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Oral Interview Training for the Hmong Oral History Project

By Paul Aleckson, D.C. Everest High School, Schofield
Standards: TBA
Grade Level: Secondary
Topic: Researching Family & Community

Lesson Plan Text:

Summary
The D.C. Everest Hmong Oral History Project took place during the 1997-98 school year and the following summer, capturing critical descriptions of the experiences of many central Wisconsin Hmong residents, including the daily trauma some endured to escape Laos; the time spent in refugee camps in Thailand; and the journey to, and settlement in, central Wisconsin. Students trained for and conducted interviews in the same session.

Background
The interviews are not necessarily a section of a larger unit of study, so the training program can include a background of the history and culture of the minority group being interviewed and the topic being explored, for instance, the Vietnam War.

An instructor in sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Marathon County (UWMC) provided consultation and materials regarding oral history reviews. Teachers also developed a Participant Training Manual with UWMC faculty and the Wausau Area Hmong Mutual Association.

Objectives

  • Students will become familiar with the techniques, equipment, and processes of oral history interviewing.
  • Students will develop research using oral history interviews.
  • Students will determine how to treat interviewees with respect.

Procedures

  1. Teachers will need to decide whether the amount of class time will require pre-assigned reading from the resources available, including the guidelines on the OHA web site or if the material can be taught during the training.
  2. Have students write or discuss a list of open-ended questions that allow the interview to give a lengthy answer. For example, "What was it like when you crossed the Mekong River?", rather than "Was it hard to cross the Mekong River?"
  3. Ask students to come up with phrases that will encourage interviewees to give the most complete and specifically detailed answers. Students should generate responses like, "Can you tell me more...Can you give me an example of...."
  4. Review the Interview Consent Form with students. Determine ahead of time whether the students will have responsibility for getting signatures or if the interviewees will sign them ahead of time.
  5. Allow enough practice time for student use of the equipment available (tape recorders, cam corders, film, or other) to familiarize themselves with the basic function of the machines. This will include conducting simple sound and visual checks. This is an ideal time to go over a list of common terms, such as "yellow rain," or "Pathet Lao" to confirm their pronunciation and meaning.
  6. If possible, invite a representative of the group being interviewed to offer examples to the class of customs involved in discussion that pertain to eye contact, loudness or tone of voice, amount of personal space, and other behaviors related to a one-on-one discussion. Many Hmong students could provide this information as part of the class project.
  7. Students should create a checklist all the materials they need: interview questions, tape or video recorder, extra batteries, extra tapes, Interview Consent Form, paper and pencil.
  8. When meeting the interviewee, students should introduce themselves and thank the person for their time.
  9. Remind students to check to make sure their recorders are running, and place it next to the interviewee, not in between them. Have all students begin each interview with an introduction of the interviewee, and a comment about gathering background information. This provides valuable information and a warm-up for both.
  10. After gathering background information, students should move into their open-ended questions, being careful to listen, encourage follow-up questions, and not cut off answers. If an interviewee digresses too much, students can always return to the topic by repeating or rephrasing a question, for example, "Let's return to your arrival in Wisconsin...."
  11. During the interview, students should remain respectful and polite, and never disagree, argue, or judge the interviewee.
  12. Interviews run between one-half hour and one hour and a half. Students should thank the person at the end of the interview.
  13. Immediately after the interview, have students label all tapes with the person's name, their names, and the date to hand to the teacher. Then, students should remain, writing up notes about the interview itself, and writing a thank-you note to the person interviewed.
  14. Teachers should collect the signed consent forms with the tapes, and the thank-you notes for posting.

Bibliography

Papp, Kris. Marathon County Immigrant Archive Project Course Participant Information: The Art of the Qualitative Interview.

Sample Interview Consent Form

This interview is being conducted as part of the D.C. Everest History Day Program, entitled "Wisconsin's Rich Immigrant History." The school has received grant monies in part to conduct oral histories of the Hmong people in the Wausau area. It is possible that this interview could:

  • Become part of a Hmong Oral History booklet, which will be distributed to libraries, museums, and schools;
  • Be featured as part of a newspaper story; or
  • Become part of a publicly accessible archive where the audio-tape is made available to the public.

You will be asked a number of questions about your own and your family's history, particularly regarding the journey from your homeland to central Wisconsin.

If you are willing to participate in this interview and have your interview used as described above, please sign and date the form below.

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