Storytelling in the Classroom: How the Oral Tradition Enhances Teaching the Humanities

Dr. Colleen J. McElroy,
Dr. Michael Faucette
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A look at how storytelling enhances media driven curricula, and enriches non-traditional classes as both a mnemonic device and as an interactive learning device. Teaching through storytelling bridges the gap between the student's reality and the subject matter of a wide range of courses covering language, culture, literature, and history. Storytelling, a practice as old as language, allows a cross-cultural incorporation of resources - literature, media, and film - beyond the standard textbook, and promotes a sense of connection to a larger tradition in an increasingly global society homogenized by its links with the media. From Socrates to Lewis Hyde (TRICKSTER MAKES THE WORLD), the value of storytelling as a vehicle for art, philosophy, and knowledge has been underscored. Storytelling stimulates a deep seated response from students who feel free to share those tales passed to them from storytellers they have encountered outside of the classroom. In this way, teaching becomes irretrievably interwoven into the everyday lives of students, making learning effortless and enjoyable. As a professor who has taught in other countries, I can attest to the common element of storytelling as a teaching tool, and specifically, as a vehicle for exploring cultural ties in the context of history and literature.

Keywords: Storytelling, Teaching
Stream: Literature, Literary Studies, Teaching and Learning, Ethnicity, Difference, Identity
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
Paper: Storytelling in the Classroom

Dr. Colleen J. McElroy

Professor of English and Creative Writing, Department of English
Creative Writing Program
University of Washington
Seattle Washington, Creative Writing Program


Dr. Colleen J. McElroy lives in Seattle Washington, and is on the Creative Writing faculty of the Department of English at the University of Washington where she has taught for the past thirty-five years. Author of 14 books of poetry, fiction and non-fiction, McElroy also is a folklorist, and as a Fulbright Scholar and a Dupont Distinguished Scholar has researched the oral tradition in a number of countries, including Madagascar, Vietnam, Sardinia, Cuba, Morocco, the former Yugoslavia, and the Cook Islands. Her text, OVER THE LIP OF THE WORLD: AMONG THE STORYTELLERS OF MADAGASCAR was a 2001 finalist in the PEN-USA-West awards. She has also received an American Book Award for her collection of poems, QUEEN OF THE EBONY ISLES. In addition to receiving tqwo Fulbright Fellowships, she has also received two National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships, a Rockefeller Fellowship. She is currently editor-in-chief of the literary magazine, Seattle Review.

Dr. Michael Faucette

Lecturer, Humanities Division
Seattle Central Community College
Seattle Washington, Humanities Division


Dr. Michael Faucette teaches in the Division of Humanities of Seattle Central Community College. He has taught humanities, language, and literature in the United States and abroad. His languages are Italian, Spanish, and French--in addition to English. Faucette's interests include the oral tradition and storytelling in forms as diverse as folktales and opera. He has received numerous awards including the University of Arkansas at Little Rock International Center and Rockefeller Foundation Travel Grant to Guadalajara, Mexico. His teaching awards include the 1992 University of Washington Excellence in Teaching Award, 2002 Who’s Who Among America’s Teachers, 2004 Who’s Who Among America’s Teachers, and 2005 Who’s Who Among America’s Teachers.

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