13 Colonies Narrative Chain

Brain research shows that neurons that fire together wire together. When teaching concepts we want students to remember, it’s important to give them different ways to store those concepts in their long term memory. By using a narrative chain, my students are saying, seeing, and doing the information I want them to remember.

But what does that look like?

I learned about this 13 colonies narrative chain while going through Quantum Learning Network training. I use movement, words, and location to help students remember the names of the 13 colonies. It starts by telling a story. I set it up by telling the students that I had a crazy dream:

1. Front of room: In my dream I was really hungry so I walked downtown and went into the deli (pretend to open an imaginary door and say deli several times– I also ask the students “where did I go?” and have them repeat. I also invite them to do the actions with me)

2. Move to the right: I went up to the counter and ordered a sandwich. But this sandwich had pens in it! (motion: someone putting pens in the sandwich. “What did the sandwich have in it?” Wait for students to respond). 

3. Move to the corner: I did not want to eat this sandwich with pens in it so I threw it out the window and it landed on a guy who was wearing a new jersey! (motion: tugging on shirt. “What was the guy wearing?” Wait for students to respond). 

Go back and review the first three. Make sure you do each action and have the students say the words.

4. Move further to the right: This guy was so mad that I threw my sandwich on him that he screamed “by george!!!” (motion: first in the air. Have students repeat and do the action).

5. Move to back corner: The guy started chasing after me! So I started running, but as I looked behind me he was stopped because his feet were connected to the cuts in the sidewalk! (motion: stomp feet on ground like they are stuck and you can’t move them. Have students repeat and do the action).

6. Move to the right in the back of the classroom: As I was trying to get away from this guy who was chasing me, I ran in to a church and they were having mass. It was so quiet in there but….all of the sudden….I…had…to…sneeze….achoo! (motion: clasp hands together like you’re praying and pretend to sneeze. Have students repeat and do the action)

Go back and review the first six. Make sure you do each action and have the students say the words.

7. Move to the right: I had to get out of the church because everyone was staring at me, so I went across the street to a music store called Marilyn’s Music. (motion: make an “M” like the McDonald’s arches. Have students repeat and do the action)

8. Move further to the right: Inside this music store was Taylor Swift (or any other popular musician – make it relevant). She was playing the guitar and singing Christmas music! She was singing southern carols! (motion: pretend to play the guitar – you could even sing “Jingle Bells” in a southern accent. Have students repeat and do the action)

9. Move to the back corner: All of the sudden, while I was listening to Taylor sing, the ground started to shake. It opened up and out popped hundreds of new baby hamsters! (motion: cup hands together like you’re holding a hamster. Have students repeat and do the action)

Go back and review the first nine. Make sure you do each action and have the students say the words.

10. Move to the right: I ran out of the store to get away from the hamsters and into a nearby forest. Except this forest was different. All the trees were brand new. They were virgin trees. (motion: move hands and arms out in front of you like you are describing a vast landscape. Have students repeat and do the action).

This is the hardest one for me because some of my students (8th graders) can’t handle the word “virgin.” I’ve been trying to think what other things might work with this step and would be interested to hear from you if anyone else has ideas!

11. Move to the front corner: In the forest, I could hear the sound of a baseball hitting a bat. I a realized the there was a baseball team having practice in the forest – it was the New York Yankees! (motion: pretend to hit a ball with a baseball bat. Have students repeat and do the action). 

12. Move further to the right: One of the players was up to bat and he hit the ball so far it went out of the forest and landed on the highway. I went to go see where it went and the ball had hit a car that was going in the north car lane. (motion: Pretend that you are directing an airplane to go north. Have students repeat and do the action)

13. Move further to right – almost where you started: I went out on the highway to go get the ball and I found that it had landed right on an island in the middle of the road. (motion: make a circle around you with your hands. Have students repeat and do the action)

Go back and review the all 13. Make sure you do each action and have the students say the words.

By this point I have moved all the way around the room. I usually end the story by saying as I was reaching down to grab the baseball I heard a car horn and as I looked up I saw a car coming toward me and……SMACK (I clap my heads together) and I woke up!

Hopefully about half way through the students pick up on each of the motions and how they relate to the states. I go back through the do each motion again except this time the students say the actual state that goes with each motion.

  1. Delaware
  2. Pennsylvania
  3. New Jersey
  4. Georgia
  5. Connecticut
  6. Massachusetts
  7. Maryland
  8. South Carolina
  9. New Hampshire
  10. Virginia
  11. New York
  12. North Carolina
  13. Rhode Island

Then I will ask if anyone wants to try it themselves. If a student can’t remember a certain word/action, the rest of the class will usually help them out. Then, as we prep for our test over the states and capitals, we’ll practice saying the state and the capital.

About meganklassen

I teach 6th grade Pre-AP social studies and 8th grade American History at McPherson Middle School and am on the board for KCSS.

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