Storytelling and the gift of listening are critical skills for young people. This project offers the opportunity to realize a simple idea: young people can honor someone in their lives with an interview—a grandparent, a sibling, a mentor, or a friend—sit across from them for 40 minutes, ask important questions, and listen carefully to their answers.
For this project, students will learn about the importance of storytelling, use the StoryCorps App to record an interview with an elder in their family or community, and have the option to add their interview to the StoryCorps Archive in the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress.
This lesson plan provides materials to introduce students to StoryCorps and oral histories, prepares them to ask great questions and conduct their own interviews, and provides ideas for follow-up after the holiday weekend.
The Great Thanksgiving Listen is a technology-based assignment originally developed for high school students studying American history, social studies, English, language arts, journalism, drama, ESL, media and technology. It has also been applied successfully as a community-building opportunity in classrooms, OST (out-of-school time) environments, community centers, living rooms, and kitchens across the country.
We invite you to adapt the resources below in whatever way best suits your needs. We recommend introducing the project at least two weeks prior to Thanksgiving to provide time for students to plan their interviews and practice using the StoryCorps App.
- Learn about StoryCorps and the interview concept
- Use questions to develop a story and express a shared experience
- Create a primary source using technology (and have the option to enter it into the historical record)
- Write archive-quality titles, summaries, and keywords
Standards: Applicable Common Core Standards
Target Grade level: 9–12
- 2–5 hours in class. Most parts of the lesson can be structured for in-class or at-home assignments.
- 1–3 hours out of classroom. Students will conduct their interviews (5–40 minutes) at home or in a location convenient for the student and their partner.
PART I: About StoryCorps/Why Do Stories Matter?
Introduce students to StoryCorps and The Great Thanksgiving Listen using a selection of the following videos, animations, podcasts, and the StoryCorps mission statement.
Classic StoryCorps Animations
StoryCorps Mission Statement
Share the StoryCorps mission statement and ask students to identify words or phrases that stand out to them, or which they think are most important.
StoryCorps’ mission is to preserve and share humanity’s stories in order to build connections between people and create a more just and compassionate world.
We do this to remind one another of our shared humanity, to strengthen and build the connections between people, to teach the value of listening, and to weave into the fabric of our culture the understanding that everyone’s story matters. At the same time, we are creating an invaluable archive for future generations.
PART II: Great Interviews/Great Questions
Prepare students to conduct great interviews by selecting and asking “Great Questions,” identifying an interview partner, downloading the StoryCorps App, and creating thoughtful keywords and titles for future historians and researchers.
- Distribute the Make History with StoryCorps handout as an overview of the project for students and as a reference for their recording partners.
- Prepare students for their interviews by choosing a recording partner, making a plan for interview day, and identifying great questions to ask. We have three different tools to support this:
- Great Questions Generator in the app
Interview Practice Activity (In Class)
- Watch the videos below.
Title Watch Download
- Pair students up randomly and designate one as partner A and the other as partner B.
- Using the Great Questions handout or Great Questions Generator in the app, instruct each student to select 3–4 questions to ask their interview partner.
- Remind students to use the skills they learned in the videos and to ask follow-up questions (e.g. Can you tell me more about that? Why do you think that happened? What do you mean by that?)
- Practice interviewing! Partner A should start by asking questions of partner B. Switch after 3–5 minutes: partner B asks questions of partner A.
- Debrief: Facilitate a short discussion using the following prompts:
- What is one thing your partner did during the interview that was effective?
- What challenges or surprises did you encounter during your interview, and how did you work to address them?
- What is the significance of what you talked about during your interview?
- What is one thing from this practice interview that you want to remember for when you conduct your interview over Thanksgiving?
PART III: Conduct an Interview
Now that students know how to be great interviewers and listeners, use the app, and write thoughtful titles and keywords, they are ready to record!
- Distribute the Recipes for Success on Interview Day handout as a take-home resource for students.
- Assign students to conduct their interview over Thanksgiving weekend. Remind them to make a plan with their recording partner in advance.
- A complete interview requires a title, summary, and keywords.
- Following the interview, students should add keywords, an updated title, and an extended summary to their interview on the app or by logging into their StoryCorps Archive account from a desktop computer.
- Students should discuss privacy preferences with their recording partner for their interview before uploading it to the StoryCorps Archive.
- Students should familiarize themselves with the three settings available to them and their partner, which can be found on the Recipes for Success on Interview Day handout as a take-home resource for students.
- Students who publish their interviews should email you the link to the interview.
- Students who do not publish their interview should still turn in a proposed title, summary, and keywords for their interview, as well as the length of time of their interview.
PART IV: Closing/Debrief
Facilitate a discussion using the following questions:
- How did your partner react to the interview experience?
- How did you feel as an interviewer? What challenges or surprises did you encounter, and how did you work to address them?
- Did you have the chance to go “off script” and ask a follow-up question? If so, what question did you ask, and how did that change your interview?
- What question evoked a particularly memorable response?
- What did you learn that changed the way you previously thought about an event, person, or your recording partner?
- What makes an interview different from a text as a historical reference?
- What components contribute to differing perspectives of history?
- What could future historians learn about 2017 from listening to your interview?
- What would you do differently if you were to conduct another interview?
- Who else in your life would you like to interview?
- What questions would you like to be asked in an interview?
Listen to your interview again.
Share your interviews with us @StoryCorps #TheGreatListen.
Write a reflection paper, a follow-up essay, or a poem inspired by your interview.
Transcribe a part of your interview, and/or use quotes from your interview to support another project or research paper.
Create a video inspired by a TED Talk with Adobe Spark Video based on the process of preparing for and conducting an interview and present it to the class.
Edit your interview using free editing software (such as Audacity) to create a two-minute excerpt.
Produce a podcast using excerpts from different interviews.
Create a visual storyboard of the process of preparing for and conducting the interview, plus what was learned, and present it to the class.
Draw or paint a portrait of your partner inspired by your interview with them.
Host a classroom listening party.
Hold an assembly to highlight favorite stories from your class.
Coordinate with your school or local library to start an oral history project.
Use the app to investigate a social issue in your community (make a list of “sources” you’d like to interview).
Printable Teacher Toolkit & Materials
|The Great Listen Teacher Toolkit 2017 (all materials in PDF)||Download Printable PDF|
|Printable Classroom Posters (set of five)||Download Printable PDFs||Make History with StoryCorps Handout||Download Printable PDF|
|Using the App & Keywording 101 Handout||Download Printable PDF|
|Recipes for Success on Interview Day Handout||Download Printable PDF|
|The Great Listen – Great Questions List||Download Printable PDF|
|Interview Planning Worksheet||Download Printable PDF|
|Sample Permission Slip||Download Printable PDF|
Videos About The Great Thanksgiving Listen