Using Stories for Teaching Primary Social Studies


Stories are often used by teachers to transmit knowledge, values and dispositions, deepen understanding and develop critical thinking in children. The power of stories and storytelling is highlighted in this article which focuses on why and how stories can be used for teaching primary social studies concepts and generalisations, how to choose suitable story books for children, and how to use some of them in the classroom. Three teaching approaches, namely, the shared book approach, the integrated biographical inquiry and storytelling are featured along with ideas of how these may be applied during lessons.


Since the beginning of time, stories have been handed down from one generation to another in various societies. Stories help to transmit knowledge, culture, traditions, beliefs, morals and values of a community.  They can make us laugh at ourselves, hold our breath, feel excited and be encouraged and uplifted in our spirit when we are down. Through stories, we can learn more about ourselves, the humanity and the world we live in (Sim, 2004). As stories are rich resources, they can be used for teaching and learning.

Why Use Stories for Primary Social Studies Teaching and Learning?

Generally, researchers have found that young students are able to recall and describe things that are crucial to them because of their familiarity with using narrative thinking modes (Bruner, 1990; Downey & Levstik, 1991; Egan, 1988, 1990). Stories are usually organized in a format that comprises a person/group of people with certain goal/s and who use/s particular strategies to achieve these goal/s which can lead them to certain outcomes. This goal-strategy-outcome format enables students to remember story details and bridge from the known to the unknown. When narratives about the past are used, students are able to see the time, place and situation through the eyes of the people in the stories. Such narratives can develop students’ empathy and combat their tendencies towards presentism when thinking about the past, and chauvinism when thinking about other cultures. They can be powerful tools to help them learn about different places and environments.


An Inspiring Quote

"[Open-mindedness] includes an active desire to listen to more sides than one; to give heed to facts from whatever source they come; to give full attention to alternative possibilities; to recognize the possibility of error even in the beliefs that are dearest to us."

~ John Dewey, How We Think

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