229: Storytelling Method of Teaching

Show Notes:

Hey there, SLPs! Get ready to be swept away by the tale of a middle school teacher turned New York Times bestselling author, Matt Eicheldinger! Matt shared his journey from the chalkboard to the book charts with his middle-grade novel, “Matt Sprouts and the Curse of Ten Broken Toes.”  Matt's courageous leap from teaching to full-time writing is packed with lessons on building strong connections with students through storytelling and spending meaningful non-academic time together. Get ready to be inspired by his unique and heartfelt approach to classroom management and student engagement.

About my guest: Matt Eicheldinger has been teaching middle school language arts for the past fifteen years where he’s become known for his storytelling method of teaching. He has also created a growing audience on social media, becoming one of the top-followed teacher accounts on Instagram. Not only are his stories of teaching entertaining but his journey to a multi-book deal and New York Times Bestseller is both captivating and inspiring.

Here’s what we learned:

  • The impact of strong teacher-student relationships on academic success.
  • Strategies for engaging reluctant readers through creativity and relatable content.
  • Using personal stories and storytelling techniques as educational tools.
  • How Matt's teaching experience shaped his writing and approach to engaging middle school students.
  • Tips for educators on building rapport and creating a safe learning environment by sharing personal stories.
  • The benefits of short chapters and illustrations in easing readers' transition from graphic novels to more text-heavy books.


Learn more about Matt Eicheldinger:

📝Matt's Website

📝Check out Matt on Instagram

📝 Matt's Book: Matt Sprouts and the Curse of the Ten Broken Toes

Learn more about Hallie Sherman  and SLP Elevate: 

📝 Speech Time Fun

🎲✨ Check out the Secondary Secret Podcast here!


Q: Why was the computer chilly?

A: It left a window open.

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00:00:00 Hallie: Hey there, SLP, you are listening to this podcast, so I know that you love to listen to podcasts. And if that is the case, then I know that you are going to love my secret private podcast, Secondary Secrets for SLPs. It's six short episodes that will have you walking away feeling refreshed and inspired and ready to take on those challenging secondary speech students.

00:00:27 Hallie: So if you work with grades 4-12 and are in a planning rut or wanting some fresh new ideas to keep your students motivated, make sure you head to speechtimefun.com/secondarysecrets. You are not going to find this podcast in your iTunes podcast search browser. You can only get access by going to that link. So head to it now. It is six short episodes that you can listen to it in under an hour, like totally Netflix binge-worthy. I made this just for you, and I know you are going to love it.

00:01:04 Hallie: SLPs have been telling me already that it has changed their way for working with their older speech students. So head on over again to speechtimefun.com/secondarysecrets or use the link in the show notes, and I can't wait to hear what you think. Now let's head on to this week's episode of SLP Coffee Talk.

00:01:29 Hallie: Welcome to SLP Coffee Talk, the podcast designed exclusively for speech-language pathologists who work with older students, grades 4-12. I am your host, Hallie Sherman, your SLP behind Speech Time Fun, the Speech Retreat Conference, and the SLP Elevate Membership, and I'm thrilled to bring you conversations, strategies, and insights that will give you the jolt of inspiration that you need. Whether you're tuning in during your morning commute, on a break in between sessions, or even during a well-deserved relaxation time, I am here for you each and every week. Let's do this SLPs. 

00:02:09 Hallie: Hey, hey, and welcome to another episode of SLP Coffee Talk. Today I don't have an SLP, but I have a fellow teacher that I know you are going to love. One of my SLP Elevate members actually sent me a DM letting me know about this author, Matt Eicheldinger, and I said it correctly, right? 

00:02:29 Matt: Yes, you did. You got it. Nailed it.

00:02:31 Hallie: Awesome. And she's like, you have to get him on your podcast. And I was like, done.

I am on it. So Matt, tell everyone a little bit about yourself and yeah, what you are up to these days. 

00:02:43 Matt: Sure. Well, first, it's nice to meet everybody on this side of, on podcasting. So my name is Matt Eicheldinger. I am a teacher, but I'm a teacher on leave. My long story really condensed is that I wrote a book when I was 21, I'm 37 now. And then I spent the next like 16 or 15 years trying to get the thing published. And I ended up getting it published in a multi-book deal. It's a middle grade novel called Matt Sprouts and the Curse of Ten Broken Toes.  And I took a leap of faith in myself and oh, you had it plugged. I saw you hold it up.

00:03:14 Hallie: I have it right here.

00:03:16 Matt: And so I took a leap of faith this past year and decided to go on leave from teaching to pursue my, my author dream. And it's panning out the book hit the New York Times bestseller list after 15 years of no's from professionals, which is very validating. And then I have a bunch of other books coming out, some for middle grade, but one that I'm really excited for is called Sticky Notes, Memorable Lessons from Ordinary Moments. 

00:03:40 Matt: And that is a compilation of stories of teaching because I've written something down every day for 15 years, which is how my Instagram has grown in the last six months as I started sharing those stories. So it's been a whirlwind. I joke with people that I have no idea what I'm doing, including podcasting, but I'm excited to have the opportunity to try something new. 

00:03:52 Hallie: That's awesome. And one thing that resonated with me with your Instagram is the stories and how you connected with your students.

Can you talk a little bit more about that? Because that's something my listeners struggle often with is how to connect with those middle school tough students. 

00:04:17 Matt: Sure. Well, so to give everyone some background, my Instagram account is filled with stories mostly from teaching. So I would jot something down every day of things that I wanted to remember. I remember my first year teaching, my mentor was like, you need to reflect on every lesson and you need to write down what you'll do next year. And I gave that a really good go. Like I tried, I actually did, but I couldn't do it.

00:04:39 Matt: It just wasn't, you know, teachers barely have enough time as it is. And I felt like I could write something down that would better resonate with me years later. So I would jot these little things down and, you know, I think in hindsight, it allows you to look at the way you function as a teacher and also an adult and just a person in general when you record your life for a very long time.

00:05:01 Matt: And so one of the things that I noticed early on is my students would produce better work and would do better in class if we spent time not doing anything academic. And that's evolved over the years. But one of the things that I kind of pride myself in is my classroom management. And I do think it comes from spending time not doing academic things with kids. So that's my first, I guess, piece of advice if anyone's looking for something is you can take a pause in your curriculum and you can just play a board game or play ping pong or go outside. 

00:05:36 Matt: And I feel like when you put those things into the bank, then you can withdraw so much later from the students because there's a I think there's a greater respect there, too. And when they see you as not just like the authority in the room, but also kind of just a big kid, which I happen to be. 

00:05:55 Hallie: So so true. And often as educators, we feel like we have to be that authoritative and have to be teaching all the time. Otherwise, we're not effective. We're not relevant. And administrators are going to come down on us. How did you overcome some of that self-talk or self-doubt?

00:06:11 Matt: That's a really good question. You know, I think for me is I started doing things that I wanted to do in the classroom that were fun and engaging. And I know that every district is a little bit different with how much leeway they get in lesson planning. But for me, it was looking at my curriculum and thinking, like, gosh, like this, how am I going to even sell this if I'm not on board? And so something that changed my mindset was spending more time creating things that I enjoyed. 

00:06:40 Matt: And that can be draining. Like, I don't think that's a tip for everybody because it does require a lot of time. But I was finding that even though I was pouring time into these lessons, they were unique and I had more buy into them and I got to tweak them over the years. So I guess that was the kind of the first thing I did was, you know, looking at my day and thinking, like, what could I be more invested in and how could I go about changing the things that I want to change to get there? 

00:07:08 Hallie: So such a and you taught ELA, which is not the easiest, most exciting classes for middle schoolers most of the time, probably, I would assume. 

00:07:18 Matt: No, no. It's definitely not. I, you know, over 15 years encountered a lot of reluctant readers, which is actually why I wrote that first book. But, you know, if you can take a lot of the great thing about ELA is it's you can pull so much in so many different directions. I remember one of the first lessons I created was called Bob's Hut. I don't know why I called it Bob's Hut. It was.. I was probably like 21 or 22.

00:07:44 Matt: And it was for the editing process. And instead of me getting all these papers and marking them up on what was wrong, I created these stations and I just gave everyone nicknames and I gave them all roles. And it was so silly. I don't even know how effective it was at the time, but kids were so excited to play pretend at like a 12 and 13 year old. It just kind of opened my eyes to be like, oh, I can do silly things and it can resonate pretty strongly with this age group. 

00:08:14 Hallie: So so true. We often think we have to be serious all the time and middle schoolers are still kids. 

00:08:20 Matt: And very much so. 

00:08:21 Hallie: Yeah. I mean, think of that opportunity, like just have fun like magic can happen. 

00:08:26 Matt: Yeah. And, you know, I've taught sixth grade my whole career and my oldest daughter is now  in sixth grade. And, you know, it's interesting because I viewed them I viewed 11 and 12 year olds as almost teenagers like that was kind of like my lens. But now that I have a sixth grader at home, I almost would take it the other direction. I'm like, no, no, no. You guys are more like elementary school. You want to be older, but you're like this younger grade. And so I feel like the flexibility for lessons is so much wider at that age group.

00:08:59 Hallie: So so true. And it's funny that you say that my I taught fifth and sixth grade for 13 years and my  daughter will be in fifth grade next year. And I'm like, this is just weird. Like I'm like, yeah, it's just really eye opening on like seeing what she's going through in her homework. And I'm like, oh, my goodness. Like we're here. Like so I get it.

00:09:19 Matt: Yeah. 

00:09:20 Hallie: What inspired you to write this book? I know you wrote it many years ago and it took you a while to, you know, get picked up. But where was the inspiration? 

00:09:30 Matt: It really was from my students. So, you know, when you are entering the classroom for the first time, you're trying to figure out like, what is your thing? Like I had colleagues who could dance or tell really good jokes. And the kids always talked about my colleagues in that, you know, with that lens. And I was like, well, what can I be known for? And I happen to have a really good memory of my own childhood. So experiences like I can't remember numbers and stuff. 

00:09:54 Matt: But if I were to tell you a story from a specific time, I will probably relive that emotion a little bit. Like I might tear up or I might blush. But I also remember is it also means like I remember a lot of my embarrassing moments. And so I told my kids one day, I'm like, hey, if I we complete the task early, could I tell you like an embarrassing moment? Would you like that? And they did.

00:10:14 Matt: And so I created this thing called a story jar, which is filled with all these embarrassing moments from my childhood. And if we finish something early, the kids could pick it out. And I was like, well, I should probably write these down before I forget, right? Like there'll be a time where I can't recall these memories. So I wrote them down and as I was writing them out, I was like, well, maybe I could weave them into a book. There was no goal. It was just for fun.

00:10:38 Matt: And then I printed it off and put it in my classroom. And then I'll never forget there is like there's like a couple weeks after that, I had a kid who wouldn't read what we were reading. And I wanted him to read something. I'm like, you know, if you're not going to read what we read, at least something's better than nothing. And so I slid him my little book of stories, right? I think at the time it was just called 10 Broken Toes. And he read the whole thing in like two days. And I was like, oh, maybe I created something kind of good for reluctant readers. But you don't know if kids are buying into you or the actual book. So I was kind of like, well, maybe it's just because it's me.

00:11:12 Matt: But after the next few months, like kids from other teams were requesting it and I printed more copies and handed it around. And so really to answer your original question, like what was the motivation? It was like, well, you know, I created something that I knew was working and I had the data in front of me. Like I knew reluctant readers like this book. Now it's just a matter of trying to see other people what I see in the book. And that's what took a really, really long time. 

00:11:39 Hallie: What do you think it was that made these reluctant readers be interested in this? 

00:11:46 Matt: You know, I've thought about that a lot. I think my writing style is unique. I think I can kind of dangle a plot in front of a kid really well to where they want to know what's happening that happening next. But I think at the root of it, my stories are based on me. So they're all fairly realistic, like they're exaggerated in the book, but they're not exaggerated to the point where a kid's like, that can't happen to me. Like there's some farfetched scenes, but even though they're farfetched, I think kids really see themselves in those moments and they're like, oh, maybe I have stories to tell. 

00:12:18 Matt: And this is totally like I am at that age. So that's my best guess.  I've talked to readers who really like Matt's confidence in the book and how he just takes risks, but I haven't gathered data to know from a kid's perspective, like why when you pick this up, why can't you put it down? But someday I will. 

00:12:39 Hallie: And I know from the stories that my daughter reads, it's really those like relatable, like cliffhangers, like what's going to happen to that character. And knowing that it's a real person makes it so much more relatable, that it's not this far fetched like dog man or whatever, you know, that can't happen. Like this is like a kid and how they're like, look what they've overcome. Like it's really, truly inspiring also.

00:13:03 Matt: Thank you. Yeah, it's been fun to go to school visits because like some visits, kids will know that the book is based on my life and sometimes they don't. And for the kids who don't, when I tell them that the book is like 85% based on me, they light up. Like they have so many more questions and they want to know every single detail of my life. And you know, the next two books in the series aren't as based on my life, but I've been able to, you know, as you know, I've been around kids my entire career. And so the only thing I know is what kids like. And so I hope that I've been able to continue to write in that way. We'll see though. 

00:13:41 Hallie: It's so amazing, especially because often speech pathologists are working with students that are reluctant readers, weaker readers, not reading at grade level. And it's so important to find texts, stories that they can connect with.  We don't like you said, I don't care what you read, just read something. 

00:13:58 Matt: Yep. Yeah. And you know, like, I think it's interesting too, like when a kid picks up a book, they feel good about themselves when they're going through the book quickly, which is why I think graphic novels are so popular. Not only do they have pictures, but a kid can sit down and feel like, I've got one of my daughter's books right here. This book is thick. It's like an inch and a half thick. She could feasibly sit down and finish this in like an hour, you know? 

00:14:26 Matt: And I think for a kid, they pick that book up and they finish it and they're like, wow, I did that. And so when I write my books, I try and keep my chapters really short for reluctant readers and for kids who might struggle because when they finish a chapter, they feel good. They're like, oh, that's a full chapter I just finished. Even if it's five pages, they feel like they're cruising through the book. And you know, we're always trying to find new things for kids to read. And I told my students at the time when I had published this independently, I'm like, if not my book, literally, I'll help you find anything. It doesn't have to be mine. It just sometimes takes a little while for kids to find something to connect with.

00:15:04 Hallie: So, so true. When they finally do and they feel that empowerment and that success, like they can do anything after that. You've won them over. 

00:15:11 Matt: Right. And yeah. And so what I try and tell parents too with in regards to my book is I'm like, there's nothing wrong with graphic novels, but kids will get stuck in them and they won't transition to something without pictures. I think it's, it comes from a little bit of fear or intimidation. And so what I've been telling people is like, you need to find a book that's the bridge. And there's many books like mine that have like, mine has like a picture every three to four pages, which I think helps kids, you know, kind of lean off the context clues of pictures all the time. 

00:15:43 Matt: But really having those books that are a bridge to get you to that whole other world of novels that have no pictures. Because once you get to that point, man, there's thousands of books you can go find right now. Not that, not so much with graphic novels, but you know, that's the natural build of books anyways. 

00:16:01 Hallie: I love that. And I love that you're providing another book for those students where it's like, okay,  if you're not this, here's another opportunity for you to feel successful without the pictures and relying on that. And like, I mean, like let's be real, we have to get them eventually to reading texts. They're going to need to. So let's give them that, give them that bridge and the fact that they can connect with it because it's realistic fiction. Like, so that's so amazing. 

00:16:27 Matt: Yeah. And you know, I've heard in the publishing industry too, that there's a bit of a swing  in the pendulum right now of like, there was like really high intense focus on creating mythical creatures and different worlds for kids. And now it's swinging back to like, we need more realistic fiction. And I think we see that a lot in graphic novels. And I think that's why my book came in at the right time because I think that's what people are looking for is, is like you said, like a way for kids to see themselves in a book.

00:16:59 Matt: And I think that can be harder to do if you are, if your character is in a different planet with things that are not, I don't want to say normal, but not, you know, in our world today. I think it just becomes a little more easier when kids can relate to everything in a book because they could actually go find it. 

00:17:18 Hallie: And I think also like your character has things going wrong. It's not everything going right, which is relatable. Like if everything's going right, that like, who's, first of all, that's boring. But to like, I can't relate to someone who has got perfection. I'm making mistakes all the time and you're showing them like, Hey, mistakes happen. Like let's laugh about it instead of dwelling over it. Like it's, there's so many lessons they can learn other than just like, Hey, I can read.

00:17:45 Matt: Yes. Thank you for pointing that out. So like one of my goals is that like my publisher actually was joking with me yesterday because I have the other covers drawn for the book and mouth, the Matt's mouth is always open and he always looks terrified and scared and they're like, will he always be that way? I'm like, yeah, because he's always going through problems like that is growing up as you are constantly figuring out your mistakes and how to correct them and also discover who you are. So in my books, Matt is always going to have mistakes. 

00:18:13 Matt: But the good thing is, is I always try and embed lessons and he's never going to come out always on top because I don't, I don't think I'll ever produce a book like that. Like I know those are warm and lovey, but I think for kids to be able to see a character who fails often, but is always aiming for good. I think that's a good storyline for my series because I think sometimes kids at school when they make a mistake, you know, I think they internalize it for a very long time. Like they'll never recover from that mistake. And you know, as silly as my book is, Matt just keeps going. He's an impulsive middle school boy and he makes these mistakes, but he's just so good on the inside. And I hope kids see that too. 

00:18:55 Hallie: And let's be real. They love these viral videos when kids get hurt or people fall. So like, why not embed it into a story, but things going wrong.

00:19:04 Matt: Right. Yeah. Plenty of TikTok things to emulate in the book. I'm sure. 

00:19:08 Hallie: Exactly. Like, let's just put it in a different format for them to actually learn and grow and develop  from. So that's what, I have another question for you for those, for the educator in you. What advice would you give to someone who's saying, I can't tell stories to my students about myself making mistakes, like I can't share personal stuff. What advice would you give to them to kind of overcome that? 

00:19:33 Matt: Oh man, I wouldn't sell yourself short. Like I think some people think about their life and they're like, well, I have nothing to share that would be entertaining for a kid. I would encourage you just like grab a cup of coffee or whatever your preferred beverages, sit in a chair and just think of your own childhood and think about what it was to be in that grade with your peers, go grab a yearbook. And I think flipping through it will help you see like, you know, you'll see your friends and then those friends will create more memories for you.

00:20:04 Matt: And it doesn't have to be a long story either. Like when I would share stories with kids in class, there are five minutes, 10 if it was like a really long, funny story, you know, something I did starting last year is I created circle time, which sounds very kindergartner, but we started every Monday with a circle and I would have questions up on the board and the questions had nothing to do with schools. Like, what'd you do this weekend? You know, banana versus apple, just very generic questions.

00:20:34 Matt: And we would go around and each person would get a chance to talk or skip if they didn't want to, but that might be a good chance for you just to get your voice heard for students about something that has nothing to do with academics. And maybe that'll inspire you to tell longer stories. 

00:20:50 Hallie: I love that. And I often tell my audience, those listening, you guys, that the more we can show our students that we may make mistakes too, that we are human, that we've been there, it makes us more relatable. And it also builds their, it makes that safe environment for what they're able to take those risks, make those mistakes with us because we're not there to judge them. It's just building that rapport and that environment for them that is conducive for taking that risk.

00:21:16 Matt: Yeah, absolutely. And you don't have to tell stories from the past either. Current stories work too. Like I frequently would share my trials and tribulations of parenting and how I messed up. And, you know, sometimes the stories are funny, like when your teacher made a mistake, but sometimes they're not. And I would just like express my disappointment in myself to my students, like, hey, my daughter came home and did this thing and I got really angry. And then she cried, like, I don't want to do that again. Here's what I'm going to do next time. And I think kids seeing real time mistakes and real time corrections are also really helpful.

00:21:51 Hallie: So, so powerful. So like these teachable moments beyond the curriculum, the goals, the skills that you're trying to set, like, you know, we can work on writing essays all day long, but these real true moments are really what is going to be impactful. And then we'll motivate them to do those not so ideal tasks that you ask them to do later on.

00:22:14 Matt: Yeah, I totally agree. 

00:22:16 Hallie: Awesome. Thank you Matt so, so much. This was amazing. Everyone listening, go check out his books. We're going to put the links in the show notes, so not to worry.  And I can't wait for your new one to come out all about your teacher stories. So tell everyone where they can learn more about you and everything you have to offer. 

00:22:31 Matt: Sure. Well, thanks for letting me plug stuff. If you want to listen to stories, you can head to my Instagram account, which is just Matt Eicheldinger. And I tell stories, not just from teaching, but also different walks of life. I mean, go to my website, which is matteicheldinger.com. You can also just Google Eicheldinger because there's not a lot of Eicheldingers out in the world and a pretty easy guy to find.  But otherwise, I've got one book out already, which is called Matt Sprouts and the Curse of the 10 Broken Toes. It is meant for late elementary, early middle school readers, but also for reluctant readers.

00:23:03 Matt: I've had kids read it as young as second grade on their own, then as old as eighth grade. And then I have another book coming out in October called Sticky Notes, Memorable Lessons from Ordinary Moments. And that's going to be a hundred stories that I had to choose what to put in there. And it's hopefully shows my hope is that it shows people a couple of things. One, what teachers actually do, because we do so much. And I think the things that weigh the heaviest on us are those character-building moments with kids.

00:23:31 Matt: And so I try and highlight that, but I also want people to understand when they read this book that those tiny moments, those little interactions that you have every day, whether it's in a classroom or not, they resonate so much farther than you realize. And I love all my projects, but I think that this book Sticky Notes might be the one that I end up being the most proud of, because I really want to lift up our profession and help people understand that we do teach academics, but the things that we are in the classroom doing every single day are so much more than that. 

00:24:03 Hallie: So so powerful. I can't wait to hear more about that and see that brought to life and the impact that's going to have on education and those maybe learning something about what is going on behind those classroom doors that might not be aware of.  So thank you so much for sharing your story, your stories with us and your tips for just connecting with those tough middle schoolers and even just how to get those reluctant readers to read. So thank you so, so much for joining us here today.

00:24:31 Hallie: Everyone go check out his book. Go check out his Instagram. I always end my episodes with a joke because jokes do build rapport. And that's how I always build rapport in my classroom when they walked in, like just like you did the apples and oranges. Let's have a joke. So why was the computer chilly? 

00:24:47 Matt: Oh, I don't know.

00:24:51 Hallie: It left a window open. 

00:24:52 Matt: That's a good one. Very nice.

00:24:57 Hallie: Say you're an ELA teacher, the multiple-meaning words. There's a lot of things we can do with the jokes here. So. 

00:25:04 Matt: Oh, yeah. We're learning and laughing. That's perfect. 

00:25:06 Hallie: Of course. Everyone go check out his book, Matt Sprouts and “The Curse of the 10 Broken Toes” and, until next week, everyone, stay out of trouble. 

00:25:20 Hallie: Thanks so much for tuning in to another episode of SLP Coffee Talk. It means the world to me that you're tuning in each and every week and getting the jolt of inspiration you need. You can find all of the links and information mentioned in this episode at my website, speechtimefun.com. Don't forget to follow the show so you don't miss any future episodes.  And while you're there, it would mean the world to me if you would take a few seconds and leave me an honest review. See you next week with another episode full of fun and inspiration from one SLP to another. Have fun guys!