Resource: using stories to teach values
From carefully structured discussion of stories children can learn many thinking and life skills:
- using language clearly and accurately
- reasoning and explaining
- hypothesising, testing and correcting ideas
- making connections
- using evidence and criteria
- communication skills to do with speaking and listening
- social skills such as working with others, empathy and tolerance
- confidence and a sense of personal identity.
Most good stories for children have subjects or themes which can raise issues interesting to discuss. Use your favourites or one that has a particular usefulness for the class.
After reading the story…
- Ask each member of the class to suggest a question about the story. No one is to interrupt or comment at this stage. Ask the class to listen hard and to try to remember the questions. This teaches: thinking and questioning, fairness and turn-taking, speaking in public, good listening, politeness.
- Then ask them to choose one question to talk about. Children can at this stage support a question, say why this would be an interesting one to talk about. Children should be discouraged from criticising weaker questions, which would deter future participation. Teacher might like to answer simple factual questions to clear the ground for more fruitful ones. This may produce a short list for the next stage. This teaches: giving reasons for choice, discrimination, listening to others.
- Children vote to choose the question they would most like to discuss. One child, one vote – democracy in action. This teaches: fairness, egalitarianism. (If a chosen question proves unfruitful, this stage can be repeated.)
- Discussion, with teacher as facilitator and encourager, not judge (asking prompting questions like: “What does someone else think about that?” “Why do people think that?” “What did you mean by…?”).
Should be established and repeated until they become habitual: everyone to have the right to be listened to; one person to speak at a time; children to discuss with and respond to each other, not just to address teacher; no ridicule of others. This teaches: respect for others, empathy, listening, expressing views confidently and clearly, giving reasons for opinions, understanding that sometimes there are no clear right answers and maybe we agree to differ, or that compromise or consensus can be reached.
Stories and methods can be adapted
To the abilities of the class – if it is appropriate to write the class’s questions on a board, this can make life easier for the children. The teacher should record all the questions anyway for the vote, so that each child’s contribution is recognised, though it should be stressed that this is not a competition.
Some words will crop up almost automatically (“fair” / “unfair”, for example); other useful words and distinctions may need to be introduced by the teacher : for example, “respect”, “right” / ”wrong”, “agree” / ”disagree”, “imagine”, “compare”, “explore”, “discuss”, “listen”, “argue” / ”quarrel”, “idea”, “point of view”, “decision”, and words which describe a range of feelings. It is usually worth pausing to discuss in some depth what these words mean (for example, “listening” doesn’t just mean waiting for your turn to speak) and encouraging their use, even amongst the youngest children.
This process may seem time-consuming and unproductive – but the process is as valuable as the product.