Telling Stories and Playing—in the Classroom?

By Jill Murphy, author of Labyrinth Learning’s Microsoft® Word 2016 Comprehensive

Research shows that incorporating stories and play into classroom activities improves student motivation and engagement.

Tell a STORY

In her book, Wired for Story, Lisa Cron says, “Recent breakthroughs in neuroscience reveal that our brain is hardwired to respond to story; the pleasure we derive from a tale well told is nature’s way of seducing us into paying attention to it.”

I like to use stories in the classroom to make sense of software. I believe that a student can more easily relate to a humanizing story about a software feature than the logic behind how it works. Instead of marching through the steps involved in creating an Excel formula, you can bring the process to life—find ways to turn a logical function into a story, because the brain wants stories to make sense of things!

Here are a couple of examples:

Excel: Placement of Equals Sign
When creating a formula in Excel, the placement of the equals sign is different from what you might expect. You use the same equals sign you’ve always used; it’s just that you place it at the beginning of the formula rather than at the end. Why? Here’s how I explain it in a humanizing way:

When you enter data in a spreadsheet, your computer is watching to see what kind of data it is. If it sees a number or an alphabetic character, it assumes that standard data is coming down the line and it doesn’t have to do anything complex. If your computer sees an equals sign first, it figures, “Hey, this is a formula. I’d better pay attention because I have some work to do. I have to figure out the answer to this formula!”

Office Applications: AutoComplete
How do you explain AutoComplete? You could explain keywords and stack overflow tags, or you can simply say that AutoComplete can do some of your typing for you. And AutoCorrect corrects misspelled words and typos for you. The features are helping you.

Make it FUN

Another way to improve your student outcomes is to make it fun. Lois Rice, in her December 15, 2015 Taylor & Francis Online article, Playful Learning, discusses the benefits of play in learning:

“The research presents findings that playful learning can be effective in motivating and improving student engagement, promoting creative thinking towards learning and developing approaches towards multi-disciplinary learning.”

Try to create playful exercise scenarios! Set up a spreadsheet budget for a candy store/ski shop/boat marina, for example. A spreadsheet about fiberglass-reinforced polyurethane materials could make any student’s eyes glaze over. Use fun PowerPoint situations. How about a travel agency with trips to exotic locales—Tahiti, Paris, Capetown—versus a presentation about transducers, switches, and control valves?

You can also use fun exercise files so the student is engaged by the document content, while learning to use its features. Learning how to use bullet points? Have the students add these points to a business etiquette column:

  • Don’t dunk bread in your soup at a business dinner, and don’t crush saltines in the bag and then dump them in your soup!

  • Avoid foods that are tricky to eat; spaghetti, peas, and artichokes all have the potential to create enormous problems.

Using stories and play will energize your students and get them engaged! I’ll leave you with a final warning:

Incorporating stories and play in your classroom may place your classes among the most popular on campus.


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