When I was a middle school language arts teacher, my students and I participated in StoryCorps “The Great Listen” every November. While students were always hesitant at first (I have to interview an elder and record audio of myself? No, thank you!), it often turned out to be one of the units my students remembered the most.
StoryCorps is a nonprofit organization that believes “everyone has an important story to tell and that everyone’s story matters.” They have shared over 640,000 stories since their inception in 2003.
StoryCorps helped me enact its mission of “preserving and sharing humanity’s stories” in my own classroom. Last year, I had a student who was graduating from high school reach out to me. Did I still have his elder interview recording from when he was in 7th grade? He had interviewed his grandmother and she had recently passed away; his family wanted to hear some of the stories she shared in the interview. While I sadly no longer had the recording, it reminded me of the importance of oral storytelling, the connections we make with the people we love, and literacy’s incredible power to help our legacies, families, and communities live on.
Does this sound like something you want your students to experience? Check out 5 ways to incorporate StoryCorps into your classroom!
The Great Thanksgiving Listen asks young people to interview an elder or mentor in their lives to learn about and record their stories. StoryCorps provides a variety of excellent resources for this project, including an Educator Toolkit that provides a variety of lessons and resources to scaffold the project. Not only will students learn a lot about their loved ones through the interview, but they will also get extensive practice writing open-ended questions and developing interviewing skills.
While students need to be at least 13 years old to record using the StoryCorps app, the recording app can be modified for your age range of students. Other platforms like Padlet and Flip are great places for students to upload and share their interviews with their classmates, as well as a shared Google Drive or your school’s LMS service.
One Small Step is a StoryCorps initiative that brings people from different political views together to get to know each other’s humanity rather than their politics. While this initiative involves adults being matched with each other through the organization, One Small Step provides an excellent framework for designing your own Peer Interviewing activity in your classroom!
You could begin by showing students a variety of One Small Step Conversations to look at conversation models and listen to examples of good questions to ask in an interview. Then, pair students with a classmate they don’t typically work with, or foster a cross-grade-level or cross-school site opportunity for students to interact with different grades or schools in their community to get to know each other.
3. Learning about History
Oral storytelling is a powerful tool to help students understand history from firsthand voices. StoryCorps has created a variety of focus areas centered around specific populations and historical events. These series are wonderful opportunities for interdisciplinary units or social studies and history units looking to include perspectives beyond the textbook!
Since 2009, StoryCorps Historias shares stories from Latine people in the United States.
The September 11th Initiative began in 2005. Their mission is to honor each life lost during the World Trade Center attacks on September 11, 2001 and the World Trade Center bombing on February 26, 1993.
American Pathways amplifies the voices of refugees, immigrants, and Muslims since 2020.
A Griot is an honored storyteller in West African tradition. This StoryCorps initiative focuses on sharing the experiences of African Americans in the United States.
StoryCorps OutLoud shares the stories of people in the LGBTQ+ community, focusing specifically on experiences of people before the Stonewall Riots.
StoryCorps also offers an archive with 100+ animations created from StoryCorps interviews. Students love seeing the visual paired with the storytelling and interviews. These animations are great for anticipatory sets, daily bell ringers, listening practice/analysis, or extra credit and extension time.
Check out this StoryCorps Listening Tool by Julie Kuntz at Teaching Channel to offer students a framework for daily quick writes, analysis, and observation! Then, check out some Storycorps animations students love to watch and discuss.
StoryCorps provides a variety of lesson plans, tools, and resources for incorporating interviewing and storytelling in the classroom! It is free to register on their website and includes access to phenomenal lessons like teaching active listening strategies and gallery walks about why stories matter.
November is often a time for gratitude and reflection. We hope these resources from StoryCorps will help your students strengthen your classroom community by sharing and celebrating stories about their families and discovering the humanity that connects us all.