Activity: Family Stories and Oral Histories

This activity supports Common Core in English Language Arts — CCR Anchor Standards for Speaking and Listening – CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.SL.1 and CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.SL.3. Adapted from the Wisconsin Historical Society lesson plans Our Families’ Stories in Wisconsin, by Dr. Ava McCall and Thelma Ristow and Oral Interview Training for the Hmong Oral History Project, by Paul Aleckson.

Grade level: Appropriate for grades 4-12 with teacher modifications.

Duration: Two or more class periods.


In this exercise, students will listen to recorded oral history interviews and then conduct their own oral history interview with a family member or elder.

1)   First, have students listen to several examples of oral histories. Ask them to consider the differences between listening to the personal experiences of an individual versus an expert voice speaking in an argumentative or evaluative framework. Collections of oral histories available through Recollection Wisconsin include:

2)   Next, have students conduct their own oral history interviews with a family member, community elder, or other willing participant. Or, you may choose to bring in a local expert for students to interview as a group. Before meeting with the interview subject(s), students should brainstorm a list of questions to ask interviewees, and review and discuss good techniques for conducting oral history interviews. For more information, see Principles and Best Practices from the Oral History Association and the Tell Me Your Stories curriculum.

3)   If the interviewee grants permission, you may choose to share the students’ recorded interviews publicly through the Recollection Wisconsin Shared Collection.