Classroom Practices

Online Storytelling in Distance Learning: Stories That Stick

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The attention span of students has always been a challenge. With distance learning, this became even worse… To get students involved and get them to focus, instructors should be more imaginative than ever before.

On TikTok, videos telling how to fake one’s presence in online classes have gone viral. To prevent this from happening, this blog will explore how to make online storytelling really effective to keep your students wide awake.

Here it goes.

Why is storytelling important in a classroom?

Teachers are storytellers. They have always played these roles no matter what subject they teach.

As reported by Harward Business Publishing, storytelling is effective because “stories stick.” Researcher and psychologist Peg Neuhauser has found that the knowledge that emerged from a well-told story is more memorable and lasts longer.

When it comes to online courses, most teachers use PowerPoint templates to customize and prepare lessons and insert the relevant content. However, students are so overwhelmed with virtual studying that simply retelling something as you usually would in the face-to-face class doesn’t work anymore. 

This is why now is the time to bring your online storytelling to the next level. There are many free digital tools online that you can use to create more engaging, captivating, and interactive lessons.

Many educators have been working online for a long time, and some of them have built strong communities around their courses. John Purcell, for example, is one the best Udemy instructors, attracting millions of students every year by teaching Java programming skills.

Among the best is also Phil Ebiner, who found an engaging way to transfer knowledge in the field of photography. 

Use their lessons as inspiration, and pick up a few tricks to create a new approach to your subject.

Let’s focus on what you can do to become a better online lecturer.

How to do effective storytelling online?

If you want to be a more interesting storyteller as an online educator, you are up for an exciting adventure of research, experiment, learning, and adapting. 

These are the six tips for improving your online storytelling.

#1 Be a student for a day

To step up your game in telling stories as a teacher, you can enroll in a course yourself on an online platform such as Coursera, Skillshare, or Udemy. 

Of course, you can always participate in an online storytelling course and use it as a learning experience, but that is not what we would like to propose.

Enroll in any course, or multiple courses, about a topic you find exciting. Try the online student experience and analyze how you feel and how effective the methodology of the online teachers is.

Make notes. Write down what you liked and didn’t like about the course. When was the time you lost focus and stopped listening? Why did that happen?

Think about the best aspects of the course. What did you like in particular about the story it tells? What was the new methodology you learned? How can you use this novel approach for your own class?

#2 Take advantage of digital tools

You have probably noticed that a simple Zoom call is not enough to maintain a class and keep them interested.

Some digital education tools have been with us for a while now, but some are brand new and innovative. Don’t be afraid to explore new digital tools for interactive learning, and discover how to make the best use of them for your next lesson.

Example: Kahoot! is an online quiz creator, used by educators worldwide. In minutes, both you and your students can create a series of questions related to the theme of your class. Not only will this help them remember the lessons, but it will also help keep the classes fresh and interesting.

Students like to be participants instead of passive listeners. Instead of giving them assignments and homework, try to include them in your class and let them interact with your story.

Example: By using storytelling and Twine as a tool for creating interactive online stories, your students can explore various paths and turns a story could take. Twine is an open-source tool that can be very useful, especially in history and humanities classes.

Feel free to experiment with different tools and approaches until you find something that really works. Perhaps your students will enjoy working in groups and designing their own narratives.

Think outside of the box. For example, if you are a history teacher, ask your students to design a war strategy based on the lesson you taught. If they are crazy about online games such as Final Fantasy XIV, they will love the opportunity to design their own game with you.

Example: GameStructor is a tool you can use with your students to create board games online. Help your class learn geography by exploring a new continent with them. Spice things up with a treasure hunt, and you have a fresh and fun way to make everyone feel included in the quest.

#3 Make your stories interactive

Did you ever read one of those choose your path storybooks? Non-linear stories that make room for interactions are always more fun and intriguing.

In your classroom, you’re not only the narrator. You also design the stories you tell and make a plan on how you will take your students on the road through the next chapter.

When we talk about visual storytelling, we should think about making interactive presentations. One of the ways to make your presentation more interactive is to make it non-linear, letting your students decide the path they would like to explore the lesson you’ve prepared.

Another way to let your students participate is to frequently ask them questions and let them ask questions and start discussions as well. Your presentation can have a Q&A section, and a Quiz where you can check if the students were following and if they understood you.

#4 Take your presentations to the next level

When you design online classes, presentations are what we commonly use. But, instead of just presenting a simple power-point slide one after another, we should think about other ways to make our presentations even more special.

Besides making your presentation interactive, think about the balance between the video and presentation in your class. Sure, students will read your slides, but they will still listen to what you are saying and observe your movements. This is why having props to demonstrate your point in the live video will be highly effective in holding their attention.

Another way to engage your students online is to inspire them to make some movement. Sitting down in front of the screen all day long can be very tiring. With an animated slide, you can break the routine in the class by asking them to follow some movement.

Add music to your presentation and create a voice-over for some parts for dramatic effects. Ask your students to dance to a popular song with choreography from TikTok and get them energized after taking a break.

At the end of your class, introduce a new hashtag for social media. Get your students excited about their homework and the research you assigned to them.

#5 Scoop inspiration from your colleagues

Besides doing your research as a student on online course platforms, don’t be afraid to reach out to your colleagues and exchange best practices to improve your work.

Enroll in the online communities of teachers, for example, and ask questions about something you might need help with. Share your success and your failures to gather feedback from people who will understand you better than anyone else.

You can find many teacher communities online. For example, within Khan Academy, you can organize entire classes for your students but also get in touch with educators worldwide. 

By opening doors for your students to a platform like this, you are also inspiring them to use additional education material available. Empowering them to research and study independently will greatly help their personal growth.

To find support, you can always turn to classic Facebook groups, such as Teacher Problems, which will surely help you find the answers to some of your questions. Another group, Teacher Memes, will put a smile on your face on gloomy days, which is priceless.

Virtual reality is a new reality, so why not take advantage of it? Make the best of online communication tools by advancing your skills and growing as a person and a teacher.

#6 Talk to your students outside of the class

Another way to keep your students engaged in the stories you share is to motivate them to open discussions about your provocative thesis. Inspire them to conflict with their opinions and learn from the story by opposing arguments for their attitudes.

Online discussion boards can be useful and helpful as well. Here, you can ask students what they think of the current teaching methodology and accept their feedback.

Also, making you more available and closer to your class will help with building the trust of the group, which is essential.

O tempora, o mores! (Each time comes with new manners.)

We now live in a digital world, and we will become more and more attached to technology. Whether we like it or not, many industries will have to adapt to this new situation at stake.

What is your experience with online storytelling? 

Are you ready to completely move to virtual classrooms or would you still prefer to teach at the academy?


This blog post was contributed by Nina Petrov from

Nina PetrovNina Petrov is a content writer, passionate about graphic design, content marketing, and the new generation of green and social businesses. She starts the day scrolling her digest on new digital trends while sipping a cup of coffee with milk and sugar. Her white little bunny tends to reply to your emails when she is on vacation.

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