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Recording School Desegregation: Conduct Your Own Oral History Project

In this unit, students will research the history of school desegregation, and bring that history to life by listening to oral histories of North Carolinians who lived through desegregation. Students will then become historians, recording their own oral histories with relatives or community members, and reflecting on the experience through writing. The oral histories will be collected into a final project and placed in the school’s library for students and teachers to study in the future.

Grade 8 - Social Studies

Classroom Time Needed: approximately 3-4 weeks

Learning Outcomes
Curriculum Alignment
Materials and Resources
Additional Web Sites

Learning Outcomes

Students will fully understand the major events and impact of school desegregation in the United States.

Students will record an oral history, learning how to complete background research, craft questions, respond to and analyze the interviewee’s experiences, and understand how cultural influences shaped the interviewee’s responses.

Students will compare and contrast the responses of interviewees on the issue of school desegregation.

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Curriculum Alignment

North Carolina Standard Course of Study - Grade 8 Social Studies

Goal 7: The learner will analyze changes in North Carolina during the postwar period to the 1970's.

  • Objective 7.02 - Evaluate the importance of social changes to different groups in North Carolina.
  • Objective 7.04 - Compare and contrast the various political viewpoints surrounding issues of the post World War II era.

Goal 9: The learner will explore examples of and opportunities for active citizenship, past and present, at the local and state levels.

  • Objective 9.01 - Describe contemporary political, economic, and social issues at the state and local levels and evaluate their impact on the community.

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Materials and Resources


Technology Resources

  • Several tape recorders
  • High-quality cassette tapes—at least 1-2 for each group
  • Extra batteries for each group
  • Computer and Internet connection, if streaming oral history excerpts from this site
  • Speakers
  • CD player, if burning a CD of oral history excerpts

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Teachers should listen to the oral history excerpts (Joanne Peerman, William Culp, and William Hamlin) in advance, and review the discussion questions.

Teachers should, perhaps in collaboration with their school library media specialist, gather online and print resources about school desegregation for students to use when researching. Reserve time in the library media center for student research and for students to listen to sample oral histories.

Teachers should review the Inquiry-Chart, and modify or choose another research method if desired.

Teachers should contact community members who have experienced school desegregation and would be willing to travel to the school to be interviewed by students.

Teachers should review the Release Form and modify for their own purposes (if necessary).

Activity One: Activating Background Knowledge

In this brief activity, students will brainstorm ideas about school desegregation. Teachers will be able to determine students’ levels of prior knowledge and students will begin thinking about the issue.

Read students each prompt, or write them on the board or overhead:

  • What words come to mind when you hear the phrase "school desegregation"?
  • What images or pictures come to mind?
  • What would you like to know or find out about school desegregation?

Give students time to generate ideas and questions.

Explain that students will be studying school desegregation in preparation for interviewing an adult about their experiences with this controversial issue. Encourage students to start thinking about possible interviewees: parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and other relatives; neighbors; family friends; coaches; teachers; or other community members who would be willing to be interviewed.

Activity Two: Researching School Desegregation

Explain to students that they will now have a chance to learn more about school desegregation, so they will have enough knowledge and understanding of the topic to interview someone about it.

Hand out a copy of the Inquiry-Chart (Hoffman, 1992) to each student. If students aren’t familiar with the chart, review how to fill it out and how it will help organize their research. Teachers may want to model this strategy before students try it on their own.

Decide if students will generate their own questions individually or in groups, or if you will provide the questions for them.

Allow students sufficient time to fill out their charts, helping them answer questions and guiding their research.

Activity Three: What is an Oral History?

Introduce the concept of an oral history, and discuss their value as we study important events. Mention that oral histories provide a chance for the “regular person” to record his or her experiences, not just the well-known or famous people often recorded in written history.

Ask students to brainstorm more reasons we should value oral histories—such as allowing minority groups to record and publicize their experiences, making connections between generations, passing on the art of storytelling, etc.

Explain that students will be hearing oral history excerpts about school desegregation from North Carolinians.

Play first oral history excerpt for students. The speaker is Joanne Peerman, a Chapel Hill woman who experienced the turmoil of integration as a middle school student in the late 1960s. Discussion questions:

  • What were some of the issues the black students were protesting?
  • What do you think caused the conflict between Joanne and her father?
  • Were there other ways the students could have made their demands?

Play second oral history excerpt. The speaker is William Culp, a man from Charlotte whose children attended integrated schools. Discussion questions:

  • What are some of the benefits William Culp thought desegregation might bring?
  • Does Culp feel that desegregation was successful?

Play third oral history excerpt. The speaker is William Hamlin, a Charlotte resident who attended segregated schools but sent his children to integrated schools. Discussion questions:

  • According to Hamlin, what purpose did integration serve?
  • What do you think of Hamlin's idea that respect and acceptance are more important than integration?
  • How do Hamlin's ideas about integration differ from Culp's? Are they similar in any ways?

Activity Four: Practicing Oral History

Give students time to listen to and explore oral histories online, especially student oral history projects (see Additional Websites for links to examples). Have students take notes on things they observe in the oral histories that do or do not work well: especially good or effective questions, questions that seem to get short answers, techniques for encouraging the speaker to continue talking, the tone of voice used by the interviewer and interviewee throughout the interviews, and so on.

Divide students into groups of 3 or 4. Give each group a copy of the "Conducting Oral Histories" packet.

After students review the "Questions Guidelines" and "Interviewing Guidelines" in their packets, they will conduct practice interviews in class. Assign a topic all students will be able to talk at length about, such as experiences in elementary school, how holidays are celebrated within his or her family, trips he or she has taken in the past, etc. Have students take turns being the interviewer and interviewee, and end with a class discussion on what kinds of questions were best, what questions didn't get very good answers, and how the interviews could have been improved.

Using their Inquiry-Chart to inform them, students will spend time generating potential questions for their interviewee about school desegregation. Each student should have 5-7 questions prepared. Teachers may want to assign this activity for homework to save on class time.

Activity Five: Becoming Oral Historians

For each group, assign roles of interviewer, writer, and transcriber to students, or allow them to choose roles. If you have 4 students in a group, the fourth student will be an additional transcriber.

Make sure each group has a suitable interviewee who is willing to be interviewed on tape and has experienced school desegregation. For groups who aren't able to find an interviewee, assign one of the volunteer community members.

Students will then begin to complete the tasks assigned to their roles. Over the next one to two class meetings, the interviewer will practice using the tape recording equipment and set up a meeting time to conduct the interview; the writer will collect and edit the group's questions, then write additional questions; and the transcriber will listen to sample oral histories and practice transcribing them (links to sample oral histories are in Additional Web Sites).

After preparing during class, students will record their oral histories as outlined in their packets. Teachers may need to devote class time to this task if community members are coming to the school to be interviewed.

Activity Six: Reflecting on the Oral Histories

Each group will choose an excerpt to play from their oral history that they feel is especially interesting or says a lot about the history of desegregation. They will provide handouts of the transcript of this section, and teachers will make a copy for each member of the class.

Devote one to two class periods for students to listen to the oral histories their classmates have recorded. Each group will give a brief introduction to their speaker's background, and then play the excerpt for the entire class.

After the class has gotten a chance to hear everyone's work, students will complete these reflection questions:

  • How did the speaker in your oral history seem to feel about school desegregation? Did he or she have conflicting opinions? What emotions did you observe as he or she spoke about the topic?
  • Compare and contrast the opinions and experiences of your interviewee on school desegregation to the others recorded by your classmates
  • How did school desegregation impact your interviewee?
  • How do you think school desegregation impacted the community in which your interviewee lived?
  • What have you learned by recording this oral history?

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  • Students should participate in the class discussions (background knowledge of school desegregation, the value of oral history, and the reactions to the oral history excerpts) by volunteering observations and opinions and asking relevant questions.
  • Students should fully complete the Inquiry-Chart.
  • Students should successfully participate in the practice oral histories. Students should complete each task for their assigned role of interviewer, writer, or transcriber (listed in the "Conducting Oral History" packet).
  • Each group will turn in an oral history on tape (at least 20-30 minutes long) and a partial or complete transcript (of at least 15 minutes of the oral history).
  • Each student will complete the reflection questions, providing thoughtful answers that demonstrate the student has listened to and read the oral histories, analyzed how the interviewee's experiences are influenced by history and culture, and understands the essential facts of school desegregation in the U.S.

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Additional Web Sites

School Desegregation

The Legacy of School Busing- National Public Radio series
"With an Even Hand:" Brown V. Board at Fifty - Library of Congress multimedia online exhibit
Brown V. Board: An American Legacy - Teaching Tolerance
Horizons of Opportunities: Celebrating 50 Years of Brown v. Board of Education- National Education Association
Separate is Not Equal - Smithsonian National Museum of American History online exhibit
School Desegregation Electronic Fieldtrips- 50 minute online videos created by the Smithsonian for middle and high school students

Oral History Collections

Oral Histories of the American South - University of North Carolina

Civil Rights Oral History Interviews - Washington State University
Oral History with Fannie Lou Hamer - University of Southern Mississippi
T. Harry Williams Center for Oral History Collections - Louisiana State University
The Whole World Was Watching: An Oral History of 1968 - South Kingston High School, Rhode Island
Bland County History Archives - Rocky Gap High School, Virginia

Conducting Your Own Oral History Project

Introduction to Oral History - Baylor University
Teacher Resources - D.C. Everest Area Schools Oral History Project
Tips for Interviewing - Regional Oral History Office, University of California
Ten Questions for Planning an Oral History Project - LearnNC

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