An Engineering Outlook on Story-telling (Part 4)

Example 4: Story-telling to break up a long lecture

The Topic: Studies show that the attention-period of an average college student is roughly 18 minutes. It is necessary to have students involve in and finish some kind of exercise after this gap to come around to their individual attention-levels. The exercises may be: small cooperative question, think-pair-share, and many other methods. Story-telling is yet another stratagem to bring the student’s responsiveness back into the course material (or give them a short-term breather).

The Story: After completing his college, my brother was living the good life and had become rather portly. He and his wife Jaya had a beagle named Mars. First, let me state that a beagle is not an ideal pet to have in Kodaikkanal, as they certainly do not like the cold. As a result, Mars always sneaked under the bedspreads while my brother and sister-in-law slept.

Nikhil (my brother) lived in fear of rolling over on top of Mars and crushing him. Once, Nikhil woke up in the middle of the night and saw, in the darkness, a lifeless mass on his pillow. He picked it up and dropped it, with a thump, back onto his pillow. He picked it up again, and dropped it again.

Fearing that he had rolled over and killed his darling dog, he bawled to his wife next to him in bed, “Jaya, turn on the light. I crushed Mars and he’s dead here on my pillow”. Jaya turned the light on and they both looked at Nikhil’s pillow.

There, lying on his cushion was his own arm. It had fallen asleep, and in the darkness of the night, he had confused his own arm (which had fallen asleep) with his dog, Mars. Mars jumped out from under the blankets wondering what all the controversy was all about.

The Lesson: After narrating this story, we ask the students what the lesson is. Most often we tell stories that are directly tied to the material, and they often come up with some resourceful significance to the story. In reality, there is no relevance. It’s just a decent story.


Story-telling is another tool that should be in the catalog of every college faculty. Along with many other pedagogic techniques, story-telling can make a richer, more interesting environment for teaching and learning.

As mentioned:

  • Storytelling may be employed as an effective technique to exemplify significant themes and topics,

  • Give comprehensible connotation to superficially deviating subjects,

  • Support learners in memorizing subject matter, or

  • Merely to pause or disrupt an extensive discourse.

Most often, faculty fear practices that we infer as contradictory from the primary course material. However, story-telling can often be used to supplement, rather than reduce the course content that we try to inculcate the students.

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