The Great Thanksgiving Listen, StoryCorps, and oral history

thanksgiving listenI’ve been on the road quite a bit over the last few months and staying alert during long car rides was becoming a problem. Enter the technology. Both my kids suggested I check out the NPR RadioLab podcast, an incredibly interesting collection of incredibly eclectic topics. I listened to stories about the history of football with a focus on the Indian school in Carlisle PA to using forest fires as a way of increasing bird populations to POW camps holding captured Germans in the US to how Mel Blanc was brought out of a coma by an impression of Bugs Bunny.

Seriously. RadioLab is awesome stuff.

But that got me looking around for other things to listen to. Which led my to another excellent NPR audio program called StoryCorps.

StoryCorps travels the country collecting the stories of everyday people, who get to take the microphone and interview each other about their lives. Each week, the StoryCorps podcast shares these unscripted conversations, revealing “the wisdom, courage, and poetry in the words of people you might not notice walking down the street.” The mission of StoryCorps is to provide people of all backgrounds and beliefs with the opportunity to record, share, and preserve the stories of their lives.


We do this to remind one another of our shared humanity, to strengthen and build the connections between people, to teach the value of listening, and to weave into the fabric of our culture the understanding that everyone’s story matters. At the same time, we are creating an invaluable archive for future generations.

And the podcast is great. But StoryCorps is more than just the podcasts created by NPR. They’ve also created a site that allows you and your kids to generate your own interviews and upload them. Create a free account. Click the Add Interview button. Enter some metadata including keywords, locations, and your school name. Your stuff is online. Pretty simple stuff.

And because you and everyone else is adding metadata, a rich and searchable database is being created. This database gives you and your students the ability to listen to all sorts of useful interviews.

storycorps locations

But wait. There’s more.

StoryCorps has also created a mobile app to help you and your kids
create interview questions, capture the audio using the microphone of your device, and then upload the finished interview / photos to your StoryCorps account. Get either the iOS version or the Google Play version.

Wait. What? There’s more? Yup. The best for last.SC-Toolkit-Image

The StoryCorps folks want to work with teachers and high school students across the country to preserve the voices and stories of an entire generation of Americans over a single holiday weekend.

Open to everyone, The Great Thanksgiving Listen is a national assignment to engage people of all ages in the act of listening. The pilot project is specially designed for students ages 13 and over and as part of a social studies, history, civics, government, journalism, or political science class, or as an extracurricular activity. All you need to participate is a smart device and the StoryCorps mobile app.

They’ve put together a useful Teacher Toolkit that contains everything you need to get start planning for your classroom today. Contents includes:

  • Background information for Teachers
  • Lesson Planning Guide
  • Follow-Up Activities for your Students
  • Permission Slips
  • Worksheets
  • StoryCorps Great Questions

All of these tools provide some excellent structure for integrating literacy skills as part of your social studies lesson and unit design. Research, writing, listening, communicating, long term project design. The list of standards we can check off with this type of activity almost writes itself.

Got the oral history bug? Need a few more places to poke around?

About Glenn Wiebe

I work as a social studies specialist at ESSDACK, an educational service center in Hutchinson, Kansas. Before coming to ESSDACK, I taught middle school US History and higher ed social science classes.

Leave a Reply