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Sharing Stories

Sometimes, as connected as we are in the modern world, we become silos of hermetic experience with only our algorithms to guide us, hear us, and know us.

Well, that’s perhaps a bit dramatic. But while the internet has given us more personalized content than we’ll ever truly have the capabilities to explore, too often we experience the endless mines of material alone. We listen to music personally through cordless, invisible earbuds. Books are read to us in the solitude of our commute. Our news aggregated for our perusal on a dashboard that exists for our screens only.

Incredibly, the work of seeking out that for which we yearn is already done for us by our AI guardian assistants, but it can sometimes come at the expense of a shared collective experience. When is the last time you read (or listened to) a book that, when brought up in conversation, had made it to someone else’s list? We spend so many of these moments recommending, rather than discussing, that it’s a wonder anyone even brings up anything that’s not consumable in the moment. Sure, if it’s a meme, a GIF, or a short video, it can be shared instantly; however, for anything more substantial than these brief, bite-sized bagatelles of internet culture, our suggestions often just line the cutting room floor of our friends’ free time.

Enter: The Classroom Experience.

This is why education exists, is it not? So that students of any age—from the preschool story time circle to the PhD seminar—can share in the experience of a work and then engage with it on a communal level. Many of our virtual exchanges can use a text, a film, or some other artistic medium as the basis for meaningful connection. It’s important, then, if we move these discussions from in-person to the screen, to consider the following educational strategies to humanize the experience and heighten the sense of community among your students and their virtual exchange partners.


The best part about the great resurgence of audiobooks through accessible means like Audible and Spotify remains that, rather than rely on our own inner monologue, we can hear trained actors and writers infuse great writing with even better reading. The lost art of reading aloud. If you’ve ever heard a student struggle with a long sentence and thought to yourself, “These kids don’t read enough,” you’ll appreciate the desire to hear good reading out loud.

But hearing someone else read a passage, while beautiful and significant, only does so much for your students; they, too, need to practice this important skill. Therefore, if your class is discussing relevant and global works such as I Am Malala or Esperanza Rising, encourage (or require!) them to read a meaningful passage out loud in their videos. Just like they might quote the text in an essay for the purposes of granting context or conducting a close reading, they should do the same when discussing a work or reacting to an excerpt.

Think, too, of the impact this might have on the other end of the exchange. Hearing a native speaker reading a passage can have a very positive educational impact on students studying English as a foreign language. Indeed, different inflections or interpretations of a selection of text could also lead its listeners to understand the words in a new way. Finally, there exists a comfort for a student to read aloud someone else’s words that might build for them a momentum in their analysis of it and grant them an authority in their words. Of course, no one wants to hear pages and pages of text, so encourage them to practice judgment in their excerpting, and to…just practice….


Asking students to discuss a work and its significance can differ from assigning them a formal academic essay prompt: the former task can yield more fruitful results in the form of spontaneous ideas that pollinate a healthy academic debate. Meanwhile, the latter engages a student in more thoughtful inquiry and philosophically methodical argumentation. However, just because a virtual exchange might take place in videos does not mean we should forsake one experience and overindulge in the other.

Asking your students to prepare a formal written response for a video prompt might seem stilted and insincere, but if used as a part of the process, a written answer could also become a generative launchpad for excellent communication. Teaching students that they can prepare their thoughts for more measured communication, such as an asynchronous video exchange, in the same way as they would a piece of writing, reaffirms that thinking ahead about matters can lead to more impactful and significant, rather than on-the-fly, conversational reactions.

Again, there is a place here for reading excerpts of their answers aloud, too. Of course, no one wants someone reading to them in a staid, prosaic manner, but if a student really has found agreeable wording or a turn of phrase that they like, encourage them to work it into their reply. This is a fundamental skill in presentational speaking, and they’ll no doubt have seen it in the analogous content they consume as well. For many of them, your prompt could be the first time they have thought about incorporating written thoughts into their spoken communication!


Even in the best classes, with the smallest and most engaged groups, we all know it’s hard to get every student to participate in discussions. At best, (especially if there’s a participation grade at stake) they’ll contribute several times, but it’s hard to get every single pupil to respond to a question, and time constraints make it impossible to get a majority. However, if each student must create their own video with some prepared content, and then respond with thoughtful reflections, your class participation just reached the elusive goal of 100% participation!

A preparatory conversation within your class, soliciting initial reactions to the text you’re using as the basis for your virtual exchange will go far in preparation for their individual videos. For students who might get a little nervous speaking in front of the class, this can serve as an excellent opportunity to practice. Conversely, for students who need time sorting through their many thoughts, sitting and listening to a conversation among their peers could really be a big help as well. Finally, if you as the educator can give the class discussion a tone of friendly conversation and naturality, you do them the lifelong solid of inspiring among them a desire for intellectual colloquy beyond the insipidness of daily small talk!

In Conclusion

Often in our classrooms we do more than teach a subject matter: we teach young people how to be lifelong learners and adults who take interest in the culture and artistic world around us. Teaching and discussing literature should fit nicely into this calling, as it has been a consistent part of humanity since we were sitting around fires telling stories. Doing this across oceans and time zones just means our fires have become screens and the story circle has widened. However, we can still employ our best practices, and challenge students to approach the conversation from a variety of perspectives to streamline the way they exchange ideas and revel in the sharing of stories.

About Dan Pieraccini

Dan Pieraccini was born in Northern Italy, but was moved to the United States at the age of 6. Dan’s B.A. in English and M.A. in Italian literature have opened the door to over a decade of teaching high school and college students a second (and in some cases a first) language. It is likely that having traveled through 82 countries, 48 U.S. states, and three disputed territories somehow factored into the decision to make Dan Delbarton School’s first Director of Global Programs. In his spare time, he manages events at his local Elks Lodge, helps feed the hungry at a handful of food pantries, writes and performs rock and roll songs with his band Forget the Whale, plays in a Dungeons and Dragons game, and occasionally goes out to brunch.