Engaging Faith: Practical lesson ideas and activities for Catholic Educators

January 3, 2012

Assigning Oral Histories to Your Students

Teens have great resources available to them for unpacking history, especially related to how history impacts lessons within and related to the Church.

For example, related to the new translation of the Roman Missal, consider having students interview older Catholics who lived through a more dramatic change in the translation, from Latin to the vernacular after the Second Vatican Council. They may ask questions like “How were you informed and instructed in the changes?” and “What were some of the reactions of parishioners to the changes?”

With the presidential elections coming up in November, interviewing older friends and family members about previous elections and the ethical issues associated with them may help soon-to-be first-time voters sort through the competing strengths and weaknesses of the various candidates in primaries, caucuses, and the general election. Interviewing veterans from World War II, Korea, Vietnam, or the first Iraq war about the end of those wars can help students make parallels or contrasts with the quiet end of the Iraq war in 2011.

Julia Letts, a former BBC reporter and producer, has facilitated many oral history projects with students. In addition to the value of the information gained from the interviews themselves, she has seen oral history projects create rapport between generations, teach various skills, form friendships, and promote goodwill. Oral history need not be technical but rather involves creating an opportunity for students to speak with people from different generations.

Preparing students for the interviews and using clear recording equipment is important. Depending on the assignment, students can find people to interview themselves, or you can invite the adults to your classroom. In the latter case, a class of thirty might have ten students assigned to each adult; the ten form five pairs who then ask questions about distinct eras of the interviewee’s lives or on different topics.

Students can use the results of these interviews to create dramatic performances, CDs, exhibitions, and websites, and otherwise learn skills about editing audio or video and archiving. Research the copyright implications of these interviews prior to publishing them. (See the “Resources on the Guardian Teacher Network” for additional ideas for projects and tips for using the interviews effectively.

Christine Schmertz Navarro

Leave a Comment

High School eNewsletter
Receive bi-weekly lessons, links, tips and more in our Email Newsletter

Resources Archive