FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS by Teachers
Do I have to use the curriculum as outlined?
What if we don't have enough time to complete the entire curriculum?
The curriculum is simply a guide and our suggestions based on our
experiences. Be creative and make this work for you and your students!
If time is limited, there are places in the curriculum that can
be altered. For example, students practice interviewing techniques
several times, which is important in really honing their skills,
but one of these practice interviews might be eliminated. In addition,
the oral reports could be written and handed in, rather than taking
up valuable classroom time.
Can the curriculum be used for any class
subject? Since the point of an oral history is to gather
information about a person's life or a certain time in history,
the project can be used in any class that can utilize such material.
The area to be focused on in the class might impact class preparation,
types of questions to be asked, and the final project. For example,
in a social studies class the final project might be a report; in
a language arts class the final project would emphasize aspects
of writing or gathering information; in a visual or performing arts
class the options are endless. The course can also be taught in
conjunction with two different classes, such as a social studies
class, where student do the research and interviews, and a computer
science class, where the students can create a Web site about the
Is there a charge for using the curriculum?
What about the interview sampler? Living Legacies
Historical Foundation is providing the curriculum free of charge
to utilize in your classroom as you wish. There is a small fee of
$15 for the video, to cover our costs for duplication and shipping.
See the Supporting Materials:Video
page for order information.
Why is it important for students to examine
their perceptions of senior citizens? Empathy and respect
are crucial for conducting a good interview, and for creating a
positive relationship with the interview subject. In the past, elders
were respected and loved in their families and communities, and
children grew up knowing and admiring them. Sadly, today this is
often not the case. Many families are separated by distance that
prevents young people from having contact with family elders. Many
young people have grown up not knowing these people, or watching
them age; they have not experienced the love and knowledge these
people have to give. Even if family elders live nearby, parents
and children are often so busy that these older people might not
be part of the young person's daily life. Therefore, when students
are working in an oral history project, we must first help dispel
myths and examine attitudes that might interfere with the positive
relationship we want the student to create with the interview subject.
What do you mean by "closed," "open-ended,"
and "follow-up" questions? A "closed" question
is one that can be answered simply with a yes or no
or a very brief response. Some of these types of questions are necessary
during the interview (i.e. "When were you born?" "What was your
name at birth?") but they do not often help to move the interview
forward, or encourage detailed responses. For example, "Did you
know your grandmother?" might result in a simple yes or no.
An "open-ended" question invites the person to consider
the question, recall their memories, and give a detailed answer.
A question such as, "Tell me about your grandmother," encourages
the person to think about their grandmother and recount their memories
and experiences with her.
A "follow-up" question is intended to get additional
information. Even if the student asks an open-ended question
such as, "Tell me about your grandmother" the response might simply
be, "She was a wonderful woman." The student will get more
information if they ask a "follow-up" question such as, "In what
way was she wonderful?" or "Can you describe her, in terms of how
she related to people, or her role in the family?"
Here are some other examples of different types of questions: "Did
you like sports as a child?" (closed). The answer could be a yes
or no. If, instead, we ask, "What kinds of things did you
do for fun as a child?" (open-ended), the answer might be, "Well,
I would play baseball with the neighbor kids, or we'd ride our bikes,
or go to the movies." A good follow-up question could be, "Can you
describe how movies and theaters were different in those days than
they are today?"
Ask students to come up with other examples of "open-ended" and
"follow-up" questions that begin with Why, How, Where, Describe,
Tell me about, and Would you say more about.
Why is it important for students to interview
a peer with whom they are not well acquainted? This is
important to help students experience what it's like to establish
rapport with a stranger, and find ways to engage that person in
conversation. Students are thus required to start a relationship
from scratch, which is often the case with an interview subject,
and create questions that help them get to know the person. It is
also practice in empathizing, which is covered in the next question.
Middle School is a tough age for being
empathetic. How can I help my students learn empathy?
Empathy is, indeed, critical for conducting a successful
and satisfying interview. Students need to learn to listen non-critically
and with compassion. The project must incorporate practice of good
listening skills, which may include basics such as: not interrupting,
maintaining eye contact, nodding to encourage the person to go on,
staying focused on what the person is saying, and finding something
of interest in the stories, even if they are "boring" to the student.
The practice interviews offer a chance for student to develop empathy
to care about and relate to the person being interviewed. In peer
interviews, teachers might ask students to include topics such as
fears, regrets in my life, favorite relatives, proudest moments,
to help the interviewer to empathize with their interview subject.
Another way to promote empathy is to ask the students, after their
interviews, to discuss such questions as:
- How would you feel if that happened to you?
- What was especially sad (or exciting or difficult or moving)
about the subject's stories?
- Write an essay in the first person, as your interview subject.
What if students ask very personal questions
during the practice interview with me? If you agree to
be interviewed, you can anticipate such questions as:
- Are you married?
- Why did you become a teacher?
- Were you close to your parents?
- Did you ever use drugs?
Decide ahead of time what is off limits, such as your address,
your sex life, painful childhood experiences, etc. It is fine to
say, "I'm not comfortable talking about that." This will also give
students the chance to practice how to respond to a person who wishes
not to talk about certain aspects of their life.
How do you suggest using the sample videos
that we can purchase from Living Legacies Historical Foundation?
In the courses we have taught, we have used these videos to get
students to start practicing their listening and observation skills,
and to initiate class discussions on a range of topics, such as
what follow-up questions they would ask the interview subjects being
viewed, how they felt listening to them, etc. We are providing oral
history interviews that depict different cultural experiences, as
well as demonstrating actual interview questions and responses,
excerpts of people's stories and a finished product. Some class
discussion suggestions will be included with the tapes.
What type of equipment do you recommend?
The microphone is the most important element when recording an interview.
Most tape and video recorders have built-in microphones, but these
often do not pick up sound more than a few feet away. The best solution
is an external microphone. These can be purchased at electronics
stores, such as Radio Shack. Most recorders have an input for an
external microphone, and the recorder should be taken to the store
when purchasing a microphone to make sure the connections fit. We
recommend the use of good quality audio tapes to record the interviews.
Ideally, 90-minute length tapes, with 45-minutes of uninterrupted
recording per side, is the best choice. We do not recommend the
120-minute tapes which often have technical problems.
What if students don't own a tape recorder
or video camera? A project that requires students to
purchase equipment might be a hardship for some students. Check
if any equipment can be provided by the school or see if the school
has a budget for students who need help. You might suggest that
students borrow equipment, or rent it. Check to see if local rental
companies would like to participate in the project by providing
access to equipment.
What if the interview is with two people?
Some microphones are made to sit on a tabletop, and can pick up
the voices of everyone sitting around the table. Some microphones
can be held in a stand that either sits on a table, or is suspended
over the interview subjects' heads. If the student is going to use
the microphone that is part of the recorder, he or she should do
a test before the interview, of how far away the microphone can
adequately pick up two voices.
What safety precautions do I need to take,
if any? If the student is interviewing a stranger, and
you feel some concern, you might have the interview conducted in
a public (but quiet) place, such as a library or book store, or
at the school. Students might go to the interview in pairs, and
should let an adult where they are going, providing the specific
address for the interview and the estimated time for coming home
or back to school. Some interviews are conducted in senior centers
or institutions, which might seem safer than a stranger's home.
How should students dress?
Most importantly, they should be clean and neat. First impressions
do impact the interview and a priority is to make the interview
subject feel at ease. You might have a discussion with your students
about how older people might perceive a young person with nose rings
or wild colored hair. But the students should feel comfortable being
who they are, since one primary goal of Tell Me Your Stories
is cross-generational outreach, so that elders and young people
can learn from and respect one another.
What kind of feedback have you gotten
from teaching this class previously? This project has
been very well received by students and teachers, as well as by
the interview subjects. Here are some of the comments in response
to the Tell Me Your Stories course:
"I really enjoyed doing this interview. I thought that I knew
about my grandpa and so at the beginning I wasn't all that thrilled
about doing this project. I figured it would be a bunch of stuff
that I had already heard, but it wasn't. I sat down with my grandpa
and from the first word he spoke, it was something new to me. I
could tell this was going to be better than I thought. From this
interview, I not only learned about my grandfather and his life,
but my own history and my mother's life, and also about my grandpa's
feelings and opinions on things I didn't really know he cared about.
I learned from this interview to be honest. My grandpa said it's
the value that his parents taught him and it makes a lot of sense."
8th grade History student
"Students at Palms Middle School come from highly diverse ethnic,
racial and socioeconomic backgrounds. The Tell me Your Stories
project values all students and helps them to discover their values.
In this age of the Internet and its truncated bits of research information,
this project brings us back to the root of knowledge transfer-the
oral tradition. Students have the chance to sit down and speak with
grandparents and parents to learn more of the stories that form
their characters. Students are challenged to be aware of the intangibles-the
body language, emotions and pacing of their interview subjects.
These are skills the students will use throughout their lives as
they seek information about subjects they love."
Joe Provisor, Honors English teacher, Palms Middle School, Los
"This project has had one of the strongest influences on me.
Before the interview, I saw my grandmother every day but never actually
knew what was inside. From this project I have gained a vast knowledge
of the life my grandmother has lived and the times of the past in
10th grade Language Arts student
"Before the interview, me and my dad had a distant relationship
and spoke only for necessary matters, and even then we would argue.
During the interview, he opened up and I realized all the trouble
he's gone through to maintain me and my family sheltered and fed.
After the interview, I appreciated his presence more and I thank
him for doing all he does for us. I learned about myself too. I
learned that I never gave my dad the credit he deserves for being
a better father than anyone is. He stayed with his family when it
would have been easier to walk away."
8th grade English student
"I'd never actually talked before with someone who had survived
the Holocaust. Initially, I was concerned that this community service
assignment would be too difficult, but my interview subject was
anxious to talk about her experiences and to have a young person
know about what she and her family had gone through. There were
points where I had a hard time listening-it was so painful-but I
felt very involved with her by the end of our time together, and
that was invaluable. Learning to conduct this kind of interview
will be a skill that will be useful in other areas of my life."
11th grade student participating in Community Service project
"I was touched by the fact that this young person was taking
the time to hear about my life. Even my own grandchildren have never
done that. Maybe now I will suggest they do. This young man wanted
to know all about my family being sent to the relocation camps during
World War II. I guess they had studied it in his history class.
It was a nice experience to sit and talk with him, and he was a
very good listener."
75-year-old Japanese American woman, interviewed by 9th grade
"My great grandfather died about a month after I interviewed
him. If I hadn't done this project, I would never have known much
of anything about his life, or my family's history. In fact, most
of my relatives didn't know the things that came out from this interview.
No one ever spoke very much to him; he always just sat, kind of
watching us at family gatherings. But, in turned out he had lots
to say. Hearing about his experiences in World War I and the Depression,
rather than from a text book, made a world of difference for me.
Getting to know him as a person was something I just can't believe
I almost missed out on."
9th grade History student