5 tips to use storytelling in teaching with animation

Jun 26, 2020Blog, e-learning, educational animations, instructional design tips0 comments


Human beings seek meaning. It lies in our instincts. One of the ultimate goals of human lives is finding who we are, and what we’re meant to be this world. But it’s never easy to achieve that. Therefore, we shift our focuses into other things we do in life, in the hope that at least something is meaningful when we’re alive. The question is, what makes it meaningful? There are many answers out there depending on different points of view, but the most common one is stories. Through stories, we share information and learn about life, and learn from each other. The way we tell stories, known as storytelling, has an enormous effect on the way people achieve them. In education, good storytelling can transform a not-so-good lecture and make it more valuable.


The power of storytelling


In 2006, the New York Times Magazine journalist Rob Walker and Josh Glenn – writer of Taking Things Seriously created a project called Significant Objects. They aim to quantify the power of storytelling, via eBay. How did they do it? 

First, they ordered 200 items of low value (the average cost was $1.25 per item). Candleholder, wire basket, corked bottle, plastic banana, … they don’t hold any intrinsic value. And then, Walker and Glenn invited 200 different authors, each of them would write a story for one object. This object would later be auctioned on eBay with its written story attached in the description box. 

One of the items was a snow globe which was originally priced 99 cents. But after Blake Butler, one of 200 authors who participated in this study, wrote a 400-words story for this, the price went up to $59.00. This is not a special exception. Walker and Glenn spent a total of $197 in the first place and ended up selling 200 items for $8000, over 6300% higher than before. 

What can we learn from this study is that stories give life to everything, even if it doesn’t have any meaning at all. Peter Guber, the former CEO of Sony Pictures said 

“In this age of rapid technological change, it’s not the zeros and the ones of the digital evolution, but rather the oohs and aahs of a good story that offer the best chance of compelling listeners to act on behalf of a worthy goal.”


At the heart of educational animation, the core value we all aspire to achieve is that deep connection with the learners, to make them feel like being educated while talking to a close friend. Animation is a brilliant medium to deliver stories that can both benefit cognitive learning and emotional touching. We can easily present imaginative tales, meaningful metaphors and directed emphasis to achieve desired behaviours through the simulation of intended result by storytelling method.


5 tips to use storytelling in teaching with animation


Define a clear purpose

Without a goal, you can be lost! Although this preparation stage seems to be unnecessary, but believe me, the result will be much better and on-points. So what is the objective of your story? Is it for entertainment, to create a welcoming atmosphere before class? Or does it serve as an extra information piece for the learners’ interests? The more clear purpose you define, the easier decision you make in later stages. 

Moreover, not only the purpose you can define, but you can also clarify your audiences. Their demographics, social habits, and psychographics have a huge effect on their story interests and learning habits. Let’s say you’re designing a course for primary school students, the stories included should be simpler and light-hearted than in corporate training. By learning your audiences, you can engage way more deeply with them.


Paint the scene

It’s crucial that your audiences know about the background of the story. When and where it took place, who was there, what originally led to the event? Painting the whole picture guarantees them from being lost, and above all, helps them to understand more about why your story is being told. 

Take a look at this video named MAN. It only took 3 seconds (from 00:04 to 00:07) for us to get to know about the story background. Simple as it is!


Be your own audience

When listening to a story, hormones and neurotransmitters in your brains are released. They’re different depending on the story’s content and storytelling:

  • Dopamine: all storytelling is, per definition, dopamine-creating. Other tips are building suspense and setting up a cliff-hanger. Listeners will get more focus, higher motivation, and better memory.
  • Oxytocin: is the most beautiful hormone of all because you feel human. Good stories create empathy. When you have oxytocin in your blood, you become more generous, you trust more and bond to the storyteller.
  • Endorphin: when people laugh. What happens then is that they become more creative, more relaxed, and more focused.

Now that you’ve known these incredible effects in telling stories, you can choose the suitable type of storytelling to achieve the desired effects from your learners. 

However, it’s not always about what you want to put into your educational video but remember to put yourself in the audiences’ shoes. Too many jokes or too many moving stories can turn them away. It’s not about what you do, but how you do it. Information-providing, storytelling, and entertaining should be divided into reasonable portions. In that way, you can enhance the learning experience and make the course more pleasant for learners.


Make your characters alive

Everyone on earth is different, even with twins or triplets. Therefore, it’s recommended that you build up a complete profile for each of your characters. Gender, age, hobbies, … all these elements contribute to the whole picture of the characters, and later on, affect the way they behave. Furthermore, if you intend to make an educational animation video with characters, please, don’t use only one voice-over for all of them. The way we speak, our accents, stress, and use of slang in real life differentiate from person to person, so it’s nonsense that 4 or 5 characters have the same way of talking. If hiring more voice-over actors is over your budget, don’t hesitate to ask a friend or a family member. It’s fun to take part in it, so I’m sure they will happily agree. 


Rethink and rethink again

We all know how excited it is when finally, an amazing idea pops inside your head. You’ve been stuck a while now, and this is a true life-saver. But wait, let’s take it slow. It may sound wonderful now when you’re overwhelmed in your excitement. However, you need to consider the entire picture: the plot, character behaviors, the ending, etc. to make sure that it makes sense. Sometimes, it’s needed to sacrifice some good ideas for a better whole story.


Danimated storytellingig deeper if you want to be better

Actually, this tip is applied for every discipline and work out there. Reading a book is a good idea if you want to start. There is one good book I’d recommend is ‘Animated Storytelling: Simple Steps for Creating Animation & Motion Graphics’ by Liz Blazer. It provides simple guides for beginners so it’s quite easy to follow. And remember “good things take time”, so don’t be afraid if your production doesn’t work out well. Find out what’s wrong and learn from it, you’ll be making process soon.



Do you remember how Isaac Newton discovered the theory of gravitation? Can you remember how Archimedes uncover his most famous principle on fluid and solid dynamics? I bet most of us do remember it. And do you know why? Because there are fascinating stories behind these breakthroughs. Newton was sitting under the shade of an apple tree when he wondered why all the apples fall down to the earth but not the other ways. And Archimedes stepped into a bath and noticed that the water level rose, opened up an extremely significant realization he can’t wait to share that he ran naked through the streets of Syracuse. 

Exciting stories imprint in human’s minds and make the related information much more memorable. Next time you want to emphasize an important data, instead of repeating it all over again, try telling an engaging story (or a fact and even some behind-the-scene recitals).


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