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History Nerdfest 2017 Day Two: StoryCorps, emotional feels, and oral history tools

Are you looking for incredibly powerful oral histories? I mean, really super incredible powerful stories? Are you looking for a tool that allows you and your kids to create your own oral histories?

Then you need StoryCorps. You seriously need StoryCorps.

Need an example?

In 1964, Dr. William Lynn Weaver was one of 14 black teens who integrated West High School in Knoxville, Tennessee. At StoryCorps, he spoke about his experiences in the classroom and how difficult it was for him to get a quality education there. Dr. Weaver also integrated the school’s all-white football team, along with other black players, including his older brother, Stanley. Here, he talks about what it was like to play for the West High School Rebels.

We had teams who refused to play us because we had black players. There were always racial comments, uh, banners with the n-word, and, at one point in time, there was even a dummy with a noose around its neck hanging from the goal posts.

I remember we played an all-white school. The game was maybe only in the second quarter. My brother tackled their tight end and broke his collarbone. And when they had to take him off the field with his arm in a sling, that’s when the crowd really got ugly.

We were on the visitors’ sideline and they were coming across the field; so we backed up against the fence. I remember the coach saying, ”Keep your helmet on,” so I was pretty afraid. And then a hand reaches through the fence and grabs my shoulder pads. I look around and it’s my father. And I turned to my brother, I said, “It’s okay; Dad’s here.”

The state police came and escorted us to the buses. The crowd is still chanting and throwing things at the bus and, as the bus drives off, I look back and I see my father standing there and all these angry white people. And I said to my brother, ”How’s Daddy going to get out of here? They’re going to kill him.”

This morning at #ncss17, Dave Isay, the founder of StoryCorps, spoke and shared examples of oral histories and explained what StoryCorps is all about.

StoryCorps travels the country collecting the stories of everyday people, who get to take the microphone and interview each other about their lives. StoryCorps then 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.

But StoryCorps doesn’t just collect these stories. They’ve created a rich and searchable database that gives you and your students the ability to listen to all sorts of useful interviews.

The database is more than a collection of audio clips. StoryCorps has also created animated versions that create a visual way to listen to the different conversations. You need an example. And this is the example that Dave shared with us.

But wait. There’s more.

StoryCorps has also created a mobile app to help you and your kids storycorps moiblecreate interview questions, capture the audio using the microphone of your device, and then upload the finished interview / photos to your StoryCorps account. The app gives you lots of options including the ability to literally upload the interviews directly to the Library of Congress. How cool is that? With StoryCorps, we can give kids the ability to create, not just consume.

Get either the iOS version or the Google Play version.

Wait. What? There’s more? Yup.

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.

You might find this older YouTube video useful as you and your kids conduct your interviews. Steve Inskeep, host of NPR’s Morning Edition, provides some specific interviewing tips. It’s a great resource!

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

4 Comments Post a comment
  1. Michael Yell #

    In 2002 I began having a day of remembrance in my classroom for 9/11. To end the period students listen to the StoryCorps interview with Beverly Eckert. Beverly was the wife of Shawn Rooney who died in the collapse of the Twin Towers. Take a listen

    November 17, 2017
    • glennw #

      Oh my goodness. Simple stories by everyday people can be so powerful. Thanks for sharing.

      This is my new favorite primary source tool. Wow.


      November 17, 2017

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