With all our brain-based science, educational psychology, and cognitive philosophies, one thing we have learned is Aristotle was right – stories are a great way to engage, inspire, and teach our students and our selves!

For more great ideas about stories to use in teaching wine, check under the “Tales of the Vine” category on this blog.

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas…