This post is part of a series that explores the Basics of Educational Storytelling. Largely taken from my master”™s thesis, The Value and Principles of Educational Storytelling (which can be read here), this I will lay the foundation for an educational storytelling model regardless of setting and medium. We look at the basic elements of storytelling, five guiding principles and educational stories, and practical tips.

Check out the rest of the series.

Finally its here! We have discussed the value of educational storytelling, the different elements of story (plot, setting, character), and one of the guiding principles of stories that teach. Now it’s time to dig into constructing stories for education. What is the skeleton of an educational story?

We will use the Hero’s Journey as a skeleton for our story. We first looked at this journey. There is a comprehensive series elsewhere on my blog.

I am a fan of simplicity. Many Hero’s Journey outlines include 12 or 15 stages plus a dozen archetypes. I have boiled this down to five pieces of the Journey, each with an important task.

  1. The Hero and the Cast of Characters
  2. The Hero and the Ordinary World, Broken
  3. The Hero and the Journey
  4. The Hero and the Moment
  5. The Hero and the Repercussions

We will walk through the first three this week and the final two next week. As we work through this, remember our first guiding principle: Hero Audience Bonding.

We create a hero the audience can learn through, vicariously. As the hero progresses through the story, learning and problem solving, the audience will learn the same lessons “” given they have bonded with the main character.

Learning Goals

As this is an educational story, there are objectives. We want the students to learn something. It is important to define what these objectives are. They can be identity oriented learning (morals) or process oriented learning (math) goals. And, there may be several goals. Perhaps along the road to learning the dangers of lying, the hero also learns the distributive property and bits of the scientific method? Whatever the case may be, establish theme to yourself early so you can keep on focus.

The Hero and the Cast of Characters

The hero is not the only character in your story. Supporting characters, villains, mentors, even talking trees all have a place in the tale. When we went through characters, we listed several archetypes essential to the Hero’s Journey. Those character types are also relevant here, and they each play a specific role in teaching.

Each character is an archetype and  has a connection to the hero.

 Archetypes are powerful characters because most anyone can identify with most any archetype at some point in their life. Archetypes are broad types that we all encountered in life, and (whether we like to admit it or not) have portrayed at some point. Each of us has been a Mentor. We”™ve all felt like the Hero going the road alone. We”™ve even been the Shadow trying to hinder another, though we never think of ourselves as evil. Even with minor archetypes, this is true. I”™ve been a trickster, a shape shifter, an ally and (yes) the wicked-step-mother.

Each of these secondary characters

  • Reflect the hero by bringing out a specific facet of the hero’s character. Such as a child that shows the hero’s protective nature,
  • Counterpoint the hero by showing what the hero “could be” if circumstances were different. Also useful for playing with themes,
  •   or aid the hero, most especially in growth and learning.

I have listed some of the most important with a brief description and their educational function:

Has a flaw that is connected to the learning goal of the story. As the hero learns, so does the audience.oneLays the foundation for future learning.Spurs the hero into the story and makes clear the learning goal.Gives the hero the chance to test out learning by trial and error. Also may introduce pieces of the learning goal.

Archetype Description Function in Education
Hero The main character with whom the audience bonds. Has a flaw. Learns the lessons of the story.
Shadow The villain or antagonistic force. Can be internal or external. Pushes the hero forward, forcing them toward the learning goal.
Mentor Someone or something that has traveled the road before and teaches the hero. Lays the foundation for the learning goal and gets the hero on his way.
Herald A character or force that calls the hero into action. Establishes the learning goal.
Allies, Enemies, and Shapeshifters Other characters who help or antagonize the hero. Allows the hero to learn via trial and error. Also, may teach pieces of the learning goal.

The Hero and the Ordinary World, Broken

It is in the first section of a story, that the hero and his world is introduced. The audience must connect with the hero at this point. They must understand that the hero is more-less comfortable with the routine and position in the “ordinary world.” While this world may be strange to audience, the hero knows how to function inside it. His/her life is in balance. It is also in this stage that the major flaw is introduced.

Then it happens. Something causes the world to be thrown into chaos. This may be literal (plague, war, the ring of power is found) as in many epics. Or, it may be much more personal (the hero meets the girl of his dreams, a parent falls ill or dies, or the next door neighbors begin the secret club). Whatever the event, intentional or not, the hero now has the conscious want and subconscious need. They are left with the decision to leave the ordinary world and travel an uncomfortable journey toward the want/need.

Many times they refuse at first, but ultimately accept.

The Hero and the Journey

Once the hero steps into the special world, the trials begin. This may be a literal special world like a new city or fantasy world. It may also be a new venue or set of circumstances with different rules than the hero understands. For example, in chasing Misses Right, the hero finds himself in the well-to-do society that has shunned him. It is during this journey through the special world that the hero meets mentors, allies and
enemies that guide and hinder the path.

If the major flaw is cowardice then the hero is made to face his fears. I flying is the major flaw, then he/she encounters situations where lies abound. They test the waters, so to speak, of moving past the major flaws. Sometimes it ends in success and sometimes failure. The hero may meet others who are the “poster children” of the flaw. What the hero could become someday. Or, the hero may encounter those who have been hurt by others with similar flaws. The hero may meet allies with similar flaws who are content with staying just the way they are. During the journey the hero will take steps forward and steps back. They will tell the truth and lie, be brave and cowardly, testing the resolve of their upcoming growth.

It is very important, and should go without saying, to keep the plot engaging during this part of the journey. The hero must be met with challenging obstacles, interesting situations, and have to fight for every inch of ground covered.

Next week we will dissect the last two stages in our tale.

Please comment below.

Follow me

Chris Michaels

Storyteller. Researcher. Coder. Innovator. I seek to push the boundaries of storytelling and education.
Follow me

Latest posts by Chris Michaels (see all)