Design + Storytelling

Dig Tom’s opening paragraph:

If two people are telling the same story, the one who knows when and how long to pause, when to raise their voice, when to whisper will tell a much better storyI’m just going to add here that the person who can manipulate those small structural cues will not merely tell a better story but succeed in every field for which controlling someone’s emotional response is a priority. And I can’t name any career outside the hard sciences for which it isn’t a priority.. Visual design works the same way. And you get better at it by paying attention to people who are good and then analyzing your own work. Reflection on what you do that works is a key component of design (and just about anything else).

and his closing:

I have no design training other than looking at things and reading stuff on the Internet and a few books.

Storytelling is a skill that lends itself so well to the classroom, regardless of your formal training. You pump a bunch of stories through your digital projector – movies, tv showsYeah, I went there., photos, podcasts, vodcasts, movie posters, print ads, whatever – and, like Tom, reflect like crazy.

Ask your students to articulate a) the stories, b) which one punches them most squarely in the gut, and c) why. Pretty soon you’ve got a robust storytelling toolkit. Pretty soon they’re telling their own stories.

You think your students wouldn’t love this? You think you couldn’t incorporate your omg-fav-xoxo 21st-century learning tool into this mix? You think you couldn’t find a handful of content standards this fits like a glove?

Storytelling’s gonna happen in my math class and it’s gonna be a blast, if that does anything for your skepticism.

I'm Dan and this is my blog. I'm a former high school math teacher and current head of teaching at Desmos. He / him. More here.


  1. I love it! As a band director, controlling the emotional responses of others is very important to me. My students tell me that I’m a good story teller, so maybe that’s a good thing.

    When we got back from Christmas vacation this week, I had plenty of stories to tell. On Monday, I told my classes about my dog being hit by a car and my trip to Walt Disney World for Christmas and everything that I did (well, not EVERYTHING).

    On Tuesday, and even throughout the week, they were asking me if I had any stories to tell. Of course, I obliged them. :)

    Sometimes I wonder if they just want to hear stories because it means they don’t have to work as hard. At the same time, it builds an emotional connection, which ends up producing better results in the end anyway…

  2. Good to hear music affirmed as an instrument of storytelling. Such has been my suspicion, but I’ve got a lot less credibility in that arena (read: none) so thanks for chiming in.

  3. I was really exposed to story telling as an educational skill through the ojai foundation. I’m not sold that it’s a perfect solution, but the nature of the councils they run really downplays back and forth communication, and brings storytelling to the front. It’s less a vehicle for persuasion, and more an opportunity to share experience. There is something powerful that happens when it works well, but it is all centered on the story telling abilities of the people in the circle. And generally, those people have no training other than regular participation in that forum. That’s where they learn their skills.

    As Tom says, it’s something that is best improved by just doing it, analyzing your efforts, and then doing it again.

  4. Your thoughts on storytelling make me think of multigenre research papers that we discussed in some of my college classes – research papers that present information using poems, songs, vingettes, art and other genres to best convey the information. My exposure to them has only been in English classes, but the use of them in science or math classes would truly be cross-curricular and more meaningful to students.

    I think you could be on to something here as a common cause for the 2.0 community and “right tool for the right job” community.

    I have yet to get to do multiple genre papers in a classroom of my own, but there’s a book out there by Tom Romano, I think.

  5. Re: controlling your intonation, etc.

    I wholly recommend joining your local Toastmasters club if you want to hone your storytelling skills. After all, any kind of effective public speaking demands the ability to tell a story in a manner meaningful to your audience. Toastmasters has certainly helped me in this regard, and I was a perfectly confident public speaker before joining. While I dig information design, it’s incredible what some of my club members can do with nothing but their voice.

  6. Toastmasters has been a temptation for some time. Gotta find a local chapter.

    Mr. K, I’m not so pumped on storytelling as a teaching/educating tool (though, structurally, I can’t avoid it). As evidence of learning, an artifact of the process, I’m pretty sure it’s the greatest, best hope for a cross-curricular assignment we have.

  7. Good theme. Why not give it a go? Of course, no tech here, but the storytelling link is still strong, and involving the kiddies is a great idea.