Keeping Education Current – With the World’s Oldest Strategy

How DO We Make Learning More Relevant?

One way to bridge this gap is to illustrate the connections between what our students are learning and how that information will help them in “the real world.” As you explain these connections, stories will emerge and students love stories!

Watch the body language of students change as you begin to describe a personal experience you have had or something interesting that happened to someone else. They lean in, quiet down, and focus! Stories evoke emotions, emotions bring relevance, and relevance fosters *motivation!*

Stories work just as well for parents to share with their children. However, caution must be used to share them in a conversational tone, not a “when I was YOUR age” and “I know better than you” kind of tone.

I remember my first year of teaching; I had been hired to teach leadership and personal/social development classes at my high school alma mater. Shortly after being hired, however, a fellow teacher became severely ill and I was reassigned to cover one of her algebra classes. Yikes!

There was not a subject I was less qualified to teach, nor was there a subject I was less interested in teaching. I panicked, but my mom reassured me. “You know,” she said, “you just might be the best person to teach that class because you will relate to a lot of those kids!”

Mom was right in that I DID relate to many of those kids; I was barely staying one day ahead of them! I pushed my way through, often running to the math department chairperson to get a little “tutoring” myself.

I will never forget one day, however, that the math department chairperson passed by classroom and saw a large picture of my college dorm room projected on the wall at the front of the room. He was a little intrigued, so he stopped in.

The day before, students had finally asked me the question I had been dreading since the beginning of the term…”Why will we ever have to know this??” I was afraid I would never have an answer for that, especially for “algebra.” But, the day they happened to ask me that question was the day we were learning about the Pythagorean Theorem. Alas… I DID have an answer!

I went home and dug out a picture of the loft my dad and I had built for my college dorm rooms. To be fair, Dad did all of the construction and heavy lifting (I just did what he told me to do), but once we had the loft constructed, we had to figure out the ladder. That was tricky!

If you have ever heard of the “80/20” rule…well, 80% of our time was spent on what appeared to be the “smallest” part of the job. We had quite a challenge trying to determine the best angle for the ladder to stand and then how to accurately cut the wood so the ladder would be flush against the bed on one end and flush against the floor on the other end. I actually remember saying to my dad back then, “Wow, I never thought I would actually USE the Pythagorean Theorem for anything!”

The picture of the loft was a huge hit with my class and every single student did well on their Pythagorean Theorem quiz. I am convinced, however, that it was the story that made the impact in their understanding…and their motivation.


Stories are a very effective way to help students seek real-world connections in all of their learning. They “breathe” life and relevancy into mundane learning tasks and encourage students to “think forward.” The good news is that stories do not cost anything and they generally do not take a lot of time to prepare!

P.S. Did you notice your level of attention and/or your interest change while reading this article –even just slightly- when you detected that this article was evolving into a story? 🙂

-Susan Kruger


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