A guide to oral history for schools and youth groups
As interviews are at the heart of an oral history project, you need to think about how to get your students to the stage that they can confidently and competently record an audio or video interview. They will also need an understanding of the power and nature of memory, and what steps they need to take to be able to use the recordings they make.
If you have a budget, you could get an external trainer involved (the OHS networker in your area may be able to help).
If you don’t have a budget, here’s a list of things you may want to cover when preparing your class or group to record oral history:
- What is oral history? Listen to and discuss examples. We have provided some brief Audio Examples.
- Interview technique. Planning and ordering an interview. Using themes and prompts rather than a list of questions.
- Operating the equipment. Practising recording, uploading and possibly editing.
- Copyright and consent. How to get permission to use interviews.
- Undertaking a practice interview.
- Planning and undertaking the real thing.
Video tutorials and podcasts
- Aimed at primary age children, this is a 3-minute film produced by BBC Bitesize on how to interview people. It gives tips on interviewing techniques and what questions to ask.
- Aimed at secondary age children, this is a 4-minute film produced by BBC Hands On History. Alexandra Rowe, a history education specialist, guides students through the basics of making an oral history audio recording.
- Aimed at secondary age children, the Minnesota History Society has produced a series of podcasts made by students which illustrate the key elements in oral history.
- Film making – Aimed at primary age children, oral historian and film maker Steve Humphries has made a series of 10 short videos for BBC education explaining how to make an oral history film. The first one is here.
- Oral history and drama – A wide-ranging resource for all ages, The Reminiscence Theatre Archive includes films of plays made from oral history transcripts. A good one to start with is ‘Can we afford the doctor?’ Another one that may be useful is ‘Wartime Memories’.
There are many websites offering oral history guidance to teachers and teaching resources online, but many are out of date and some require registration and a fee. The ones listed below are current and are free; they may give you some ideas.
- If you want to record an interview with your class, Oral History Society Networkers Julia Letts and Helen Lloyd have created a lesson plan which may help. It covers planning, preparation and practical exercises.
- If you want a series of lessons, which take Key Stage 2 pupils through a number of tasks including oral history and teach them about the lives of children in Nepal, then try ‘The Gurkha Suitcase’. The resource is based on oral history interviews recorded in 2015.
- Legasee, a charity which has recorded hundreds of interviews with veterans and others involved in various 20th century military conflicts, has excellent lesson plans related to the following projects: WW1, the Berlin Airlift, Operation Overlord, Our Secret War (espionage in WW2) and the Forgotten War (Korea) . Take a look at the WW1 education page.
- English Heritage has created its own oral history toolkit for schools.