How-To Tips

Health Literacy

Using Stories to Teach About Health

Sep 1, 2021

Stories are powerful health communication tools. By combining emotions and facts, stories can help people connect with health information in a more personal way. Stories can help people of all ages and cultures find qualities they have in common. Stories not only can be engaging but also are easy for most people to understand—even by those who may have trouble reading or paying attention. Here are some tips for using stories to teach about health.

  • Tell stories. Make sure your stories have a point. Sometimes, you may need to make this clear by first saying something like, “Let me tell you about a person who ___.” Stories don’t always have to be spoken. You might sprinkle short anecdotes or quotes into your written materials or web sites. Wherever you use them, stories can help make important points “come alive.”
  • Encourage others to share stories. By listening to other people’s stories, you can learn a lot about their strengths, concerns, and points of view. You might invite stories by saying something like, “Tell me about a time that___.” Or, “Give me an example of problems you had when___.”
  • Focus on the point of a story. Telling stories needn’t take a long time. If you invite another person to share a story but feel she is telling it in too roundabout a way, help her focus. You might say something along the lines of, “You started talking about your heart and now you’re telling me about your feet. Please explain more about how these problems connect.”
  • Decide whether to share stories from your own experience. While sharing your own stories can have benefits, there are also risks. One is that you might draw attention away from the person you are communicating with. A big benefit is that when used carefully and told well, stories can be very effective tools for teaching about health.

This month’s Health Literacy Consulting How-To Tip is adapted from Osborne’s award-winning book, Health Literacy from A to Z: Practical Ways To Communicate Your Health Message, Second Edition (updated 2018).