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Skills and Best Practices

Activity 2: Skills and Best Practices

Oral History

Interviews with adults in the community are an excellent way to bring generations together in interpreting history. Students have a much easier time understanding historical events when they realize that there are people living in the community who can turn history into a story that they have lived.

Here are Guidelines for Oral History Interviews. More detailed information can be accessed at their website:

  1. Picking an Interview Topic: Narrowing your topic will give it a focus.
  2. Picking Someone to Interview
    • Did they live at that time?
    • Do they have information about the topic?
  3. Make an Interview Appointment
    • Make it a special event for the person being interviewed.
    • Send a list of possible questions prior to the interview.
  4. Preparing For the Interview
    • Do some background reading on the topic.
    • Use the “who? what? when? where? why?” questions to help you prepare for the interview and to focus your questions for the interview.
  5. Write Out Good Interview Questions
    • Use “memory questions” to set the mood for the interview
    • Use follow-up questions to get more in-depth information
    • Encourage the person to tell stories and anecdotes to add a human element to the story.
    • Consider using the following kinds of questions:
      • Explanation questions
      • Judgment questions
    • Be an Active Listener
    • Send a Thank You Note


This activity call for students to take a perspective and to compare this perspective to that of a historian. Perspective taking is a neglected skill in social studies; but is one that is very important. According to McTighe and Wiggins, it is one of the six elements of understanding.


  1. Explain – give theories – the why
  2. Interpret – see meaning, stories, translations made by students
  3. Apply – knowledge in a (new) concrete context
  4. Take perspective -awareness of other points of view, critical stance
  5. Be empathetic – walk in the shoes of . . .
  6. Show self-knowledge – wisdom, knowing thyself, aware of one’s prejudices, and habits of mind

Note: Additional information and the research basis for Understanding by Design can be found at:

Updated February 2, 2023 1:53pm