hide You are viewing an archived web page collected at the request of University of Alberta using Archive-It. This page was captured on 16:04:20 Dec 08, 2010, and is part of the HCF Alberta Online Encyclopedia collection. The information on this web page may be out of date. See All versions of this archived page. Loading media information
Heritage Community Foundation Presents
Alberta Online Encyclopedia
Home! Youth Source - Youth & Heritage learning source

     girlssmiling youthboyteacherFirst Nations girl

      Home | Sitemap | Search | Help | Contact Us | About
Teacher Resources
Heritage Educational Programs
Heritage Youth Link
Heritage Edukits

Lesson 1: Settlement Oral Histories

Students explore the experiences of individual's through their personal stories.

(Adapted from The New Americans Teacher Guide)

Subjects: Social Studies, Language Arts

Grade Levels: 3-5, 7, 10

Time Frame: 2-3 weeks, 3-4 hours class time, 7-8 hours homework

  • Students will need at least two to three weeks preparation on their own. They will need at least one week to locate the person and set up preliminary questions, get some pre-reading on interview techniques, arrange for the time and location with the interviewee, etc.; a second week to do the actual interview itself; and a third week for the transcription and writing. You will also want to build in some time during each week to address issues or problems students may be having. Make sure they are on schedule and meeting deadlines, and are prepared for the interview, etc.

Materials Needed:

  • Guidelines for Oral History Interviews Student Workbook: History Channel

  • Oral History Project Guidelines

  • Oral History Project: Guidelines for Recording an Interview

  • Guiding Questions For Oral History Interviews

  • Interview tracking sheet

  • Sharing Oral histories Worksheet

  • Journal Entry Worksheet

  • Reflection Questions

Learning Objectives: Students will:

  1. Understand changes in the workplace and the economy in Canada and in their local communities

  2. Understand the influences on settlement patterns

  3. Understand how recent settlement and migration patterns impacted social and political issues

  4. Understand major contemporary social issues and the groups involved (e.g. multiculturalism, racism)

  5. Know a variety of forms of diversity in Canadian society (e.g., regional, linguistic, socio-economic)

  6. Use a variety of resource materials to gather information for research topics (e.g., magazines, newspapers, dictionaries, schedules, journals, phone directories, maps, and the Internet)

  7. Organize information and ideas from multiple sources in systematic ways (e.g., time lines, outlines, notes, graphic representations)


1. Have students read an example of an oral history online at "Alberta Home, Home at the Plains" 
Click on Sitemap and go to Black Settlement and Chinese Settlement for Oral History Interviews

2. Have students note the style of the writing and how the writer attempts to maintain the voice of the person he interviews.

Suggestion: You choose the passage and share it with the class so that everyone is reading the same example; you can point out specifics and demonstrate how it is a useful model for them.

3. Help students identify who they would like to interview; give them ideas where they can find people to interview (e.g., adult ed/ESL classes, churches, immigrant relief organizations, friends, etc.). You should specifically name some organizations in the community that would help them locate an interviewee.

4. For homework, ask students to find an interview subject. Ask them to talk to this person to determine if they are willing to do the interview. Students then should write a paragraph explaining who their person is and why that person is a good choice.

5. Discuss the kinds of questions that are most appropriate for eliciting narrative-type answers (namely open-ended questions). Give a copy of Guiding Questions For Oral History Interviews to students.

6. It might also help if the students look at an example of a finished interview and work backward to identify the questions likely to have been asked to get a particular response.

7. For homework, students should select and finalize their list of questions.

8. In class, provide time for students to research the country of origin for the person they are interviewing. From this research, they should be able to add some additional questions to their original list.

9. Give students the following: Guidelines for Oral History Interviews Student Workbook: History Channel, Oral History Project Guidelines, and the Interview Tracking Sheet and the Oral History Project: Guidelines for Recording an Interview.

10. Have students conduct their settlement oral history project.

11. Have students bring in a portion of their interview with questions and answers. Show students how they may need to edit the original words to make answers flow together. Discuss what elements of conversation to maintain (such as informal English, pause words) and to what degree these should be maintained. Discuss the value of keeping some words from the first language if the interview is conducted in a language other than English.
v Writer's Workshop: A couple of days before the final oral histories are due, conduct a writer's session: where you arrange your students in groups of four or five and have them read each other's work.

  • As a part of this workshop, you should encourage your students to provide constructive criticism to each paper once they are done reading it.

  • You should ask them pay special attention to grammatical errors. Students should be encouraged to give each other ideas on how to improve the flow and content of each interview. 

12. Have students share their completed oral histories.

13. Review the sharing oral histories and journal entry worksheets.

14. After students complete the quick write, use this as a basis for a whole class discussion where students brainstorm generalizations about immigration that can be leaned from the interviews. 

15. Have students complete a reflective journal as a homework assignment on "How the experience of conducting an oral history interview and hearing the interviews of other students has reshaped my ideas about the experience of settlement." 

16. The following day, have students work in partner pairs and share their homework journals with one another. Pairs can share important or new insights with the class in a final whole class discussion. 

  • Students could publish these oral histories in book form and host an evening where they invite the subject of their oral histories to hear them read from the oral histories.

  • Students could also publish the oral histories on a Web site. Students could include pictures of the subject of their interview or photographs from that person's settlement experience.

17. Have each student each write a brief thank you to the interviewee for his or her contributions to their oral history projects. In the letter, students should mention at least one positive thing they learned from the interviewee that has enlarged their understanding of the experience of settlement.

Source: http://www.pbs.org/kcet/newamericans/6.0/html/

Oral History Project Guidelines


Much of what we study in history is what is considered "traditional" history; that is, it is the history of major political figures, important historical events, and significant historical trends. Now it's your turn to help create the history that occurs on the banks of the river-the story of everyday people, the story of immigrants.

What is an Oral History?

Oral histories are created when one person (the interviewer) interviews another person (the interviewee) about a specific time period in the interviewee's life or a specific topic they can recall. The interviewer takes the interviewee's responses and creates a text of the interviewee's words told through the point of view of the interviewee. This is not an exact transcript of what the interviewee says. The interviewer must edit the transcript-moving parts around, taking parts out, and even adding words here and there (with the interviewee's permission). The final piece of writing should capture the voice and spirit of the interviewee.

Steps to Completing the Oral History

  • Select a person you wish to interview

  • Obtain their permission

  • Set up an interview time and location; set aside an hour Do some research on the country of their origin

  • Create questions to guide your interview

  • If possible, tape record the interview; take notes on interviewee's mannerisms, etc

  • Transcribe the interview into Q/A format, word for word

  • Edit the Q/A into the final oral history

Source: Adapted from The New Americans Teacher Guide
Oral History Project: Guidelines for Recording an Interview

Oral history interviews can bring history to life. It can be a very satisfying project for both those interviewed and the interviewers. Preparation before the interview will help make your project more fun for you, the interviewer, and the person you interview.

1. Set up a time and place to meet with your interview subject.

2. Know how to use your equipment. Practice recording a conversation with a friend or family member so that you are comfortable with the process. Speaking clearly and precisely helps. Make sure the volume/sound level is O.K.

3. Write up or use a list of questions to ask your interview subject. Use questions that require more than a yes/no answer. E.g. What was the neighbourhood like when you were growing up? Start with general questions and then look for specific information E.g. How did the war affect your life?

4. When it's time to interview the subject, make sure you are there promptly. Bring a blank tape/video. Bring extra batteries. And don't forget your list of questions.

5. Always treat the person you are interviewing politely and with respect. Speak clearly. Do a practice question to make sure the tape/video recorder is working.

6. Always start the tape/video by stating your name, your subject's name, the time, and the date into the recorder. Don't forget to label the tape/video on the outside as well.

7. Understand that your list of questions is a guide for you to follow. Sometimes the person being interviewed has a special story he or she would like to tell. Ask directly. E.g. Do you have a special story you would like to have recorded? Would you share it with me? Be prepared for the unexpected!

8. Keep your recording session to about 30-40 minutes. It can be very tiring for you and the other person you are interviewing.

9. Make sure you thank your subject when you are finished. Remember, you could not do the project without their cooperation.

10. Send a follow up letter or note to the individual you interviewed and thank them for the experience.

Adapted Source: Hometown History Activity Booklet

Guiding Questions for Oral History Interviews

  • What country are you originally from?

  • Why did you leave this country?

  • When did you leave? How old were at that time?

  • What were the conditions in the country when you left?

  • How did you prepare for your trip here?

  • Who came with you when you emigrated? Who did you leave behind? What did you leave behind?

  • How did you get here? Did you stay somewhere else before arriving here?

  • Why did you choose Canada? Why not some other country?

  • Who decided you would come here? Did you want to leave?

  • How did others in your home country treat you when they knew you were leaving?

  • What changes in lifestyle did you make when you came here?

  • What was your first impression of Canada? Has this initial impression changed over time?

  • What are some of the differences/similarities you've noticed in the cultures here and in your home country?

  • What were your hopes for yourself (and/or your family) when you came here? Have you realized these hopes?

  • How were you treated when you first arrived in Canada? How are you treated now?

  • Were your expectations of Canada met? Was your idea of Canada the same as the reality?

Source: Adapted from The New Americans Teacher Guide

Interview Tracking

 Interviewer's name:



Interviewee's name, address, & telephone:










interviewee contacted

interviewee answer received

interview date: ___________

preliminary research done

interview guide completed

interview completed

recordings labeled

interviewer notes completed 

articles/photos borrowed (list with date) 

articles/photos returned (list with date)

recordings copied

accession number assigned

recordings transcribed

recordings indexed

interviewee release form signed

interviewer release form signed

photo release form signed

life history formed completed

end product completed

recordings archived

paperwork copied and archived

Sharing Oral Histories

On the day the oral histories are due, students may use a read-around-group to share the writings:

1. Students sit in groups of 4-5, facing each other.

2. On teacher's signal, they pass their papers clockwise.

3. Give students just a bit less time than they all need to finish reading the first paper.

4. Give them a signal to pass their papers. Students read the second paper. Repeat this process until all members of the group have read all papers (or however many papers in the first group you wish for them to read).

5. On teacher's signal, groups exchange papers and repeat the reading process.

6. After they are all read, the group collectively chooses the one they think will best represent their group to the class.

Journal Entry

After each group has its designee read its paper to the class, have students do a quick write in their journal using the following starters. Students should respond to several, if not all of the statements with a brief sentence or two. Put them on the board or overhead:

  • What I heard that surprised me was…

  • One thing that shocked me was…

  • Something I learned from the oral histories was…

  • One thing I thought was important from the interviews was…

  • From what I heard read, I have a question or would like to know more about… 

After students complete the quick write, use this as a basis for a whole class discussion where students brainstorm generalizations about immigration that can be leaned from the interviews. 

Finally, have students complete a reflective journal as a homework assignment on "How the experience of conducting an oral history interview and hearing the interviews of other students has reshaped my ideas about immigrants and the experience of immigration." 

The following day, have students work in partner pairs and share their homework journals with one another. Pairs can share important or new insights with the class in a final whole class discussion.

Reflection Questions

1. Discuss creating reflection questions with the students, such as:

  • What are the similarities and differences between people's lives during the past and today?

  • In the life stories you have gathered and read, how was the reality of the new land different from the expectation of the immigrants and migrants?

  • How did the people you learned about change with the demands of their experiences?

  • Where did they get the strength to accomplish what they did?

  • What story of yours would you like to leave behind (perhaps from the perspective of the future)? 
    Students write a short paper reflecting on the project, using the questions as guidelines. 

2. Optional - Create a time capsule for the year 2100.

Oral History Unit

Lesson 1: Settlement Oral Histories

Students explore the experiences of individual's through their personal stories.

Document 1: Black Settlement, Alberta Home, Home on the Plains 
Jefferson Edwards, Robert Heslep, Luther Gerard, Agnes Leffler Perry

Document 2: Chinese Settlement, Alberta Home, Home on the Plains 
Laundry Owner, Cafe Owner and Operator, Laundry Worker

The Memory Project: Author's Passages 
Prominent Canadian authors have come together to reflect on their own experiences of immigration in Passages to Canada

Lesson 1: Settlement Oral Histories

Lesson 2: Telling It Like It Was

Lesson 3: Storytelling

Lesson 4: My Oral History Project

Download Lesson 1 in Word Document format.




©copyright Heritage Community Foundation 2001, 2002. All Rights Reserved.
Heritage Community Foundation Visit AlbertaSource!

Albertasource.ca | Contact Us | Partnerships
            For more on youth in Alberta, visit Peel’s Prairie Provinces.
Copyright © Heritage Community Foundation All Rights Reserved