Lesson Plan

Everyone Has a Story: Conducting an Oral History Interview


Students will work cooperatively to decide on a topic and investigate it through oral history interviews. Students will understand that everyone has a story.


1. Students will work together to choose one topic to investigate. (This could be one of the subject categories from the website or one that the class chooses that is more specific to your community, centering on a particular significant event, historic building, or tradition.)

2. Students will describe three good questioning and oral history interview techniques.


Oral histories are a good tool for finding out different perspectives, interpretations, and/or experiences of historical events. They can help increase our understanding today of the complexities of history.


recorders, clipboards, pen/pencil, paper


1. Have students read at least one transcript from the Oral History Interviews on Great Sand Dunes' web site. As they read, students will make a list of the types of questions that were asked.

2. Play a game of "20 Questions" with the class, on any topic you would like, having students write their questions on the board to create a list as the game progresses.

3. Based on the "20 Questions" game and what they read in the oral history transcript, hold a discussion on what the students think were good questions for finding out information and what were less effective. The trend of starting with general, open-ended questions and working towards more specific questions should be discussed.

4. As a class, brainstorm a list of the characteristics of good questions and interview techniques. Have students vote on the top three good questioning techniques. Incorporate these into a rubric for assessing the final projects.

5. If these ideas have not been brought up in the student-generated list, emphasize the importance of a) thinking before an interview about what you'd like to learn and writing down questions beforehand, and b) listening more than talking during the interview.

6. As a class, choose a topic to investigate. This could be one of the subject categories from Great Sand Dunes' Oral History Interviews or it could be something more specific to your community, such as an historic event, building, or tradition.

7. After the topic has been selected, decide who would be an appropriate audience to interview (i.e., family, residents of a nursing home, other students, etc.).

8. Divide the students into pairs or small groups to develop questions and conduct interviews together.

9. Help students set up the interviews, choosing an appropriate location and putting a time limit on the interview, say half an hour.

10. Each group will prepare an oral presentation based on what they learned about the topic the class was investigating. Students will play a portion of their taped interview and share with the class which of the questions they asked got the most interesting answers.


After the student groups give their oral presentations, the class will grade each group's questions and interview techniques using the rubric students generated in step 4. Participation in discussions and completion of the interview and oral presentation will help assess depth of understanding.


A) As part of their oral reports, student groups will create a collage or drawing that represents what they learned in their interview. As each team reports, their drawing will be added to a "quilt" that the class constructs. After all of the oral presentations, the class will discuss what they thought they knew about the topic before the interviews, what they learned from their own interview, and what they understood about the topic after listening to the whole "quilt" of interviews.

B) If you live in the vicinity of the Great Sand Dunes, choose the Great Sand Dunes as the topic for procedure #6. Students should interview an older relative or friend who has visited Great Sand Dunes in years past. Have students transcribe the interesting part of the interview and contribute the text to Hands on the Land.


interview, perspective, questioning, characteristic, history, complexity, diversity