Mining the Riches of History
• Give students a working definition of oral history. Explain that it is a collection of memories and experiences told through songs or recordings, interviews, diaries, or letters. These memories or personal histories shed light on the times in which the teller lived.
• Find a jumping off point. Is there a special anniversary or event for your town or school community that you could expand upon with an oral history project? Find out when your school (or other local or regional landmark) first opened its doors. Think about investigating “Then and Now” with your students to contribute to the celebration.
• Examine your curriculum. Lower elementary grades often have a focus on community which lends itself to a project of this kind. Younger students can simply interview a family member about one aspect of their life as a child—“school,” for example, or “toys” in order to draw conclusions about “then and now.”
Older students might interview business owners to learn how the business community has changed. Other aspects of history in your state or region can be explored through field trips, email correspondence, or video chat. Think about topics such as transportation, work, leisure/entertainment, agriculture and industry.
Perhaps as a teacher of middle or high school students you examine themes throughout history—war, poverty, civil rights, immigration-- and link these to literature. Reading a common text and conducting interviews or making use of other primary sources such as recordings or letters with individuals who can truly speak to these themes will enhance your students’ understanding of them.