Three hours into a workshop I was listening with rapt attention. The presenter was reading a book excerpt that described the author’s first love, an orange muscle car, an immigrant from the Motor City built to raise Cain in the Florida Panhandle. The story was artfully crafted. The car had a low, lean stance, houndstooth interior, and a carburetor as long as his right arm. She was built for speed and sounded like “Judgement Day” when the key sparked the ignition.
When the instructor finished the selection, she asked questions about descriptive language and the author’s purpose. Her goal was to help our students view things through the author’s eyes. She highlighted key parts of the text, “Notice how he refers to the car at the beginning. ‘She’ was low, long, and lean. Now, look at how the car is referred to at the end of the story. ‘It’ sat in a ditch, like a crumpled piece of paper. After the wreck, she is now it. It wasn’t his special girl anymore.”
I sat with a smile on my face. I love to read, but I missed the significance of this subtle change of pronouns. The author juxtaposed before and after, treasure and trash by changing one word. Our presenter highlighted all of this by using two paragraphs that told a great story.
Great stories lead to great lessons. I think they always have, but there is something special about oral storytelling. I remember our elementary teacher reading “Charlottes Web” during early afternoon’s sleepy lull. She infused ELA and science curriculum as we weaved our way through the grand story of “Zuckerman’s Famous Pig.” We also learned about life and death, when Charlotte left this world leaving only her Magnum Opus and her memory. We were just kids, but we learned so much sitting and listening on those carpet squares.
We are hard-wired to tell stories, and we use them to learn, relate, understand, and inspire. They grip our attention and stir our soul. As educators, we have so many tools at our disposal, but I hope we never forget or abandon the power of a great story.