Oral History

Connecting with History
Ongoing Activity
Grades 6–12
History, Journalism
Research, Writing, General


Students will:

  • Learn the value and use of oral history.
  • Learn how to write interview questions.
  • Conduct an interview (or interviews).
  • Learn about and make a deeper connection with a family member or member of her/his community.


In “The Great Mountains,” the mysterious Gitano arrives at the Tiflin Ranch and in “The Leader of the People,” Jody’s grandfather comes for a visit. In both of these stories, Jody is excited to hear the stories the men have to tell. In the case of Gitano, Jody learns very little. From his grandfather, however, Jody learns about “westering,” Indians, leadership, and more.

In this activity, students will learn a bit of someone else’s life story through interviewing a family member, or close friend of the family. Teachers can choose to focus students on a similar topic (e.g. immigration, The Great Depression, etc.), or to allow students to decide what kind of history they will be collecting. If possible, encourage students to video or audio record their interview(s).

Materials Needed/Preparation

Estimated Time

  • 2 periods for preparation/introduction
  • 1-2 weeks for interviews to be done



  • What is oral history?
  • ~Recording an interview with someone who tells the story of an event he/she has experienced. Recording folk tales, legends, etc. that have been passed down through the generations
  • Value and purposes of oral history
  • ~Oral history captures the personal story and perspective of historical events.
  • Listen to examples.
  • Handouts
  • ~Project description/requirements
  • ~Checklists with due date

Guided Practice

  • Assign students a partner. As partners, have students:
  • ~Develop a practice topic.
  • ~Write practice questions for this topic.  
  • ~Practice interviewing with partners in class


  • Submit a list of desired topics; one will be approved by the teacher.
  • Submit a list of interview questions for review by the teacher.
  • Schedule interview(s).
  • Conduct interview(s).
  • Submit written transcript(s)/notes of interview(s).
  • Submit recording of interview(s). (Optional)

Post Activity/Takeaways/Follow-up

Post Activity

  • Have students give an oral report on what they learned from their interview.
  • ~If applicable, have students focus on how their interview relates to themes in The Red Pony.


  • Students should understand that history is not found only in textbooks.
  • Students can gain a stronger connection to the themes found in The Red Pony and how those themes connect to their own lives.


  • If possible, discuss how two different student interviews create different perspectives on the same historical period or event.
  • Compare what students have learned/heard with what they have read about a period or event in history.
  • Discuss the experience of interviewing a person.
  • Compare how students felt interviewing with how Jody felt discussing events with his grandfather and Gitano.


  • Evaluate student oral or written reports.
  • ~When assessing student work, take into consideration individual student progress in oral and written presentations.
  • As this is a multi-stage activity, student progress should be monitored.
  • ~Students should be keeping on schedule.
  • ~Student questions should be well thought out and thorough.

Common Core State Standards Met

  • Writing Standards 6-12
  • ~Text Types and Purposes: 2, 3
  • ~Production and Distribution of Writing: 4, 5
  • ~Research to Build and Present Knowledge: 7, 8, 9
  • Writing Standards for Literacy in History/Social Studies 6-12
  • ~Text Types and Purposes: 1
  • ~Production and Distribution of Writing: 4, 5
  • ~Research to Build and Present Knowledge: 7, 8, 9

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