Storytelling in the Social Studies Classroom

3 - 5
Lesson Plan Type
Estimated Time
Thirteen 45- to 90-minute sessions
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In this lesson, students tell their own stories and explore the stories of other Americans. Hearing and telling these stories helps students realize that social studies is not simply the study of history, but an exploration of real people and their lives. Students begin by telling stories about their personal experiences. They then explore the character traits that promote democratic ideals and tell stories about family members who exemplify these traits. Finally, they conduct research and share stories about famous Americans. Practiced skills include reading, researching, visually representing, writing, and presenting.

Featured Resources

From Theory to Practice

  • Engaging students in storytelling activities about themselves, their families, and other Americans is an effective way to pique their interest in social studies.

  • Including storytelling in the social studies curriculum develops students' understanding of democratic ideals, cultural diversity, and participatory citizenship.

  • Storytelling develops students' communication skills, motivates them to learn about the past and present, and creates a class bond through shared experiences.


Common Core Standards

This resource has been aligned to the Common Core State Standards for states in which they have been adopted. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, CCSS alignments are forthcoming.

State Standards

This lesson has been aligned to standards in the following states. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, standard alignments are not currently available for that state.

NCTE/IRA National Standards for the English Language Arts

  • 1. Students read a wide range of print and nonprint texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information; to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillment. Among these texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic and contemporary works.
  • 2. Students read a wide range of literature from many periods in many genres to build an understanding of the many dimensions (e.g., philosophical, ethical, aesthetic) of human experience.
  • 3. Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. They draw on their prior experience, their interactions with other readers and writers, their knowledge of word meaning and of other texts, their word identification strategies, and their understanding of textual features (e.g., sound-letter correspondence, sentence structure, context, graphics).
  • 4. Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.
  • 7. Students conduct research on issues and interests by generating ideas and questions, and by posing problems. They gather, evaluate, and synthesize data from a variety of sources (e.g., print and nonprint texts, artifacts, people) to communicate their discoveries in ways that suit their purpose and audience.
  • 8. Students use a variety of technological and information resources (e.g., libraries, databases, computer networks, video) to gather and synthesize information and to create and communicate knowledge.
  • 11. Students participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literacy communities.
  • 12. Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information).

Materials and Technology

  • Family Pictures/Cuadros de Familia by Carmen Lomas Garza (Children's Book Press, 1990)

  • Abe Lincoln's Hat by Martha Brenner (Random House Books for Young Readers, 1994)

  • One decorated shoebox or gift bag

  • Five or more personal mementoes

  • Art supplies

  • Computer with speakers and Internet access

  • Overhead projector and transparencies

  • Chart paper and markers

  • Local storyteller (optional)




1. Find a local storyteller to present to your class (see Session 2). Storyteller.net is a resource you can use to locate one. If it is not possible for you to have a live storyteller, use one or more of the storytelling audio clips from this website.

2. Prepare a decorated shoebox containing five or more mementoes to share with students (see Session 3, Step 1). You should be prepared to tell a personal story of your choice about two or more of these mementoes (depending upon time constraints and student interest).

3. Obtain and become familiar with copies of Family Pictures/Cuadros de Familia by Carmen Lomas Garza and Abe Lincoln's Hat by Martha Brenner. If possible, practice reading the first book in both English and Spanish. You may choose to replace the Brenner book with a book about a different famous American who is part of your current social studies unit.

4. Assemble resources (books and websites) about famous Americans for student research. This lesson has students creating a list of research subjects from the ALA: Great Web Sites for Kids: Biographies, The Presidents of the United States, and the First Ladies' Gallery websites (see Session 9, Step 5). You may choose to create your own list of subjects related to your current social studies unit.

5. If you do not have classroom computers with Internet access, reserve at least four one-hour sessions in your school's computer lab (see Sessions 9 to 12).

6. Visit and familiarize yourself with the Doodle Splash and Bio-Cube online tools.

7. Make two transparencies of the Memorable Moments handout. You should also make three copies for each student in your class.

8. Develop a set of examples of how students can display democratic dispositions in the classroom (see Session 6, Step 1). Examples might include: taking turns on the playground, showing respect to others, tidying up the classroom before leaving, holding the door for others, participating in group activities, and helping others.

Student Objectives

Students will

  • Gain knowledge by experiencing and learning about storytelling techniques, by defining and studying character traits that promote democratic ideals, and by researching a famous American

  • Apply the knowledge they have gained by sharing their own stories, identifying democratic dispositions in themselves and others, and by telling the story of a famous American they have researched according to established criteria

  • Synthesize information by using a graphic organizer to take notes

  • Practice evaluation by developing a list of criteria for assessing storytelling and applying these criteria to their own and each other's work

  • Practice communicating effectively by telling stories to the class

Session 1: Introduction to Storytelling

1. Ask students to think about the best storyteller they have ever heard and what made that person such a great storyteller.

2. After giving students time to think about their responses, ask them to share with a partner.

3. Bring the class back together for a discussion. Record students' perceptions on chart paper with the heading Effective Storytelling Strategies. Post for future reference.

Session 2: Storytelling Time

1. Invite a storyteller to present in your classroom. Before the presentation, encourage students to carefully watch for the storyteller's use of props, eye contact, facial expressions, vocal inflection, gestures, and enunciation.

If a storyteller is unavailable, select an audio clip to play for students (see Preparation, Step 1). Ask them what props the storyteller could have used to enhance the story.


After the presentation, discuss effective storytelling strategies using these questions:

  • What kinds of props can a storyteller use?

  • Why is it important for a storyteller to speak clearly and loudly?

  • How can a storyteller use eye contact, facial expressions, vocal inflection, and gestures to tell a story?

Add students' response to the Effective Storytelling Strategies chart as appropriate.

3. If you used an audio clip, replay short excerpts from it. Ask student volunteers to retell sections using appropriate eye contact, facial expressions, and gestures.

Session 3: Sharing Stories

1. Tell students that the best way to become a super storyteller is to begin by telling a personal story. Share the decorated shoebox filled with personal mementoes and the story you have prepared about two or more of the items (see Preparation, Step 2). Refer to the Effective Storytelling Strategies chart you created in Sessions 1 and 2. Discuss what strategies you used to enhance your storytelling efforts.

2. Explain to students that they will be sharing stories about themselves before telling stories about famous Americans. Tell them that by the end of the unit, they will be able to name three democratic dispositions (character traits) of an American citizen, describe a memorable moment in a famous American's life, and tell a story using effective storytelling techniques.

Homework (due Session 4): Each student should create a "me-box" by decorating a shoebox and placing as many as three personal objects that represent important personal memories in it. Students should prepare one-minute stories to tell about each of the items.

Session 4: Magical ME-mories

1. Review the list of effective storytelling strategies you created in Sessions 1 and 2.

2. Have students get in two concentric circles with an equal numbers of students in each. If your class is large, create two sets of circles. If there are an odd number of students in the class, you should join one of the circles. Students in the inner circle stand facing outwards; those in the outer circle stand facing inwards.

3. Students take turns talking about one item in their "me-boxes." Rotate the inner circle students after each storytelling presentation so that students are matched with new partners. Students may talk about the same or a different item with each new partner. Presentations should last no longer than one minute each.

4. Bring the class back together and facilitate the cooperative creation of a storytelling rating scale. Refine the list of effective storytelling characteristics students created during Sessions 1 and 2. Help them choose a rating scale (i.e., 1 to 3; happy face or frowning face; Good, OK, Needs Improvement). Use this rating scale for students' self-assessment, peer assessment, and teacher evaluation.

Session 5: Democratic Dispositions

1. Talk about the objects students have shared and how they represent memorable moments. Explain that people also create memorable moments in other people's lives through their actions and words.

2. Ask students to think for a moment about a person they really admire. They should close their eyes and picture how that person enhances other people's lives. Now ask students to think of one word that describes that person. Record students' responses on a large piece of chart paper with the heading Democratic Dispositions written at the top. Democratic dispositions may include kindness, respect, honesty, or trustworthiness.

3. Discuss how people show these democratic dispositions or character traits through their actions and words. Questions for discussion include:

  • Why is it important for people to learn to act like this?

  • How do these actions help them become good American citizens?

  • How do these actions enhance the quality of other people's lives?

Session 6: Memorable Moments

1. Share examples of how students can display democratic dispositions in the classroom (see Preparation, Step 8). Discuss what using these dispositions looks like and sounds like.

2. Invite students to think about a time they displayed a democratic disposition at school. Give each student a copy of the Memorable Moments graphic organizer. Form student pairs. Have students interview one another about the moment they have chosen using the questions on the bottom of the handout. Students should write their partners' responses on the handout.

3. Bring the class back together. Have student pairs take turns telling about one another's memorable moments using the notes they have jotted down on the graphic organizers as a guide. Discuss how the students' actions enhanced the quality of others' lives.

4. Talk about how family members can also show democratic dispositions towards one another. Give an example from your own life where a loved one showed you or somebody else tolerance, kindness, or respect. Complete a Memorable Moments transparency as you talk about this memorable family moment.

Homework (due by the beginning of Session 7): Using the questions on the bottom of the Memorable Moments graphic organizer, students should interview a loved one to learn about a memorable moment in which one or more family members exhibited a democratic disposition. They should take notes about the special event using the Memorable Moments graphic organizer.

Sessions 7 and 8: Family "Photos"

1. Share Family Pictures/Cuadros de Familia by Carmen Lomas Garza with students. First invite them to "read" the pictures by telling you what is happening on each page. Then read the accompanying text in both English and Spanish.

Note: If you are not fluent in Spanish, you might invite a Spanish-speaking student or parent to read the Spanish sections.

2. Divide students into pairs. Each pair should select one memorable moment from the story in which family members' democratic dispositions enhanced the quality of others' lives. They should complete a Memorable Moments graphic organizer about that event and then share it with at least three other pairs of students in the classroom.

3. Form groups of as many as four students each to share their homework assignment from Session 6. Audience members should listen to determine if the presenter has answered all of the questions listed on the bottom of the handout.

4. Students should create detailed drawings (or family "photos") of their special family event. Drawings should completely cover the page, have minimal white space, and depict all of the information students included on their Memorable Moments graphic organizer.

5. Students should practice telling the stories associated with their family "photos" with two peers before sharing with the entire class. Encourage them to use the effective storytelling strategies identified on the class-created rating scale.

6. After the presentation, have students list three democratic dispositions exhibited by themselves or their loved ones. Collect the responses for assessment.

Note: You can bind the students' "photos" into a class big book to display in the classroom and/or school library.

Session 9: Historic Highlights

1. Explain to students that storytellers do not only tell stories about themselves and their loved ones. Many times they tell stories about famous people.

2. Tell students to list three things they know about Abraham Lincoln. They should share these with a partner before you bring the class back together to discuss.

3. Read Abe Lincoln's Hat by Martha Brenner. Questions for discussion include:

  • What are some democratic dispositions that Abraham Lincoln had?

  • How did these traits help him to be a good American citizen?

  • How did he use these traits to enhance the quality of other people's lives?
4. As a class, select one historic highlight from Brenner's book. Complete a Memorable Moments transparency about that historic highlight or memorable moment.

5. Ask students how we know so much about Abe Lincoln even though he lived a long time ago. Explain that just as their family "photos" illustrate stories that have become part of their family histories, storytellers have passed down the stories of famous Americans from generation to generation to become part of our cultural history.

6. Tell students they will research a famous American and write a story about that person to share with the class. Students should visit the ALA: Great Web Sites for Kids: Biographies, The Presidents of the United States, and the First Ladies' Gallery websites to generate a list of names.

Sessions 10 to 12: Research and Writing

1. Students should select a famous American from the list as a research topic. Their goal is to discover a memorable moment or historic highlight in that American's life, one in which the American exhibited democratic dispositions that enhanced the lives of others.

2. Allow time for students to conduct research using the websites and materials you have gathered for them. They can take notes in the Bio-Cube Planning Sheet while they work. Once they have discovered a historic highlight, they should use the Bio-Cube tool to capture the details of that person and the special event. Conduct individual conferences with each student to check for factual accuracy and completeness of information.

3. Revisit the Memorable Moments transparency you completed during Session 9. As a class, write a narrative about that moment that includes the following information:

  • Why Abe Lincoln was famous

  • A thorough description of the historic highlight you have chosen

  • The democratic dispositions Abraham Lincoln exhibited

  • How his actions enhanced the lives of others

Post this narrative in the classroom.

4. Using the class composition as a model and their Bio-Cubes, students should write short narratives telling about their famous American's memorable moment in history. The narrative should include the following information

  • The full name of the famous American

  • Why the person was famous

  • A thorough description of the historic highlight

  • The democratic dispositions the American exhibited

  • How the person's actions enhanced the lives of others
5. Concurrently, students can create a poster about their famous person using the Doodle Splash online tool. The poster should display the American's name, contain a photo, and state the famous American's democratic dispositions. Students might also wish to prepare to dress up like their famous American and use some simple props on the day of the presentation (see Session 13).

6. With the narrative and visual aids in place, students practice reading through their historical highlight narrative multiple times, committing it to memory. Then, they rehearse their story with three peers. Remind students to use the strategies outlined in the Effective Storytelling Strategies chart.

Session 13: Tellers' Theatre

When everyone is ready, have a Tellers' Theatre. This is like a Readers Theatre, but students tell the story instead of reading it aloud. After each presentation, invite the audience members to give three specific praise phrases about the storyteller's efforts.

Consider inviting students' families and other classrooms to the Tellers' Theatre as well.


Take photographs of students during their presentations. Create a patriotic bulletin board with a white background, red-white-blue bunting border, and the words Famous Americans. Display the Famous American posters and students' photographs framed on blue and red construction paper.

Student Assessment / Reflections


  • Informally assess students' comprehension of storytelling criteria and democratic dispositions during whole-class discussions. At the end of Session 8, ask students to list three democratic dispositions. Collect and review their responses. If it is clear that students do not really understand what these are, you may want to spend more time reviewing the concept.

  • Meet privately with students after Session 8 to discuss their progress towards developing effective storytelling strategies.

  • The class-created rating scale (see Session 4) has a variety of applications. You can use it to evaluate students' stories during Sessions 6, 8, and 13. Students can also use the same rating scale to assess their own and two peers' efforts after each presentation.

  • Collect the Memorable Moments graphic organizers students completed for homework and check them for completeness. Assess students' family "photos" created during Sessions 7 and 8 according to these criteria: drawings should completely cover the page, have minimal white space, and depict all of the information students included on their graphic organizer.

  • During students' presentations in Session 13, note if students described the memorable moment in their famous American's life according to these criteria: who was in the scene, what actions were happening, where the action took place, when (time and season) the event occurred, and which democratic dispositions the famous American exhibited. Look also at students' posters to make sure they listed the famous American's full name, displayed his or her photo, and identified relevant democratic dispositions.


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