Tapping the Potential of Stories and Models

Featured Instructor:

David G. Wilder, Ph.D., professor of biomedical engineering, and occupational and environmental health


Use stories and models to improve understanding and interest.


  • Helps students understand concepts
  • Helps students retain information
  • Engages students


David Wilder explains how stories and models help students to more fully explore a discipline even though they are novices. Explaining concepts in a surprising fashion helps students to retain information.


Stories and Models: Details & Examples

A century ago, psychologist and educator Maria Montessori promoted the use of manipulatives in teaching, especially for the young.  Today, instructors recognize that models and stories can promote learning by:

  • helping students to feel more playful and open to learning, especially when the models include food or toys; 
  • making ideas concrete;
  • breaking up long class periods; and
  • promoting student interest.

Stories and Models: Best Practices

Practitioners recommend carefully thinking through the model from the perspectives of your students, who may lack your prior understanding.

It’s helpful to test the model to ensure that it correctly models the concept you wish to explore.  The goal is to ensure that the model can’t be manipulated in a way that might yield confusion about the course concept.

It is beneficial to structure and guide students’ use of the model so that they are more likely to reach the appropriate conclusions.

Professor Wilder demonstrates the importance of ensuring that the modeling activity is worth the time investment.  The ultimate goal is always learning, not entertainment.

Stories and Models: Bibliography & Related Content


Fast, J. (2000) Melts in Your Mind, Not in Your Hand. Journal of Teaching in Social Work, 20(1): 159-69.  

Roberts, S. K. (2007) On My Mind: Not All Manipulatives and Models Are Created Equal. Mathematics Teaching in the Middle School, 13(1): 6-9.  

National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science. (2016) Publications. University at Buffalo. Retrieved from http://sciencecases.lib.buffalo.edu/cs/teaching/publications/

Related Content

Game-Based Learning -- Use games with defined learning outcomes to engage students and to help them retain and apply information.