Bringing the Past to the Present – Writing Oral Histories

For about three years, we visited an “adopted” grandmother in a nursing home. We didn’t know her before we started visiting; we just asked the activities director if there was someone that we could meet with once a week, someone without many family members or friends already coming to call. In the course of our visits, we started asking our new friend about her childhood. Her answers astounded my children.

She grew up in rural South Carolina in the 1900’s. Her family warmed their house with a wood stove, and she rode to a one-room schoolhouse in a wagon. After school, she didn’t have much time to play; she and her siblings had to work in the garden every afternoon. They grew all of their own food, even their own sugar cane, and her mother sewed all of their clothes. Her only toys were a doll and a wagon her brother had made.

What a great lesson for my children! As they were learning compassion and kindness in visiting our friend, they were also learning her story, and in the process, American history as well.

When someone speaks about the events of their past in such as way, it’s called an oral history. Oral histories are invaluable, as often the speaker doesn’t write the stories down, and then sadly, with their passing, the story is lost. An oral history project saves those stories by putting them in print, and it’s an easy project for students to do.

First, have the students ask any older adults they know if they would like to be interviewed. They might ask a grandparent, neighbor, etc. Then, together, compile a list of questions for your child to ask. You’ll find that as the person answers the questions, you’ll think of even more follow-up questions. Your child can take notes as the speaker talks, or you can take along a small tape recorder or video camera.

Finally, have your student write out the story. Share it with the older adult as well. With permission, you can use a recent photo of the person. You might even ask if they have an older photo from their own childhood that you could include.

You can also find websites to help you with this project:

  • The History Channel:

  • Scholastic:

  • YouthSource:

Check them out, find an “interviewee,” and get started saving those stories!

Homeschooling Reading Curriculum by

Story Time – Stories for Kids

Guest Blogger: Samantha Bell

Picture By: papertygre

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