Oral history is one of the oldest forms of preserving historical information. National History Day projects can be enhanced if students arrange and carry out interviews with primary or secondary sources. Asking your students to conduct at least one interview will teach them several important skills.
· They will improve their speaking and listening skills, especially since they will most often be interviewing adults.
· They will need to organize and prepare for the interview.
· They will learn to be fluid and flexible with their interview.
· They will learn to differentiate between an oral history interview and an interview with an expert.
If possible, invite a guest to class for this lesson. You might wish to invite someone who can speak as a primary source about an event, such as a Vietnam War veteran or someone who was involved in the Civil Rights Movement. Alternatively, you might invite an expert to speak with your class. This gives you the opportunity to customize this class to fit your current classroom topic. Be sure your guest understands that the purpose of their visit is so you can demonstrate the interview process for your class. They will be sharing their experience/ knowledge, but it will be framed in an interview format. If you are not able to have a guest join with you, use an interview from the internet to demonstrate an oral history or expert interview. A good primary source oral history interview can be found on youtube if you search “Lauretta Jackson Oral History 1” A link can be found here. The video is quite long, so you will only need to show a portion so students understand the art of the interview.
Before you begin your interview (or show the video), ask students what they think the difference is between an oral history and an expert interview. (An oral history is an interview with a primary source, while an expert interview is an interview with a secondary source). Ask students which they think is more important in NHD research. This is a trick question….both are important.
Once students understand the difference between the two, introduce your guest and explain that you will be demonstrating an oral history or expert interview. Show the students how you have prepared ahead of time by completing the “Just the Facts”) worksheet and writing interview questions (part of the “Interview 101” packet). Then, conduct a short interview with your guest about his/her area of expertise. Allow your students to ask some questions, too, pointing out that these are follow-up questions because something the interviewee said led them to the question.
Give students a copy of the “Interview 101” packet. If you prefer, you can offer this information digitally to save on paper, and only print the last three pages, which are activities. Let them use some time to research who they might find to interview. Challenge them to think of primary sources they could interview if that is realistic. Point out that if the subject is older than World War II, they will have a difficulty finding a primary source to interview. Have them look for museums or organizations dedicated to their subject, book authors, and historical societies. This step might be frustrating for some students, and they may require some help locating interview subjects. Beyond helping with this step, students should arrange and conduct the interviews on their own.
Each student (or group, if you want to allow group interviews) should arrange and conduct at least one interview about their topic. Give them several weeks to complete this, but they should be working on the arrangements this week. If they cannot find someone to interview locally, or cannot get to an interview, allow them to set up a phone interview, or conduct the interview via email or regular mail. Set a realistic date by which they must turn in a transcript or notes from the interview.