April 14, 2008, by Teaching at Nottingham

Storytelling and role play in developing communication skills

Video >>
Interviewer: “I know it’s something that you’ve been interested in for a number of years is the role of storytelling in teaching. Could I ask you to say a few words about that?”

Paul: “Yeah, a few years ago now I wrote a book, with my wife Rhiannon, Storytelling in Therapy, which was all about how stories can help people remember key information, particularly if you’re trying to improve somebody’s health, or the way that somebody thinks about themselves.

“Now, I’ve translated that work into the classroom, by using a lot of stories and anecdotes within my teaching to ensure that the, if you like, the drier facts that underpin my teaching are available to the students in the future, that those facts don’t get washed out. To do that I’ve used anecdotes, because we know, from research, that anecdotes will actually create a stronger memory within the student, which will advance student learning.

“So they remember the key points. I use anecdotes, which can be humorous, but not always. Very often I try and use anecdotes which are based on real experience from my clinical practice, and from my experience in the world, and give those stories to the students at key points, so that they remember them.

“And I’ve been told they do, because I have students coming back and saying, ‘I remember when you told us that. I remember when you told us that, and it really affected the way that I cared for a patient’.”

Teaching Session

Paul: “We’ve had students, when they go and talk to patients for the first time, and they came in like this. They come in, honestly you’ll see it ‘How are you?’ and the patient’s going, ‘How are you?’

“This, sort of, look – sometimes, and it surprises you when you go on wards, sometimes staff are there, patients are asking for advice, or they’re talking about their problems, and the staff are like this.

“How would you feel if you were the patient? Would you be happy? ”

Student: “No.”

Paul: “You wouldn’t want that, the, kind of, like oh bored out me head listening to you, look, would you? That would be horrible, wouldn’t it?”

Student: “You don’t expect that kind of thing from family and friends, so you wouldn’t expect it from somebody, kind of, in a way who’s meant to give you some, sort of, service.”

Paul: “Yet it happens a lot. Let me give you an example of ping and pong, okay, now imagine this Nurse is coming on your unit, yeah, are you ready? And tell me whether you’d be happy with this…

“‘Morning, morning, hi. Oh, hello. Morning, how are you? Morning, morning, morning.’

“How would you feel? Would you be happy with that type of approach?”

Students: “No.”

Paul: “Now, that’s a ping, isn’t it? That’s a ping, somebody’s pinging, ‘oh, ho, ho’ very up, ‘Up, up, up’ that’s too much, right?

“And then you have pong ‘Morning,’ how do you like pong?”

Student: “Boring. ”
Paul: “What’s pong saying to the patient? ”
Student: “Don’t want to be here, can’t be bothered.”
Paul: “Yeah?”


Interviewer: “And can I ask you about it almost the other way round, have you ever found ways in your teaching where you make the students the storytellers?”

Paul: “Yes, well I think if you look at storytelling it’s giving and receiving stories, and part of the participation aspect of my teaching is that I encourage, and I ask for, people’s stories. Sometimes I don’t say, ‘Tell me a story’, but just listening to a student, they will actually recount what happened to them, and that is also shown to be particularly powerful in terms of a person taking in information and holding it, because they’ve involved themselves in the quest for knowledge, so that’s key for me.”

Paul Crawford
School of Nursing, Midwifery & Physiotherapy


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