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Charley Williams and Granddaughter, Age 94

[Detail] Charley Williams and Granddaughter, Age 94

Preparation | Procedure | Evaluation | Students


Lesson One: Analyzing an Interview

One of the ways to learn about history is to conduct an interview with a grandparent or elder. In preparation for your interview, you will study one of the interviews gathered by the Federal Writers' Project during the Depression years of 1936-1940. The interview, Women and the Changing Times, is now part of American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1940.

Read the transcript of this interview with Mrs. Blount. As you read this primary source document make some notes.

Here are some of the questions you might ask about this interview:

  1. Where and when did this interview take place?
  2. Who was the interviewer?
  3. What questions do you think the interviewer asked Mrs. Blount in order to elicit the information in this document? Make a list of these questions.
  4. What facts do you learn about Mrs. Blount?
  5. What additional questions would you like to ask Mrs. Blount if you were conducting the interview?
  6. What aspect or topic of this interview appeals to you most?
  7. If you were to summarize what you learned from this interview, what would you say?

Be sure to save your notes from this assignment for use during Unit III, when we use primary and secondary sources to learn about family life during the Great Depression.

Lesson Two: Conducting an Interview

After you have finished your analysis of the interview from the American Memory collections, you are ready to prepare to interview.

  1. Select a person and ask to interview him or her. Express interest in learning about his or her life and if necessary explain the class project. If asked, tell the person that he or she may choose not to answer some of the questions--that you will be flexible but are most interested in learning his or her life story. Arrange for a specific time and place to meet for the interview. If necessary, the interview may be conducted by phone.
  2. Before conducting the interview, print out a consent form. Complete this form before you hold the interview and return it to your teacher. Both you and the person you interview should sign the form.
  3. Refer to the list of Interview Questions to ask during the interview. Some of the questions are mandatory and some are optional.
  4. In addition to the required questions, ask at least two questions that you have created yourself.
  5. Points to remember in conducting the interview are:
    You are looking for quality information.
    If the person you're interviewing does not want to answer a particular question, don't insist.
    If you are interested and intrigued with something the person being interviewed is discussing, continue the conversation.
    If you don't complete all of the questions, don't worry; get through as many questions as possible.
  6. You may record your interview, but you must type it out.
  7. Hand in a typed interview transcript written in complete sentences--except for the vital statistics. Include the questions with the answers.
  8. If only a portion of the interview is transcribed, you must hand in the notes or recording from the entire interview.
  9. Use spell-check and grammar-check and proofread the interview transcript. Do not correct or change the grammar, idioms, etc., of the person interviewed. If the person interviewed uses unique phrasing or pronunciation of a word, insert [sic] in the transcript following each non-standard item, to indicate that the phrasing or spelling is intentional and reflects the language of the answers.
  10. To conclude this unit, you will participate in a classroom roundtable discussion, in which you will share with you classmates what you found most interesting during the interview.
  11. Take note of one to three "interesting things" that might form a topic for further research.