Back to SRL Storymaker Resource Library

Lesson | 2-4 weeks

Recording Oral History


Oral history2

Oral history is a powerful way of collecting detailed information from a living person about a specific time, place, event, or experience.

Oral history is rooted in giving voice to people who often aren’t involved in writing history.

Oral history relies on memory and spoken word.

We all have stories to tell. Oral history listens to these stories, organizes and gives order to the memories so that we can preserve important stories.

Your assignment: Explore your own oral histories to learn about a specific time period in your community or topic in American history. Identify a time period or topic, select a person to interview, capture and collect the oral history by producing an audio or video recording.

As an oral historian, you will research, develop interview questions, conduct the interview, analyze the interview and edit into a compelling story.

This resource supports “The U.S. and the Holocaust” series, a production by Ken Burns, Lynn Novick and Sarah Botstein, and WETA.

PART I: Introduce Oral History + Discussion Questions

Oral History projects rely on memory and spoken word. After an interviewer records the stories directly from the interviewee, the interviewer (which will be YOU), analyzes and reflects upon how to share the story in an accurate historical context.

QUESTIONS TO EXPLORE. These can be answered through discussion, quick writing responses or longer paragraph responses,

  • Who writes history?
  • What is oral history? How does it add to history?
  • Beyond textbooks and the internet, what are some of the ways we know what happened in the past (i.e. journals, objects, letters, photos)?
  • How can oral histories help us to understand the past?
  • Why is it important to understand people’s stories?
  • How does recalling experiences and events become history?

Oral history gives life to the facts.

Example: In 1933, unemployment had risen from 8 to 15 million and the gross national product had decreased from $103.8 billion to $55.7 billion.

This is an oral history account that gives face to that fact: “I remember it was awful hard times, and it was hard to get a hold of enough to buy a sack of flour and we made our own breads, cooked our vegetables, bottled our fruits, raised our gardens. We did most of our own cooking and pastry, pies, whatever. Did it all ourselves; we hardly ever bought anything.” --Marvell Hunt, recalling life at 19 years old during the Depression in Sevier County, Utah. Source: Family Gallery Guide for “Our Lives, Our Stories: America’s Greatest Generation,” NEH on the Road, a program of Mid-America Arts Alliance.

PART II: Select an issue, event, or topic to explore in your community or family.

Do initial background research.


Based on your topic, brainstorm and make a list of possible people you could interview. Narrow down your list and select one person.

PRO TIP FOR TEACHERS: create a list of possible people in the community who might be willing to be interviewed. As Ken Burns once said, “there are no ordinary lives.


You’ll want to talk with the subject before you record. Ask them about their story, write down their answers. Use this conversation to decide the beginning and ending of their story and the key moments that will help it come alive. This will help you write your questions for the recorded interview.


Come up with:

  • 3-4 informational questions (i.e. such as full name, age, date of birth, occupation, where they lived)
  • 4-5 questions based on significant events of the time period
  • 3-4 questions regarding what their personal and family life was like as they were growing up
  • Ask for letters, photographs, or objects that relate to the time period. Ask why they are important (could make great b-roll footage and would be awesome to see these objects in relation to the stories being told)


  • When coming up with questions, start with “How did…”, “Why did…”, or “What did…” “Describe…”, “Tell me…,” “Explain…”
  • Practice, practice, practice: do a mock interview with a classmate before the actual interview.
  • Checklist of what to bring to interview: recording equipment, note pad + pen (to take notes), interview questions.
  • During the course of the interview, follow-up and other unplanned questions will surface…that’s ok! Ask them.
  • PRO TIP: check out The Art the the Interview slides

PART IV: Interview

Conduct the interview!



  • What do you remember from your conversation?
  • What were the most interesting things you learned?
  • What was surprising?
  • What do the stories of the interviewee tell us about that time period?
  • Does anything conflict with what you know or what you’ve learned about in school? Where can you go to find more information?
  • What kinds of questions provided the most information?
  • Are there more questions you need to go back for or points you need your interviewee to clarify?



Video profile: a profile is a story focusing primarily on one person. You want your profile to help the audience understand and see that person clearly. It could have voiceover (VO), b-roll, pictures, nats (natural sound), interviews of family members or peers of that one person.

Here’s more advice on using your phone to film broll. Use b-roll as the VISUAL REPRESENTATION of the story. If you are interviewing someone, listen closely, make notes, and then record video of the actions, objects, and places described during the interview. Especially for this project, strong b-roll will help communicate the story of the person you choose.

Audio feature story: This might be a two-way interview, a reported piece with multiple interviews and audio scenes. Sometimes people are more comfortable sharing difficult experiences in an audio format rather than appearing on camera.

Print story: This should be a written piece of journalism. It could be a report, a feature article, or an explainer.


Once you have all your video or audio clips, edit to a 2-3 minute piece, upload it to a platform of your choice and tag us!

FaceBook StudentReportingLabs

Youtube StudentReportingLabs

Instagram @studentreportinglabs

TikTok @reportinglabs

Twitter @reportinglabs


Media refers to all electronic or digital means and print or artistic visuals used to transmit messages.

Source: NAMLE


A group of people who live in the same area (such as a city, town, or neighborhood). It can also be a group of people who have the same interests, religion, race, etc.

Source: Merriam Webster


A simplified and standardized conception or image invested with special meaning and held in common by members of a group; a set form or convention



The condition of having or being composed of differing elements. Especially in the context of the inclusion of people of different races, cultures, etc. in a group or organization

Source: Merriam Webster


The act or practice of including and accommodating people who have historically been excluded (as because of their race, gender, sexuality, or ability)

Source: Merriam Webster


Immediate, current information and events are newsworthy because they have just recently occurred. It’s news because it’s “new.”


Awareness of the elements of environment through physical sensation or intuitive cognition. A capacity for comprehension and understanding.

Source: Merriam Webster

Human Interest

People are interested in other people. Everyone has something to celebrate and something to complain about. We like unusual stories of people who accomplish amazing feats or handle a life crisis because we can identify with them.


People are attracted to information that helps them make good decisions. If you like music, you find musician interviews relevant. If you’re looking for a job, the business news is relevant. We need to depend on relevant information that helps us make decisions.


The people who read, watch and consume news. Often, journalists think about audience and newsworthiness in similar ways. How will the news story serve their local or national audience? Who am I writing the story for and why?


A conversation between two or more people where the purpose is to gather information and facts. The interviewer asks questions and the interviewee provides information based on their knowledge about a specific topic or issue.


A digital audio or video file or recording, usually part of a themed series.

Podcast Segment

An audio story within a podcast episode


An account of past or current events. In journalism, stories are presented with a combination of people, facts, and typically includes a beginning, middle and end.


A person or other physical being in a narrative. Stories are made up of different characters who provide information and help shape the narrative with their knowledge, experience and perspective.


The process of changing and updating your work based on feedback with the goal of making it stronger. To successfully revise your story, listen to other perspectives, be open to reconsidering parts of your story and remember not to take feedback personally - it's about the story, not about you.


A document with transcribed (written-out) soundbites and voiceover narration. A VIDEO script is a two-column document with the audio (soundbites and voice over) in the right-hand column and a description of what the audience sees (visuals) in the left-hand column.


The term “empathy” is used to describe a wide range of experiences. A generally definition is the ability to sense other people’s emotions, coupled with the ability to imagine what someone else might be thinking or feeling. In media-making, creators can have empathy for their subjects and the audience can empathize with the characters.

Short documentary

Narration and/or voiceover (VO), scene reconstructions, archival footage, nats (natural sound), b-roll, images, research, lengthy interviews, soundbites.


The primary video and audio that drives your story from beginning to end.

Video Portrait

A short video clip that captures the interview subject in their natural state. It involves a person looking into the lens for a few seconds. It’s like a still photo but video!


Something that is known or proved to be true.


Something that is accepted as true or as certain to happen, without proof.


An investigation into and study of sources in order to establish facts and reach new conclusions.


A source is an individual, company, document or more that can provide information to fuel a new story. In order for a story to be considered verified and to maintain a reputation as a news outlet, it is important to have a credible source.


A word-for-word document of what was said in a conversation or interview


The main person or character in a story. There can be multiple subjects in a story. The subject can also be the main theme of your story.


A detailed analysis and assessment of something.


An attempt to grab the reader or viewer’s attention with interesting information that will keep them reading or watching.


After someone reviews your work, it is good practice to receive feedback, or an evaluation of your work based on certain standards. Feedback from multiple perspectives is an important part of the process. Masterpieces are rarely created in isolation.


The process of verifying the accuracy of a piece of information.


A desire to learn and know about something or anything.


The supplemental footage used to visually support your A-ROLL.

Search: broll.

Writing - Research to Build and Present Knowledge

Participation and Deliberation

Civics teaches the principles—such as adherence to the social contract, consent of the governed, limited government, legitimate authority, federalism, and separation of powers—that are meant to guide official institutions such as legislatures, courts, and government agencies. (NCSS D2.Civ.7.9-12 - D2.Civ.10.9-12)


Historical understanding requires recognizing this multiplicity of points of view in the past, which makes it important to seek out a range of sources on any historical question rather than simply use those that are easiest to find. It also requires recognizing that perspectives change over time, so that historical understanding requires developing a sense of empathy with people in the past whose perspectives might be very different from those of today. (NCSS D2.His.4.9-12 - D2.His.8.9-12)

Speaking and Listening - Presentation of Knowledge and Ideas

Demonstrate technical support related to media production (e.g., broadcast, video, web, mobile).

Reading - Range of Reading and Level of Text Complexity

Language - Vocabulary Acquisition and Use

Empowered Learner

Students leverage technology to take an active role in choosing, achieving, and demonstrating competency in their learning goals, informed by the learning sciences. (ISTE)

Digital Citizenship

Students recognize the rights, responsibilities and opportunities of living, learning and working in an interconnected digital world, and they act and model in ways that are safe, legal and ethical. (ISTE)

Historical Sources and Evidence

Historical inquiry is based on materials left from the past that can be studied and analyzed. (NCSS D2.His.9.9-12 - D2.His.13.9-12)

Demonstrate writing processes used in journalism and broadcasting media.

Demonstrate the use of basic tools and equipment used in audio, video and film production.

Analyze the interdependence of the technical and artistic elements of various careers within the Arts, A/V Technology & Communications Career Cluster

Writing - Text Types and Purposes

Writing - Range of Writing

Language - Conventions of Standard English

Creative Communicator

Students communicate clearly and express themselves creatively for a variety of purposes using the platforms, tools, styles, formats and digital media appropriate to their goals. (ISTE)

Civic and Political Institutions

In order to act responsibly and effectively, citizens must understand the important institutions of their society and the principles that these institutions are intended to reflect. That requires mastery of a body of knowledge about law, politics, and government. (NCSS D2.Civ.1.9-12 - D2.Civ.6.9-12)

Gathering and Evaluating Sources

Whether students are constructing opinions, explanation, or arguments, they will gather information from a variety of sources and evaluate the relevance of that information. (NCSS D3.1.9-12 - D3.2.9-12)

Plan and deliver a media production (e.g., broadcast, video, web, mobile).

Demonstrate technical support skills for audio, video and film productions.

Reading - Integration of Knowledge and Ideas

Writing - Production and Distribution of Writing

Speaking and Listening - Comprehension and Collaboration

Language - Knowledge of Language




Stereotypes and Misconceptions

Race and Justice

Video Production




Digital Literacy/Citizenship




Mental Health

Active Prompts









Camera or Mobile Phone


Mobile Phone



Light Kit

Estimated Time

2-4 weeks