Why storytelling and characters improve children's learning

ELA Kindergarten, ELA 1st Grade, ELA 2nd Grade, ELA K-2



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Nothing is more effective than a good story for driving children’s learning. That’s because storytelling captures the imagination like little else.[1][2]

Stories are incredibly powerful
Humans are storytelling creatures – and stories are incredibly powerful. Stories have the ability to elect presidents, create economies, and keep you watching Netflix until three in the morning. And studies have shown that when educational content is worked into strong narrative, children’s vocabulary learning and motivation skyrocket.[3]

As Melanie C. Green notes, a gripping story maintains children’s focus and deepens their understanding of the subject at hand, while their innate desire to know ‘what happens next’ translates to a genuine eagerness to keep learning.[4]

Characters create meaningful experiences
The best stories are full of relatable, larger-than-life characters that you come to really care about. Research by Emily Reardon and colleagues found that when children interact with characters that they are emotionally invested in, their brains recognize these as especially meaningful experiences – and that means deeper learning.

What’s more, the characters’ presence makes children feel relaxed and receptive to learning, thus creating an ideal educational atmosphere.[5] Learning can be an emotional experience. After all, it’s the things that hold the most meaning for us that are always the most memorable. Tell the right story the right way, and the educational benefits can be profound.

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Sources for further reading:

[1] Huber, J., Caine, V., Huber, M., and Steeves, P. (2013) Narrative Inquiry as Pedagogy in Education: The Extraordinary Potential of Living, Telling, Retelling, and Reliving Stories of Experience. Review of Research in Education. 37, pp. 212-242.

[2] Cooper, P. (2007) Introduction to the Special Issue: Storytelling and Education. Storytelling, Self, Society. 3 (2), pp. 75-79.

[3] Zigo, D. (2001) From Familiar Worlds to Possible Worlds: Using Narrative Theory to Support Struggling Readers’ Engagements with Texts. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy. 45 (1), pp. 62-70.

[4] Green, M.C. (2004) Storytelling in Teaching. Available from:

[5] Gray, J., Reardon, E., and Kotler, J. (2017) Designing for Parasocial Relationships and Learning: Linear Video, Interactive Media, and Artificial Intelligence. Proceedings of the 2017 Conference on Interaction Design and Children, pp. 227-237.


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