Storytelling Builds Kinder and Smarter Citizens

A program called Common Ground will build empathy and compassion among students through facilitated story exchanges.

Photo of Cara Brancoli
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Building empathy offline is essential to building empathy online.  Storytelling has been the conduit to finding our shared humanity since time immemorial. 

Common Ground is a program that would bring students together who self-identify as very different, perhaps economically, politically, socially, etc. Paired students would share personal stories with one another using a prepared set of questions designed to foster understanding (Storycorp model). Then, in the final step, each person would repeat his or her partner's story back in the first person (Narrative4 model).

We would like to record the conversations and share compelling moments via podcasts, and social media to foster understanding and empathy on a larger scale.

Common Ground, at its heart, is about giving students the tools to listen and absorb each others' stories, and consequently walk away with sense of compassion and understanding. This is one possible pathway to building kinder citizens, offline and on.

Share research or student experiences that informed your idea!

Narrative 4 is an organization that has done ground breaking work in the realm of story exchange and radical empathy. In 2016, they paired up with NY Magazine to bring people together on opposite sides of the gun debate, including a parent who lost a child in Sandy Hook and an avid gun advocate, to share their stories and see whether they can come to common ground. See documentary:


Join the conversation:

Photo of Paul Kim

Hi Cara,

First of all, thanks for participating in this collaboration between the Teachers Guild and ISTE. We really appreciate your contributions!

We’re in the last week of the build phase of the challenge on digital citizenship so it’s time to fine tune your idea before final voting begins next week.

Here are some things to consider as you continue to build on your idea:
- is your idea clear and will it inspire action from other teachers?
- would it be easy for a teacher to incorporate your idea about digital citizenship in their classroom?
- does your idea include some component of research and are there shareable resources?
- is your idea student-centered and does it promote agency?


Photo of Molly McMahon

I love the power of reflection and empathy. And from a learning science perspective, this is such a great nod towards metacognition. There does seem to be such a lack of good listening in our digital world. Thank you for this idea!

Photo of Cara Brancoli

Thank you very much! Ia appreciate the comment!

Photo of Richard Culatta

I like this. It would also be interesting to think of some funny ways to help make this point in addition to diving into the more serious examples. E.g.

Photo of Cara Brancoli

Thank you for the comment! I absolutely agree--great example.