This summer I had the unique opportunity to lead a Journalism Camp (Power Your Story) for the Morehead Writing Project. I can’t stop thinking about one of the activities we used during our camp: StoryCorps Interviews. Our goal was to help our campers develop some basic interview experience including crafting questions as well as seizing the opportunity to follow an interesting conversational thread.
We began with a brief introduction to StoryCorps and then watched/listened to some interviews we thought might be good models (Know, Lied, Connection, Common) and sent them to the archives to look for others. We then challenged the campers to come up with three or four questions for their interviews using the Great Questions list. Finally, we had them download the StoryCorps App on their phones. I like how the app can be used to guide an interview or conversation because you can input your questions – or choose from their suggestions (or some combination of the two). The app also makes it easy to publish their interviews if you want to go that route. Our StoryCorps interview practice was fun and interesting and I can’t stop thinking about the ways that I can use or adapt this exercise for classroom use. So far I have come up with three reasons why you should consider teaching with StoryCorps too.
We scheduled this activity for our first full day together because we knew that in addition to developing interviewing skills the activity would give campers the chance to get to know each other. We made campers conduct interviews with at least three others but you can scale this up or down depending on your time constraints and the size of your group. We think it was a great ice breaker activity because it gave those conversations a framework that eased them through the awkwardness of starting a conversation with a stranger. Right now I am considering including StoryCorps interviews in my first class or as part of our first week community building activities.
While learning to craft questions is an important interview skill, it is also an important skill for learners. It is too easy to craft dead-end questions that can kill conversations before they begin or stop a research project at its beginning. Most humans can use a lot of practice crafting questions that take conversations or inquiry to new and unexpected places. This is a skill that I work on a lot in my classes and I love how this exercise could reinforce that lesson in a fun way. I think it could also be useful for helping students conduct some primary research for class projects as well. Using StoryCorps interviews in your class can help students hone their question-crafting skills.
Sometimes a journalist’s greatest tool is simply listening and most humans can use more practice exercising this simple social tool as well. This is another important community building tool. We all appreciate being heard and given the opportunity to speak. Finally, I think listening to others while conducting interviews can help make us all better writers. Using StoryCorps interivews in your class can help students improve their listening skills.
I am confident that there are a number of ways that any educator at any level in any content area can make StoryCorps interviews serve multiple learning goals and in the process teach important “soft skills” too! I have not fully decided how I will integrate StoryCorps interviews into my classes this fall, but I know that I will. What skills could you use StoryCorps interviews to develop in your classroom?