Oral History

Oral History Interview: Knowing My Family Better

Angela Lee-Smith

Parent and child. CC0 1.0 Universal

A son  gets to know more of his mother’s story in this interview

Listen to another “Stories with a Mother and Son” (Video Source  Link)


  • Educational Setting:

Grades 7-12/ Post-Secondary levels in community-based/school-based education settings

  • Genres: 

descriptive, explanatory, inquiry, narrative, reflective

  • Thematic Keywords:

Heritage, identity, affective, reflection, language, culture, community, connection, family history, diaspora

  • Pedagogical Approaches:

project-based learning, community-based, reflective learning, critical thinking

  • Language Levels:

Intermediate-Mid to High

  • General Description:

This project utilizes students’ families as a great community resource for heritage learners. Knowing my family better means interviewing their parents/grandparents/siblings/extended family members in-depth—not as their family members, but as their fellow human beings. The primary goal of this activity is to give students a genuine oral history experience to appreciate the process of family historiography. Students engage in conducting an interview and having conversations to understand how to identify and interpret the content. As designed, this project can be almost a semester-long experience. However, individual components can be adapted as standalone units, dropped altogether, or expanded to suit local needs.

  • Rationale:

Creating an oral family history is a beautiful opportunity to bring generations together. In the process, students will also create a meaningful connection with a loved one in their family. Interviewees will feel valued and cared for through interviewers’ curiosity and interest in their lives.Regarding relevant interview questions, oral history is more about why and how than what, where, and when. Oral family history comprises factual information about births, marriages, and deaths and the narratives that contextualize these events. Every family has good stories to tell, and passing these stories from generation to generation bonds families together.

  • Learning Objectives: Students will be able to
    • Share accounts/recounts of events in memoirs and autobiographical stories in interviews.
    • Conduct journalistic interviews
    • Demonstrate the literacy and communicative skills required to identify and analyze visual, oral, and written texts related to the project topic (e.g., immigration, autobiography, etc.)
    • Deliver well-organized presentations on the lesson content topics—detailed narratives that include events and experiences.
  • Outcomes/Deliverables: Teachers provide students with various options to choose from.
  • Family Member Profiles: Each student creates a detailed profile of their chosen family member, including both basic information (like birthdays and favorite dishes) and deeper insights (like childhood dreams and significant challenges faced).
  • Interview Question List: A comprehensive list of interview questions prepared by the student, based on their pre-interview research and the timeline of significant life events they’ve constructed.
  • Visual Timeline: A visual timeline that maps out the significant life events, places lived, and other important milestones of the family member’s life, enhanced with anecdotes from other family members.
  • Recorded Interview: Audio or video recording of the interview, capturing the detailed conversation about a memorable family event or tradition.
  • Writing: A writing where students describe the information gathered from the interview, reflecting on the event discussed and the broader implications of their family member’s experiences.
  •  Oral History Podcast Presentation: A polished podcast presentation (either audio-only or audiovisual) that encapsulates the family oral history, showcasing students’ ability to narrate and contextualize their family stories.
  • Reflection Journal : A written reflection where students share their personal thoughts about the interview process, what they learned about their family member, and how the experience impacted their understanding of their family history.

Tasks and Activities

Suggested Materials

Technology/AI Tools: For automated interview transcription


Differentiated Instruction

Teaching Reflection

Learning Reflection

Oral History© 2024 by Angela Lee-Smith is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0