Chris’s Travel Blog

My view on the story telling journey so far:

What keeps an audience engaged?

One of my classmates, Deana Waters wrote,When I was a practicing paralegal, the attorney and I would develop a theme, or a story, to follow in presenting evidence to a jury.’   Her comment was based off our reading by Alexander, that storytelling is not limited to fiction.   My journey as an educator started off by first getting comfortable with my content area, and as a result my lesson delivery was drier.   It was more straight forward, honestly unless you love science it was likely painful.   Now, I have switched subjects to teach technology and video production; however, when I switched I wasn’t as new to the gig and I was able to make the content more interesting for my students.   This is important because the story of my teaching career is not fiction!   But yet, I would argue we could call it a story.

One of the professional standards for teachers that we get evaluated on is student engagement.   I strongly feel that creating background stories and building context for lessons is important.   When I get into teaching a new lesson, I try and build up a story behind why and what we are doing to covey its importance.   I usually jump around, use voice inflection, and pull in outside characters as much as possible.   Taking this approach can really help my students, because with context, students remember what their learning longer and arrive there faster.   They also stay more engaged.   A few weeks ago, I was introducing an intro type project using Power Point to 7th graders that are on a nine-week quarter rotation class through the non-language based electives.   The student said, “Mr. Fliss you have a way of teaching the most boring things and turning them into something interesting.’   The quote from my student is worth mentioning here because, I believe the reason he liked my style is due to the fact I use story telling when I am explaining.   I also incorporate their work to be done to fit into a greater story or tell their own story through some creative process.

The next quote I wanted to reference was from the reading, The Truth About Stories (King, 2003), and brought up by Kat.   She comments about King’s voice, and how she likes the fact that he interrupts his story to chat with his readers.   I feel this is a very realistic model to apply to a story telling teacher, a teacher who is engaging their students with comprehension questions and allowing for their commentary as well.   There is an engagement with one’s audience.   No matter the purpose of one’s story whether it is to teach or for any other reason, I feel interaction with an audience is of great importance because not all audiences listen to one’s story correctly.   Rebecca brought this up from the King reading.

I created the following video to teach meditation.   I wanted to make it interactive and see if my audience was listening.   I use a simple story from my life as a hook and then engage my audience with questions.   Take a peak:

I would also like to bring up the web article we read by Paul Zak.   He writes about the fact that increasing tension is incredibly important to keep an audience engaged.  Paul also eludes to the fact that there ought to be mystery, the audience needs to want to predict how one’s character is going to overcome the story’s conflict.

What starts a good story telling brainstorm:

I was listening to NPR, and they were interviewing a semi-famous composer of music.   I say semi-famous, because I can’t remember who it was!   I digress, the point of bringing it up is, that one of the questions they asked was, “Do you find it easier to compose an open-ended long form song, or something for a commercial or film.’   To paraphrase their response, they said they liked the forms of music that had specific constraints.   They found it easier to compose for a particular application within constraints such as duration or a mood that is needed. I think that if one wants to tell a story and they are stuck, they could think up parameters and go forth and tell.   I firmly believe the source of the parameters matters less, and more that they exist.   This at least helps my creation process.   An example in my life and relevant in my classmates’ lives right now has to do with the daily creates we have been working on.   They have been prompts that lead us to create within constraints.   These constraints can really assist an artist, composer, or any other generative type profession people have to get started easier and make a compelling story.

One of the daily creates that I loved and that effected my story telling journey can be found here:

I have live linked the tweet in case you care to comment on the feed.   The prompt was to create a photo that included a celebrity of your choosing side by side with a food product.   One was then to illuminate their audience to why there is a connection.   I chose to try and make it witty as well.   The reason that I am bringing this into my reflection is because I was really engaged by the challenge.   If one’s teacher is engaged in the content so will your students.   Using that logic, I turned around and made a lesson out of it for my fast finishers in my photoshop unit.   Several of my students are now making their own products with this same prompt.

How does our everyday lives inform our storytelling brainstorm?

 One way that our daily lives inform our storytelling brainstorms, is that the story teller begins with the way they play.   Play is often simply considered an unstructured activity that we are interested in, if it isn’t…. it is probably better to call that activity work!   Anyway, telling a story that another can relate to from an interest we have helps us tell a more compelling one.   It goes back to a comment I made earlier in the post, teachers that are engaged with their content or lessons are more likely to bring their students along for the ride too.

Often, the hardest part of my video production class is the script writing component.   I give them challenges to incorporate as a form of constraint on their stories amongst other general formatting instructions, but often there is a group or two that needs help getting started anyway.   They often will disengage from an active more focused brainstorm and start to play in some way.   I will then modify their parameters to include that play into their story.   I have done this with side conversations that I have heard during their brainstorm work time as well.


 Alexander, B. (2011). The New Digital Storytelling. Retrieved from

King, T. (2003). The truth about stories: a native narrative. Retrieved from

Zak, P. (2013, December 7). How Stories Change the Brain. Retrieved February 10, 2019, from



  1. Erika Horn

    For my blog, I focused on how storytelling forms connections between people. As a teacher, I often use storytelling to help students develop a connection, either to me or with the content that I am teaching. After reading your post, I realized that storytelling is so useful in my instruction not only because it allows for students to form the necessary connections, but it also helps keep the students engaged in the material!! I would argue that the connections that are developed help drive engagement.

  2. Kendell Newman

    It’s really nice to hear how you see storytelling connecting to your teaching — both generally and by sharing Daily Creates with your students (so great!). I wonder, if you were to retitle this post to better reflect the content (focus now is on author), what would you call it? What’s the heart of this post?

    Based on the bolded type, I read this post as having 3 sections, each responding to a question. The last 2 questions share a brainstorm theme (you might bring King in again for some of his tips — I tagged you in Slack with some quotes). What’s the relationship between the three sections? How might you help us see these relationships?

    Great to see that you and Erika share this interest in storytelling + teaching. You might check out Deana’s post, where she leans on both Zak and Moreau to support the idea that storytelling is an effective teaching tool.

    Finally, on the topic of brainstorming and story-finding, this piece from Latif Nasser (a producer on Radiolab) could keep you and your students going for a looong time:

  3. Kat

    I totally agree with your comments about creating within constraints. Honestly, that sound limiting doesn’t it? When one thinks about the creative processes, we don’t like to think about limitations. However, too much freedom in creation can be quite overwhelming! I’ve had students ask me for constraints before when faced with a very open-ended assignment. “Please! Tell me what to do!”

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