Who doesn’t love hearing stories and insights from interesting people? Interviews can spice up any student project and give students a new perspective on their content. School Librarians can find several opportunities to integrate student interviews into collaborative lessons. Here are a couple examples…
A 7th grade Multidisciplinary Project
During the 1st grading period of the school year, 7g ELA students write personal narratives and 7g Social Studies students learn about the immigration of various groups into Texas. Many students don’t know their own history of how they came to be in Texas, so when I approached my 7g teachers—avid library supporters—about doing a cross-discipline project they were willing to try it. Our collaborative unit “My Texas Heritage—How and Why Am I in Texas?” gives students a sense of their own identity (important for middle schoolers) and provides a more personal understanding of conceptual factors that have brought people into our State.
English/Language Arts classes visit the Library first for a brainstorming lesson. I begin the Library Lesson with a read aloud, Allen Say’s picture book Grandfather’s Journey, a personal story of how he reconnected with his family background. Next we pass out a KWHL worksheet (example from a different unit at left) and I model ‘What do I Know?’ to guide students in writing down what they already know about themselves and their families. Then we generate interview questions in the ‘What do I Want to know?’ section. For homework students take the KWHL sheet home and use the interview questions with their parents to fill in as Source #1. Any ‘What do I Want to Know’ questions that parents can’t answer become the basis for further research.
Texas History classes are the second Library visit. I tell students they are learning the history of themselves in the same way they are learning the history of Texas, so the goal of their Library visit is to gather historical background in order to answer W questions their parents couldn’t answer and to create more questions to take home to parents. I help students generate Keywords for searching and review search strategies so students can skim & scan the print & online Texas History resources I’ve prepared ahead of time. Students will continue to use the back of their KWHL worksheet for note-taking (and bibliographic info) and I model note-taking—there is always a tendency for students to write out everything, so modeling “Does this answer the question on my KWHL sheet?” keeps students on track.
During the next phase of the project students continue to gather information through interviews and research. We don’t expect a family tree from the time of the conquistadors, but every student learns about the lives of their parents & grandparents. Texas History teachers help them discern the similarities & differences between historical events they are learning about and the lives of their own family.
To encourage students to mail questions to other family members, the ELA teachers model letter form and reinforce good writing habits. Texas History teachers schedule another Library visit so I can guide students through a variety of primary and secondary sources, like biographies and autobiographies, speeches, letters & diaries, and songs & artwork, all related to Texas History, both in print and online.
This project lends itself to several products, and we offer 3 product options to students—written, crafted, or oral, with options for using technology tools:
- At an ELA visit I show students how to create a webpage so information can be shared with family members who live far away. Students learn that information displayed on the Web must be well-written and concise, forcing them to thoroughly think through and edit their research results.
- The crafted choice is a photograph poster of family mementos. For students who choose this option, I show them how to use our digital cameras and check them out, usually over a weekend. When they return I show them how to download & print out the images.
- 7g students also enjoy playacting, so mock newscasts appeal to them. Students with common events in their background can group together to give “eyewitness” accounts. This helps students discern that historical “truths” often depend on one’s point of view—a valuable lesson as they study Texas history.
At a final Library visit we watch oral presentations, followed by a walk-around to view webpages on computers and crafted items on the tops of our eye-level bookcases. It’s a great way to begin the school year and satisfies the curricular needs of both ELA and Social Studies.
An 8th grade Spanish Television Show
In the spring our 3rd-year Spanish students demonstrate their Spanish-language skills with a group project, en Español, based on a game show or an Oprah-type entertainment show, and we “broadcast” the finished projects through our closed-circuit TV channel to the classroom. Both shows require students to do interviews, a short one for the game show and a more in-depth celebrity-type interview for the entertainment show. For this project we have 2 Library Lesson visits: at the first visit students learn about creating good personal interview questions, and during the second visit students prepare for the TV broadcast.
The short interview is a 30-60 second introduction of the ‘Players’ where the show host says “Tell us a little about yourself” and the Player responds with their ‘home’ city/state (it can’t be ours), their ‘career or job’, something about their family (this can be true or made up), and a favorite hobby, song, or movie. The goal is for students to demonstrate their Spanish-language skills, so we encourage them to be imaginative with their responses and also as they create the game show activity.
For the in-depth interview I make available a few books on video & TV interviews and short celebrity biographies, along with printed sheets of interview questions derived from a Web search. I help students generate open-ended questions that prompt the responder to answer with greater depth and variety than just yes or no. Again, the objective is to use as much of their Español as possible.
The second visit is a Library Lesson about having a good “on-camera presence” so students learn about which colors are best for clothing, where to look while asking and answering questions (at the camera!), how to modulate their voice and pace their talking, and which type of gestures are OK and which ones distract viewers. We critique a couple demonstrations, then students break into groups to practice their TV shows, during which time I walk around scheduling when they’ll be doing their “on air” broadcast.
Watching the actual TV broadcast in the classroom lends an authenticity to this lesson that excites students. After we did this the first time, word got around the school that “Ms. P has a Television Studio in the Library!” and students from all grades began asking teachers if they could “do TV shows with Ms. P” for their various projects. A School Librarian can be kept pretty busy giving Library Lessons on Interviewing Techniques and transmitting TV broadcasts to classrooms!
A Resource for Interview Questions
If you’ve never heard of StoryCorps, you’ll want to check them out. They began in 2003 with a Storybooth in Grand Central Terminal in NYC and they continue to give people a way to share conversations. They have recording sites, mobile story tours around the U.S., and an app on their website, all dedicated to providing a legacy of real voices that are archived at the Library of Congress.
“Our mission is to preserve and share humanity’s stories in order to build connections between people and create a more just and compassionate world.”
“Great Questions” on their website is a wonderful resource that anyone can use to promote more effective and enjoyable interviews.