Lesson Plan

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.
Project Introduction:
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

Time Needed:

  • 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.

About StoryCorps

Title Watch Download
An Intro to StoryCorps (3 min.)
Learn more about StoryCorps in this conversation between StoryCorps Founder Dave Isay and his nephew.

Classic StoryCorps Animations

Title Watch Download
“Eyes on the Stars” (3 min.)
A remembrance of NASA astronaut Ronald E. McNair,
who followed his childhood dreams to become the
second African-American to enter space.
“John & Joe” (4 min.)
Retired New York City firefighter John Vigiano Sr.
remembers his two sons who followed him into service—
and died on September 11, 2001.
“Clean Streets” (3 min.)
Sanitation workers Angelo Bruno and Eddie Nieves
reflect on their years of working together
and what they learned on the job.
“No More Questions” (4 min.)
Timeless wisdom from Kay Wang, a
strong-willed grandmother who shares stories
with her son and granddaughter.
“The Icing on the Cake” (3 min.)
Blanca Alvarez in conversation with her daughter,
Connie, about hardship their family faced and the
lessons learned when they came to the U.S.

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.

  1. Distribute the Make History with StoryCorps handout as an overview of the project for students and as a reference for their recording partners.
  2. 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


  3. Students will need to reach out to their recording partner in advance to plan a date, location, and time for their interview. When contacting their recording partners, students should describe The Great Listen and provide a few sample questions to let their partners prepare for the upcoming interview.
  4. Learn how to download and use the StoryCorps App by practicing in class and use the resources on our App page.
  5. Emphasize the importance of creating a thoughtful interview title, summary, and set of keywords after recording. Review the Using the App & Keywording 101 handout

Interview Practice Activity (In Class)

  1. Watch the videos below. 
    Title Watch Download
    Interview Tips with Steve Inskeep (3 min.)
    Interview tips from NPR host and journalist
    Steve Inskeep, including how to ask open-ended
    questions and to help conversations go further.
    Four Tips for an Effective Interview (5 min.)
    How to ask open-ended questions that help
    you guide your subject through personal
    stories and share in a great conversation.
    Tips for Active Listening (4:30 min.)
    Tips from StoryCorps on how both
    people—interviewer and interviewee—can
    contribute to having a great conversation.


  2. Pair students up randomly and designate one as partner A and the other as partner B.
  3. 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.
  4. 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?)
  5. Practice interviewing! Partner A should start by asking questions of partner B. Switch after 3–5 minutes: partner B asks questions of partner A.
  6. 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!

  1. Distribute the Recipes for Success on Interview Day handout as a take-home resource for students.
  2. Assign students to conduct their interview over Thanksgiving weekend. Remind them to make a plan with their recording partner in advance.
  3. A complete interview requires a title, summary, and keywords.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. There are lots of ways to participate in this project. If a student does not have access a smartphone or does not have permission to use the app, they can still complete the project using any digital recorder, or they can conduct an unrecorded interview. They should still use the worksheets and, to complete the assignment, 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?

Follow-up Activities

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

Title Link
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

Title Watch Download
The Great Thanksgiving Listen from StoryCorps & Google (1 min.)
An introduction to The Great Listen,
created in partnership with Google
in 2015, featuring David Hyde Pierce.
Dave Isay’s 2016 TED Talk (8 min.)
Get inspired when our founder shares what
happened when StoryCorps invited students
to record during the inaugural Great Thanksgiving Listen.
Dave Isay’s 2015 TED Talk (22 min.)
The TED Talk that sparked a movement.
Hear our founder’s vision to take StoryCorps
global and about the launch of the app.
Podcast 452: The Great First Listen (21 mins.)
A selection of stories, plus a mystery, as recorded
and shared by people across the country during
The Inaugural Great Thanksgiving Listen.

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Each week, the StoryCorps podcast shares unscripted conversations, revealing wisdom, courage, and poetry in the words of people you might not notice walking down the street.