Why Teaching Artifacts from Lived Experiences in Storyteaching?

Project director Anne Lewis writes:

When I was 10 years old my 5th grade teacher showed us slides of a trip she took to the Alps. In one of the slides a man wore shorts, not lederhosen but 70's style shorts, and there was snow on the ground. She told us the temperature was in the 60's.

What? Shorts when there was snow on the ground? And the temperature was in the 60's? This rocked my 10 year old world. I did not know such things actually could be. I had seen lots of things I'd never seen before on TV but I knew those things were made up. The fact that my teacher, someone I knew, shared a picture that she took and was "real life" (as opposed to produced or staged), changed everything. Through that picture I was awakened to the fact that the world was bigger than what I knew.

Such is the power of TALES. TALES has three big impacts: on student engagement, teacher/student connection, and teacher professional development.

Student Engagement

When teachers embed the stories of their personal experiences into instruction this creates three important conditions that enhance learning: relevance, interest, and understanding.


Stories help make content relevant. When you embed the stories of your personal experiences into instruction the content becomes lived experience rather than abstract conceptualization. This makes the content "real", since someone the students know (you!) has an authentic experience with the content.


Stories help deepen student interest. When content is relevant to students, their curiosity about it is more easily piqued. This engagement draws students into deeper inquiry and investigation.


Stories illuminate and explain content in ways that exposition cannot. Narrative has "privileged status" in communicating to non-expert audiences. The research indicates we recall and understand stories better than other forms of communication.

Teacher/Student Connection

Self disclosure is a verbal behavior of highly effective teachers. When teachers use their stories to teach they are disclosing something of themselves, giving students a social/emotional connection to the teacher and the content.

Educator Benefit

The enhanced engagement and connection are reason enough for teachers to integrate TALES into their instruction. But beyond the benefit to the students, using TALES also benefits the teacher. TALES can provide an impetus and context for personal and professional development. Through telling their stories teachers increase in self efficacy, share their passions, and have a legitimate reason to seek out experiences and adventures that enrich their own lives.

Guidelines for Stories

The stories anchor, explain or connect to content or subject matter

Above all, the story must connect students to learning. The students have an initial connection to the story and by extension the content through their relationship with you, the teacher, but it is your job to help them acquire the deeper learning the story can facilitate.

The stories come from your personal experience.

The premise that underpins TALES is that the teacher uses a personal experience as a teaching artifact. Certainly teachers can "storify" content in other ways such as using a more narrative approach when teaching history. But TALES focuses on the teacher using a lived experience. This experience does not need to be extraordinary. In fact, extraordinary experiences may actually work against learning since students may find it harder to relate to them.

The stories are appropriate, accurate, and accessible.


The stories you tell to teach are not part of a documentary of your amazing life. You are a teacher, not an Instagram influencer. The Unexpected Costs of Extraordinary Experiences cautions us about making the stories about ourselves and our amazing lives rather than what we are trying to teach. If we fail to relate the story back to something the students should learn we will have alienated our learners rather than engaged them.

Furthermore, while the stories come from personal experience, they should not overshare your personal life. Your community values, school culture and personal temperament will inform what is an appropriate amount of information to share about your personal life. In general, anything relating to activities that are illegal (e.g drug use), immoral (affairs), unhealthy (drunkenness) or sexual is not appropriate for the classroom. You should also be thoughtful how you include family members in your stories.


TALES are narratives that are inductive (specific example to general principle). Your story should illustrate or anchor the rule and not the exception to whatever concept you are teaching unless you are teaching the exception.

Accessible and Inclusive

Stories that are accessible to students invite them in to the experience in a welcoming way. In addition to recognizing their age and developmental stage, stories should honor equity and inclusion.


Dahlstrom, Michael. Using narratives and storytelling to communicate science with nonexpert audiences. PNAS. September 16, 2014. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1320645111

Nussbaum, Jon F.; Holladay, Sherry J.; Comadena, Mark E. Classroom Verbal Behaviors of Highly Effective Teachers. Journal of the Thought. Volume 22, No. 4 (Winter 1987) pp 73-80.