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Exploring Oral Histories


This strategy provides students with the opportunity to explore a topic from the perspective of family or community members who lived during the time period when particular events occurred through creation of a video or podcast. This strategy is appropriate for use with individuals or groups.

Why use it?

  • To provide students with opportunity to practice their communication, collaboration, critical thinking and creativity skills.
  • To consolidate learning of new material by grounding it in a personally relevant context.
  • To help students realize that scientific discoveries and technological innovations often have impacts on individuals and the society in which they occur.

Tips for success

  • Provide students with opportunities for reflection as they progress through this project. This could take the form of exit cards or journal entries in which students reflect on such things as the decisions they have made to that point, the discussions they have had with the teacher or with peers, new understandings, learnings, or questions that have materialized during the course of the project, etc.
  • Provide structure and focus to this project by providing students with the Exploring Oral Histories Sample Rubric which you can use to grade their final products.
  • Students should choose timeline points that are relevant to the people they plan to interview (i.e. have a personal connection, lived during the time period, etc.).
  • While one point from the timeline is sufficient to develop a topic for an oral histories project, students may choose two or more related points that form a theme.
  • Where possible, students should include interviewees who had direct experience or who were directly impacted by the event. Secondary sources (i.e., people who knew the person directly involved) are also acceptable interviewees.
  • If individuals or groups are unable to make a final decision on a topic for the project, section three of the Exploring Oral Histories Development and Planning Form can be filled in. The topic with the most information and/or potential interviewees should be the one selected.
  • Ensure students understand that the pre-interview research will help them set the scope for their project as well as providing them with a context to understand the interviewee’s comments. It will also help them come up with good questions for the interview.
  • Where necessary, help students pose their interview questions in such a way as to prompt the interviewees to share their reminiscences of experiences, perceptions, and feelings from the time of the event being studied.
  • Provide students with the Tips for Conducting a Successful Interview checklist which can assist them with planning and carrying out the interview.

How do I use it?

  • Select innovations, events or topics for exploring oral histories. Options for selecting topics for exploring oral histories can include:
    • After reading through the timeline, have individual students, pairs or groups of students develop a list of what they think are the key events on the timeline that would be good topics for oral history research.
    • Provide students with a list of potential oral history topics that you would like the students to explore.
  • Each individual or group will select one event as the focus of the Oral History project.
  • Provide students with blank Exploring Oral Histories Development and Planning Forms to use to develop a plan for how to proceed. If possible, provide this in electronic format as this will allow students to enter information and ideas in a more flexible manner.
  • Ensure students prepare their interview plans and have access to the necessary audiovisual equipment resources.
  • Have students conduct their interviews. Establish expected timelines for the project interviews to be completed.
  • Have students create their final interview products (e.g., video or podcast, etc.). Establish product completion timelines.
  • Assessment Options:
    • Students develop a written plan using the Exploring Oral Histories Development and Planning Form. This plan can be used as a formative assessment.
    • Students can do peer assessments of the final Exploring Oral History process and finished products.
    • Summative assessment of finished products based on a pre-established criteria rubric (such as the Exploring Oral Histories Sample Rubric).
Exploring Oral Histories-Reproducible-Template
Exploring Oral Histories-Reproducible-Template


  • Using the results of the initial group brainstorming, create a class list of potential topics. If there are related topics, offer students the option of working between groups to coordinate the development of a series of oral histories that tell a broader story of these related topics.
  • Teachers could select points from the timeline that align most closely with curriculum outcomes and have students select one or more of the points for their oral histories projects.
  • Divide the class into groups and have all groups complete an oral history project on one timeline event (e.g., “Polio Epidemic Strikes Canada”). After each group presents its project, lead the class in a “compare and contrast” discussion on the perspectives taken by each group. How are they different? Similar? Do the different perspectives add to our understanding of the event?


  • Have students organize their completed oral history projects in chronological order. These could be uploaded to a private or public website, such as a YouTube channel or school website.


East Midlands Oral History Archive. (n.d.). How do I conduct an oral history interview? (Information sheet #2). Centre for Urban History, University of Leicester.

Hoare, S. (2019, November 16). How to do oral history - A short guide.

National Federation of the Blind (n.d.). A guide to oral history interviewing.

University of Winnipeg. (2019). Oral history centre.

wikiHow. (2019, November 3). How to create a good documentary film.