It's a Storybook Life!

Grade Levels: 3 - 5


Students use a web resource to explore oral histories as part of the broad tradition of storytelling. Then they conduct and write up an oral history interview.


To practice attentive listening and note-taking in order to conduct an interview.


  • Notebook and pencils (for note-taking)
  • Tape recorder (optional)


  1. You might wish to prepare for this activity by going online to the Library of Congress's Voices from the Thirties: Life Histories from the Federal Writers' Project. Click on "Introduction" for information on the WPA and the Great Depression. You might wish to share some of this background with students.

  2. Tell students that they are going to use the World Wide Web to read stories told by real people about their lives in the 1930s. Remind them that storytelling is an oral tradition and that many of the folktales in "The Stories We Tell" were told by storytellers long before they were written down. Then go online with the students to the Federal Writers' Project: Interview Excerpts website and click on "Making Do: Women and Work." Click on "Mrs. Elizabeth Miller" for a delightful tale about having to bring in a hog before it freezes. There is also an audio component to all the interview excerpts on this site.

  3. Work with students or have them browse independently through some other excerpts by clicking on "Choose a Different Excerpt" or "Choose a Different Topic." They might enjoy the excerpts under the topic "All in a Day's Work: Industrial Lore."

  4. Before students begin working on their oral history interviews, you might wish to explore longer interviews on some of the topics raised in the excerpts, such as farming, quilting, and factories, or on other topics of interest. To do this, go to the American Life Histories page. Click on "Search," enter a subject query, and click on the "Search" button for a list of interviews on the topic. Click in turn on any that interest your students.

  5. Review the online excerpts with students and discuss good interviewing techniques and the elements of an engaging personal story.

  6. Give students the Tips for Conducting an Interview worksheet.

  7. Have students bring home the form and interview a parent or an older family member or friend about interesting work, school, travel, or other life experiences. Students with access to tape recorders may wish to tape the interview.

  8. Allow time in class for students to write up their oral history interviews and then share them with one another.


Students might enjoy clicking on American Life Histories to begin a search for interviews from their own or another state. Once on the site, click on "Select" to view a U. S. map that highlights states with available interviews. Students can click on the state of their choice and then on "List" to see the choices from the selected state. They may click in turn on the interviews they wish to read.

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