Writing an Oral History | Homeschooling Activities

Writing an Oral History

This month is my mother’s 80th birthday, and I am so excited about the gift I have for her. Several years ago, I interviewed her regarding her childhood: what she did, where she went, what family life was like. What I got was a piece of history unlike any other – I not only learned a lot about the time period we talked about (the home front during World War II), but I found out so much about my grandparents, my uncle,  my aunts, and of course, my mom. And now for this birthday, I have the story ready to give not only to her, but also to my brothers and sisters.

The story I wrote is an oral history – a history told by one person and written down by another. These kinds of stories are invaluable, and kids can write them too.

Where to Start?

To begin, have your child find a person to interview. Look for someone at least two generations beyond his own, such as an elderly neighbor, a grandparent or great-grandparent, a pastor, etc. Have him ask that person if they would do an interview. You child might even ask if he could use a tape recorder during the interview so he doesn’t miss anything.

What Questions to Ask

Next, work with your child on coming up with some good questions. You’ll need basic questions such as:

  • What is your full name?
  • Where were you born?
  • Where did you grow up?
  • How many brothers and sisters did you have? Who was the oldest/youngest?
  • What were your mom and dad’s names?
  • Where were they from?

Then go from there. Your child can also include questions relating to the historical events the interviewee has lived through. Have the list ready, but don’t worry about following it exactly. When the interviewee begins talking, your child will find the conversation probably covers a lot of different topics he never considered. Be sure to have him take lots of notes as he does the interview.

Writing the Oral History

Come home, and begin writing! The notes he took probably don’t follow a particular sequence; it’s your child’s job as the writer to put everything in a logical order. Your child might just write about a certain time period, like a special holiday or a family vacation. Or he might write about his interviewee’s involvement in a war effort, a peace rally, or a civil rights movement.

Most likely, your child will have more information than he needs, but that’s okay. He’ll be able to write another story!

Photo by sean dreilinger

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