Help students connect and reflect on the year

(Reposted from: Facing History & Ourselves. December 15, 2020)

This Teaching Idea was created in partnership with StoryCorps, whose mission is to preserve and share humanity’s stories in order to build connections between people and create a more just and compassionate world.

We have all been touched by the upheavals of the last year. We have had to change the way we celebrate, learn, socialize, and mourn. We have lived through a growing movement for racial justice, school closures, and a contentious election. This Teaching Idea is designed to give students space to reflect on how the changes that occurred over the last year have impacted them and their loved ones. The activities below guide students to conduct an interview with a friend, family member, or classmate who they are not able to see in person as a way to reflect on the events of 2020 and connect in a time when travel and gatherings are restricted.

Note: While students can use a number of methods to conduct and record remote interviews, we suggest using StoryCorps Connect, which is a tool that allows students to conduct and record interviews remotely. StoryCorps Connect interviews can be kept fully private or made public, depending on your preference. You can find more information about how to use StoryCorps Connect in a classroom setting in the StoryCorps Connect Teacher Toolkit.

What follows are teacher-facing instructions for the activities. Get student-facing instructions in the Google Slides for this Teaching Idea.

1. Reflect on the Changes During the Last Year

Ask your students to brainstorm answers to the following question:

What major events or changes have happened over the last year that impacted your life, your community, or the world?

Write students’ responses on the board, grouping similar ideas, and discuss with your class:

  • What themes do you see in the responses?
  • Are there any responses you find surprising or interesting?

Then, ask your students to reflect in their journals using the following prompt:

What is one event or change that happened in 2020 that impacted you? How did it impact you and what did you learn about yourself because of this change?

Remote Learning Note: Students can share their responses to the discussion questions—either synchronously or asynchronously during a defined time period—by adding their ideas to a shared forum such as Padlet.

2. Interview a Classmate, Friend, or Family Member

In this activity, students should interview someone who they are not currently able to see in person. Students should record their interviews if possible, using the StoryCorps Connect tool or another recording device. You can find more information about how to use StoryCorps Connect in a classroom setting in the StoryCorps Connect Teacher Toolkit.

Note: Under StoryCorps’ terms of use, children under the age of 13 may not register for a StoryCorps account, and parental or guardian consent is required for people under the age of 18 to register. If you choose to require a parental permission slip, StoryCorps has a sample one that you can customize to your needs.

Explain to your students that they will be conducting an interview with a classmate, friend, or family member about their experiences during the last year and their hopes for 2021. Choose an excerpt from an interview from the StoryCorps collection Civic Duty and Connection in the Days of COVID-19, and play the first 3 to 4 minutes for your students. (For example, you can use the interview between Santana Lee and David Easterly or the interview between Cairo Dye and Henry Godinez). Ask your students:

  • How did the interview start?
  • How does the interviewer keep the conversation going?
  • What do you think makes an interview successful for the participants? What do you think makes an interview interesting to listen to?
  • What would you do the same in your own interview? What would you do differently?

Then, ask your students to prepare for their own interview. They should plan around 6–8 questions for their interview. Here are some suggestions of Great Questions they could use. Share the handout 10 Conversation Tips for Your StoryCorps Interview with students to help them plan their interview. Students should include the questions they reflected on in their journals (What is one event or change that happened in 2020 that impacted you? How did it impact you and what did you learn about yourself because of this change?), as well as additional warm-up and follow-up questions.

Note: For more resources to help your students prepare for their interviews, see page 4 of the StoryCorps Connect Teacher Toolkit.

After students have written their questions, ask them to share them with a partner and give each other feedback.

Outside of class, students should conduct their interviews. If possible, students should record their interviews, and if they are not able to, they should take notes on what they hear.

Remote Learning Note: Ask your students to listen to the interview and then discuss what they learned in small groups. If you are teaching synchronously, place students into breakout rooms for the discussion. If you are teaching asynchronously, ask students to write or record their responses and share them with their small group. After students write their interview questions, they can email or message them to their partner for review.

3. Reflect on Your Interview

After students complete their interviews, ask them to use the Connect, Extend, Challenge strategy to reflect on what they learned during their interviews and how it connects to what they wrote in their initial journal reflection:

  • Connect: What did the person you interviewed say that connected to something that you wrote in your own reflection?
  • Extend: How did the interview extend or broaden your thinking about events of the last year?
  • Challenge: Did the interview challenge or complicate your thinking about events of the last year? What questions did it raise for you?

Remote Learning Note: Students can complete their reflections individually, either during class time or asynchronously.

4. Share What You Learned

Ask students to share a brief response about their own reflection and their interview using two rounds of the Wraparound strategy.

  • Round 1: What event or change did you focus on in your own journal reflection?
  • Round 2: What event or change did the person you interviewed focus on?

Then, discuss as a class:

  • What did you learn from conducting the interviews? What was surprising or interesting?
  • What felt similar between your own reflection and the interview? What felt different?

Finally, ask students to look ahead to the new year. Ask them to write a sentence on a sticky note using the following sentence stem:

My hope for 2021 is _________.

Students can post the sticky notes on a paper or board in your classroom.

Remote Learning Note: Students can share using the Wraparound (Remote Learning) strategy. Ask students to post their final reflection (My hope for 2021 is _________.) on a shared forum such as Padlet or VoiceThread.

Extension: Create a Project Based on Your Interview

If your students were able to record their interviews, you can ask them to choose a short audio clip or transcribe an excerpt to share with the class in a Gallery Walk.

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