Primary Sources

Great Sand Dunes Oral Histories

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Grade Level:
Upper Elementary: Third Grade through Fifth Grade
Literacy and Language Arts


Human beings have known about, visited, or lived near the Great Sand Dunes for a long, long time. The oldest evidence of humans in the area dates back about 11,000 years, and the most recent visitors may include you and your family. What brought those early people here? What will bring you? People have had an enduring connection with Great Sand Dunes for many generations. Students will read a selection of oral histories and compare/contrast the interviewees' lives with their own experiences. 


Explore The Memory Oasis, a selection of oral history interviews that were conducted with people who lived in the vicinity of Great Sand Dunes in the early 1900's. The interviews were conducted in 2002 and 1999.

The interviews are divided into six main subject categories:

- Body and Health: 

- Shelter and Warmth: 

- Tools and Materials: 

- Transportation: 

- Family and Friends: 

- School Days: 

Most of the interviews are in written transcripts, although for each category there is also an audio version of one transcript. Audio quality varies, according to speaker quality of your computer and the tape quality of the original interview.

In each category, the transcripts have been organized so that the ones that seem most relevant for students are at the top of the list.

1. Either divide students into small working groups or have them complete this assignment individually.

2. Have students choose three of the subject categories to investigate.

3. For each category, the students will read three of the transcripts.

4. For each category, students will make a concept map of how the interviewed people lived and a concept map of their own life and how it is similar to and different from the interviewees.

5. Using the concept map as a guide, students will write an essay comparing and contrasting their own lives with the lives of the people from the oral history interviews.

Reflection Questions

1. In what big ways have people's daily lives changed over time?

2. In what ways do you think our lives today are better or worse, and why?

3. How do you think people's lives 100 years from now will be different than ours are today? In your opinion, what will be better or worse? Why?




Download Sample Oral History Interview: Ruth McKinney

Last updated: August 31, 2015