The power of storytelling: Re-writing childhood stories to foster student engagement

The activity

This activity invites students to re-write their favourite childhood story by inserting themselves as modern-day protagonists in their contemporary socio-cultural contexts. The activity was practiced in an undergraduate Sociology course in which students were learning about the connection between personal experiences and social issues, as well as concepts related to positionality and social life.

Students were invited to select one concept covered in the course which they then used as an analytical lens to re-write their chosen story. For example, if a student had chosen the concept of intersectionality, they would critically analyse the relevance of intersectional elements in relation to the original story and their re-written version, explicating how this concept pertained to the details of the stories. Students could choose to re-write the story as a whole or to focus on a single pivotal moment. In line with Universal Design for Learning, the activity offered multiple means of engagement so students were encouraged to participate in a way that was most accessible for them. For instance, students engaged through writing, artistic expression and the use of audio/video tools.

Once complete, students were asked to present their stories to the class and engage in a collective discussion, whereby they gave a summary of the original story, presented their revised version while explaining how their course concept was embedded, and then spoke to the similarities and differences between the two stories. Students observing the presentations were asked to comment on how the presenters’ original and rewritten stories compared to their own stories. The final portion of this activity involved students submitting a brief individual reflection on the experience, in which they spoke of what the activity taught them, how they enjoyed it, how they connected with it, and how engaged they felt.


Since narratives are highly relational (Chin & Rudelius-Palmer, 2010), this activity enabled students to embed elements of their personal lived experiences to contextualise the re-writes of their stories. Integrating stories into learning experiences also allowed students to connect course content to broader issues in the stories (Blanch & Mulvihill, 2013).

Although there were basic elements of the activity all students had to maintain, it was a substantially student-directed endeavour. I devised this activity in an attempt to invite students to make connections between course concepts, social issues, and their personal lives, and to do this in a meaningfully engaging way.

Impact on students

The impact on student engagement was most evident in the student reflections provided upon completion of the activity. Students expressed how meaningful the activity was to them, how personally connected they felt, and the salience of the peer conversations. I noted that the emotional investment in this activity appeared to be what was most significant to students, which is not surprising as emotional connection can support the adaptive learning process and facilitate an identity-focused investment which is essential in student engagement (Dean & Jolly, 2012).

Furthermore, a beautiful part of this activity is the way it enhanced culturally relevant engagement by inviting students to select stories they grew up with in various parts of the world. Students selected books written in various languages from different global and cultural contexts, which cultivated a sense of cultural relevance for students both individually and collectively. Moreover, the emphasis on how the socio-historical contexts of the original stories and students’ current socio-cultural dynamics influenced the ways they re-wrote these stories, also supports Young and Wilson’s (2000) Ideas, Connections, Extensions (ICE) approach as students connected their stories to the social world and academic material while extending this to their personal lives.

In sum, this was a fun, engaging, and meaningful activity, which fundamentally sparked interest, fostered a sense of purpose, integrated social and academic dynamics, and evoked emotional connectedness—all key elements of student engagement (Payne, 2017).

Final notes and advice for readers

While this activity was assessed in my course, it would also be suitable as an ice breaker activity, or an activity ‘just for fun’, to encourage student engagement and participation. In this case, there would be no requirement for students to connect their stories to course concepts; they could simply re-write a treasured childhood story to suit modern-day contexts and perhaps discuss their narrative decisions with their peers.

Something to remain cognizant of is that not all students may have had access to storybooks growing up. One can adapt this activity to include other storytelling mediums such as film, folklore, family stories that they were told, and so on; there is no need to restrict the activity to published or well-known texts.


Blanch, L. C., & Mulvihill, T. M. (2013). The attitudes of some students on the use of comics in higher education. In C. K. Syma, & R. G. Weiner (Eds.), Graphic novels and comics in the classroom: Essays on the educational power of sequential art (pp. 35–49). Jefferson, NC: McFarland and Company Inc.

Chin, K., & Rudelius-Palmer, K. (2010). Storytelling as a relational and instrumental tool for addressing racial justice. Race/Ethnicity: Multidisciplinary Global Contexts, 3(2), 265–281.

Dean, K., & Jolly, J. (2012). Student identity, disengagement and learning. Academy of Management Learning and Education, 11(2), 228–243. 

Payne, L. (2017). Student engagement: Three models for its investigation. Journal of Further and Higher Education, 43(5), 641–657.
Young, S. F., Young, C. S. F., & Wilson, R. J. (2000). Assessment and learning: The ICE approach. Portage & Main Press.



  • Ameera Ali, PhD

    Ameera Ali is currently a Post-Doctoral Visitor in York University’s Teaching and Learning Centre, the Teaching Commons. Ameera has previously taught in York’s Department of Sociology where she strived to maintain and promote principles of Accessibility and Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) through her pedagogical praxis.

How to cite

Ali, A. (2021) The power of storytelling: Re-writing childhood stories to foster student engagement. Teaching Insights, Available at: (Accessed: 21 September 2023)

Post Information

Posted in Edition 1, October 2021, Recipes for SuccessTagged , , , ,