Stories from the Heart – Oral History Project

Teresa Cheung - David Reese Elementary School

Grade Level: 4th Grade
Subject Area: Social Science History, English Language Arts, and English Language Development

Overview: Using the National Public Radio (NPR) StoryCorps model for gathering oral histories, students will conduct and record interviews with family or community members. In the process, they will learn to ask open-ended questions, reflect on the stories and memories of their interviewees, compare and contrast the past to the present – and along the way, become oral historians.


  • Students will construct open-ended questions
  • Students will learn interviewing skills
  • Students will make comparisons between the past and the present
  • Students will synthesize their interviews into a graphic representation


Oral History Introduction:

  • To introduce your students to the concept of an oral history and primary sources, play several samples from NPR’s StoryCorps. Emphasize how important it is to document and preserve the voices of those who lived through times and in locations that may be very different from the life styles and communities of your students.
  • Ask student to think of a family member or community member they would like to interview. The interviews can be done either at school or home, but will need to be recorded as an audio file, just like the NPR samples. Model the difference between a “closed “ vs. an “open-ended” question.
  • Provide students with a template for planning their interview questions
  • Schedule, record, and share (burn to CDs, upload to a blog, etc) the interviews!

Writing Activity:

  • Students will use a Venn Diagram to compare the past and present

Recording Tips:

  • We used the free audio program Audacity. For the interviews recorded at school. We set up a laptop with a plugin microphone. For the interviews done off-campus, students borrowed my voice recorder. See the resources section below for instructions on recording to and importing audio into Audacity.
  • Have the students practice recording on Audacity prior to the interview. Being able to watch their own sound waves tends to visually cue students when they need to be more expressive and/or adjust the volume, pitch, or pace. Once they realize how easy it is to edit any mistakes, repeats, sneezes, etc., they will be much more comfortable about the recording process.


  • laptop or desktop computer
  • microphone
  • voice recorder (optional)
  • Venn diagram graphic organizer handout or online version

Lesson Resources: (These will all be links)

Student Products:

Extension Activities: Scan students’ graphic representations of their interviewees’ stories and create a VoiceThread.



  • Communicate and collaborate
  • Think critically, solve problems, and make decisions
  • Use technology effectively and productively

Common Core Standards:

  • English Language Arts:
    • Text Types and Purposes #3
    • Production and Distribution of Writing # 6
    • Integration of Knowledge and Ideas #7

California Content Standards:

  • English Language Arts:1.0 Written and Oral English Language Conventions:Students write and speak with a command of standard English conventions appropriate to this grade level.
  • English Language Development: Listening Speaking beginning and intermediate; Writing beginning and intermediate; Reading beginning and intermediate.