Life Compass
Stress Tests of Character

Storytelling in the Classroom

8 Ways to Use Story in the Classroom 
to Foster Character Strengths

1. Hidden Figures: Tell stories about key people in your field who have struggled and overcome adversity. 

Every math equation, science discovery, artistic composition, written document or seminal event has human beings behind it — a person or persons who studied, invented, struggled, explored, and stuck with the task at hand. Share their stories as a read aloud, as a five-minute “hook” to start a new unit, or as a motivational moment to inspire students and to help them see the tenacity and resilience behind the scenes. 
2. Picture This: Post pictures in your classroom of individuals who embody tenacity and resilience. 
In a speech advocating women in sports, tennis legend Billie Jean King said, “You have to see it to be it.” Post pictures of strong exemplars in your field and refer to them throughout the year. Having inclusive visual role models helps students imagine themselves in different professions. 
3. Imagine That: Pose a typical “stress test” that a professional in your field might face and ask students to imagine their response.  

After sharing a challenge a professional in your field might face, ask students to consider what their first reaction might be in such a situation: Fear? Embarrassment? Stress? Anger? Then ask them to reflect on what they would want the outcome to be. If they were in this situation, what steps could they take to navigate this challenge? What internal strengths would help them handle it successfully? (tenacity, patience, courage, compassion, creativity, empathy, hope, gratitude, resilience, etc).

4. Mine Your Experience: What stories do you have from your own life or from your teaching career that might help motivate students when they are faced with a challenge?

Students love stories. Using an occasional, appropriate personal anecdote — of a time you or one of your former students struggled with a concept, a task, or an interpersonal situation — can help students connect with you and see you as someone who has the empathy and capacity to coach them through their own academic difficulties. 

5. Be Our Guest: Bring in guest speakers who can inspire your students with their life journey. 

Classroom visitors are memorable because the provide a new voice and a break from routine. You don’t need to bring in a famous guest. Look for a parent, community member, or alumnae who work in your field and who has a story they can share with students about the challenges they have faced and overcome on their career or personal journey. Ask them to share what habits or strengths have helped them in their life.

6. Step Into Their Shoes: Ask students to write creative fiction from the perspective of a key figure in your field.  

After students hear the story of a scientist, mathematician, writer, artist, or historical figure who has faced and overcome challenges, invite them to write a journal entry or letter from the perspective of that person. What emotions did they experience? Did they consider giving up? What motivated them to keep going? What steps did they take? What internal strengths, or virtues, helped them handle this challenge? 

7. Resilience Stories: Ask students to write about a time when they faced a challenge and worked their way through it.

The stories we tell about our own lives can bolster our confidence and strengthen resilience to face future challenges. Ask students to recall and write about one of their own “resilience stories.” What made the situation difficult? What inspired them to keep going? What help did they receive? What internal strengths helped them handle this challenge? (tenacity, patience, courage, compassion, creativity, empathy, hope, gratitude, resilience, etc).  

8. Fast Forward: Ask students to imagine and write about their future selves. 

Stories help students remember the “why” in the work. At the beginning of the year, you could ask them to write their own final report card comment — noting the personal strengths and academic skills they developed this year. Or you could ask them to write a letter to themselves on graduation day, expressing what they hoped they have learned and the type of person they hope they have become. Encourage them to include at least one stress test in their comment or letter. 

The Stress Tests of Character curriculum was made possible with the generous support of a grant from the Kern Family Foundation and our partnership with the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues.

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