The Power of Stories

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As Willingham (2022) notes, the human mind is predisposed to remember stories. Stories by definition show relationships between different objects, events and/or characters.

Research shows that we find stories intrinsically more interesting than other formats. In addition, stories are easier to remember. These types of strategies are intrinsic to the Cracking the ABC Code programs.

 We can use stories to help students remember basic facts and information. Here are some examples related to teaching literacy:

  • To help students remember the common graphemes used to represent a particular phoneme you can link each grapheme to a picture cue and then create a story using all the items.

Perhaps you want students to remember the common ways of representing /ue/. Think of some words (preferably nouns) that contains the focus graphemes. For example, oo (moon), ew (screw), u-e (flute), ue (glue), ui (suit). Now combine the items into a story. The man under the moon had a screw in this head (ouch) was playing a flute, with his foot stuck in some glue and was wearing a suit.

  • Make the story even more powerful by looking for further connections.

The ‘ue’ in glue and the ‘u-e’ in flute are like brothers because they use the same letters, but the u-e glue has a consonant in between. The ‘ui’ in suit is like a cousin because it also begins with the letter ‘u’ but has an ‘i’ instead of an ‘e’. The ‘oo’ in moon and ‘ew’ in screw are like outlaws because they use completely different letters.

  • You can use the strategy to help students remember unusual spelling patterns.

    To help students remember the unusual ‘ought’ pattern in words like ‘bought’ and ‘thought’ you can link the pattern to the story ‘old uncle goes home tonight’. Combine all the words with the same pattern and sound into one story. Old uncle goes home tonight after he fought his brother over the dog he bought which he brought home after he sought for the answer to ‘one take one’ which I thought equals nought.

    • As a component of increasing students’ vocabulary, have them develop mini stories of a paragraph which highlights the meaning of the focus word. For example, the word being learned might be ‘incapacitated’.

    Trevor lay stretched out on the lounge, bored and lonely. His broken leg was encased in plaster and his arm was immobilised in a sling. He hated being incapacitated!

    As Willingham notes, this strategy is much more powerful if students are actively involved in the creation of the stories.


    Willingham, D. (2022). Why do students remember everything that is on television and forget everything I say? The Bulletin, 58, 2-6.