Plato once shared that “wise men speak because they have something to say”. Frankly, I find this short-sighted.
Those who are wise do not become so by keeping silent, no, speech is the path to wisdom! Since the dawn of our earliest evolution, humans have been grunting, screaming, warbling, and otherwise babbling on to describe and piece together the world around us and the events that make it tick. Our biology demands speech in even the most basic forms of reasoning and understanding, and humans have been using spoken word and oral tradition to derive comprehension for as long as we have been able.
For example- storytelling. A custom as old as time itself! Fairy tales, folklore, and other culturally significant information has been preserved for thousands of years through this practice, making it an excellent aide in study and test preparation! To master a concept and recall its finer details without even batting an eye, one must learn to explain using allegory.
Story Telling as a Study Technique
It is for this reason that I propose storytelling as a study technique that can exponentially increase retention of information, understanding, and overall ability to succeed in evaluations. This process involves three simple components; preface, story, and summary. By effectively blending study with the creative process, we can increase the retention of information tenfold.
Say, for example, that you are researching blood types, and are confused by the sheer volume of different structures, cells, and reactions involved. Pull up a friend, family member, colleague, beloved pet, what have you- and get speaking!
To start, gather your notes and give this tale a name
Run your partner through the topic of your story first with a brief preface. Introduce your cast (the antigens, the antibodies), your setting (the blood), and your purpose for explaining in this manner (grade eleven biology). Give context before you begin to organize your thoughts into a narrative.
Next, begin your tale.
Be informal and avoid scientific jargon, walk them through the process in a way that anybody could understand, this is key! Use metaphor, be whimsical, have fun with language.
Rather than “Glycoproteins called antigens determine blood type. Three can possibly be present on the surface of blood cells, A, B, and Rh. These allow for eight combinations of blood type. For each protein a person does not possess, antibodies are present to react with foreign blood cells that do have said identifier. This process is called the antigen-antibody interaction”, simplify, personify, and use metaphor (“The blood is divided by one of eight factions, who violently war against outsiders. They identify themselves using a combination of A, B, and Rh proteins, and attack cells with combinations different than their own”).
Happily Ever After?
These two explanations portray the same information, but by rephrasing and creating a small narrative rather than simply displaying fact, we have made the latter infinitely more digestible.
Granted, a beautifully narrated story of two kingdoms (with a romantic twist!) is certainly not necessary, but it can be of use. Be as fanciful as your comprehension requires. If you can be satisfied with scientific names, be so, and if you prefer elves and magic? All the more interesting for your audience.
Finally, summarize your tale and answer any questions that your audience may have. Here is where ideas are organized and stored concretely. Simply revisit the creative improvisation that was your story and consolidate it into a few key sentences. These will serve as your conclusion and the moral of your story (“antibodies do not appreciate the unknown”). Share your finale, tie up loose ends, and address the inquiries of your wondering listeners as a final demonstration of your comprehension. Take a bow.
As explained above, storytelling (when introduced by a preface and concluded with a summary) is an immensely powerful and effective study skill, as well as one that comes naturally to humans. Those who seek wisdom need not be silent, contrary to the belief of Plato, but rather let their minds wander, explore ideas, and weave these facts and fictions together into stories, myth, tall tales and fantasies of epic proportion. The storytelling scholar never fails to achieve the comprehension that they seek.
And they’ll live happily ever after…
The Stephen King in all of us!
For instance, when I was taking high school biology, one of my finals had asked me to recall the cell types and their respective functions in our bloodstream in detail. The night before, I came up with a medieval narrative where I developed soldiers and citizen types that had their respective tasks in a society and matched them with cells that have analogous functions in our bloodstreams.
Believe it or not, I recited the story with a complete plot in my head and was able to successfully summarize the cells’ respective roles in our bodies.
Rather than using flash cards or repeated memorization of terms, I levied a storyline that connected all the concepts I needed to remember. I picked out some of my favourite plots from the fiction novels I’ve read throughout my childhood and integrated it into a story that helped me ace a test.
Doing so made the process of studying fun and interactive, ultimately helping me retain the information quicker and more efficient.
While creating your own narrative may sound daunting at first, you’ll soon come to realize that there is a little bit of “Stephen King” in all of us. It is often said that “our experiences define who we are,” and that is truer than ever in mnemonic writing. Our remarkable brains are able to associate terms and concepts you encounter throughout your studies with items and experiences you interact with on a daily basis. All you have to do is to link them together into the most vivid
narrative that you can envision and trust in your imagination to do the rest!