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Listening and Learning with Storycorps

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As we approach the holiday season and continue living with the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, the election, and racial injustices, meaningful moments of human connection are more precious than ever. With minimal resources, educators nationwide have jumped into the deep end of the virtual learning pool, pivoting between teaching in person, remote classrooms, and hybrid teaching. Educators have been calling upon all their creativity, training, and dedication to continue providing enriching learning environments for students and have also been working closely with parents and caretakers as they serve as learning facilitators from home.

Passing the Torch of Wisdom, Generation by Generation
During these months of physical separation, the sound of our voices in dialogue remains one of the greatest gifts we can give one another. This year, communities—young people especially—are leaning on meaningful engagement, understanding, and care. Whether it’s in person or across geographic distances, encourage students to use the holidays to enjoy each other’s company, actively listen to one another and tell their story.

Educators can help make that happen for their students through StoryCorps’ annual Great Thanksgiving Listen. This national movement empowers young people, and people of all ages, to create an oral history of the contemporary U.S. by recording an interview with a family member, friend, or important person in their lives. These interviews are housed in the StoryCorps Archive and in the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress so their collective wisdom lives on for future generations.

Every interview is different, adding a new puzzle piece to the evolving mosaic of our perplexing history. The invaluable intergenerational conversations, recorded as part of The Great Thanksgiving Listen, can be used as a classroom project or activity that foster media literacy skills and student engagement.

The Power of Connection: The Great Thanksgiving Listen Assignment
The Great Listen activity, outlined below, prompts students to explore the power of storytelling by watching Silvia’s Legacy. This lesson helps students evaluate and reflect on primary sources, and empowers them to use their voices to tell their own. It can be assigned as a supplementary exercise, or expanded to be a larger part of a curriculum. Students will listen and witness the power of history, storytelling and the role that they both play in shaping narratives. Educators, parents, and caretakers can use Siliva’s Legacy as a starting point to prompt conversations to lead into the activity.

Before watching Silvia’s Legacy, here are sample media literacy questions from POV so students can practice analyzing all media they consume.

Media Literacy Questions

  • What is this film about? What makes you think that?
  • What ideas, values and information are overt? Implied? 
  • What techniques does the filmmaker use to communicate essential ideas? How do these techniques communicate the intended message(s)?
  • How might others see this film in a way that differs from the way I see it? How and why might different types of people interpret this film in divergent ways? 
  • What is my reaction to this film and what do I learn about myself from my reaction or interpretation? 
  • What have I learned from this film? Why might the film’s message(s) matter to me?

Summary of Silvia’s Legacy: Ellaraino’s reluctance to, as she herself put it, “spend my time with a senile old woman” was fairly typical teenage behavior. However, actually meeting Silvia proved to be more of a learning process than Ellaraino expected, as she discovers that Silvia had lived through the Civil War and knew quite a lot about the true meaning of freedom.

After watching the video, here are questions to prompt an engaging classroom discussion:

  • Silvia refers to herself as a jigsaw puzzle with some of the pieces missing. What do you suppose are the missing pieces?
  • How is learning to read and write transformative for Silvia, and why are those skills linked to her sense of self and freedom?
  • What is the importance of names in this story, especially being able to write them down and share them?

Silvia’s Legacy demonstrates how a seemingly ordinary meeting between family members can become an extraordinary moment of intergenerational discovery. Inspire students by sharing this story and many others as they conduct their own Great Thanksgiving Listen interviews. The stories also serve as a great model and example for students. After they view and discuss the video, ask your students to record their own first-person narratives for The Great Thanksgiving Listen during their holiday break. 

The Educator Toolkit outlines the full lesson so you can bring The Great Listen to your classroom! 

We hope you and other educators and communities across the country will join us in learning, growing, and sharing our experiences together during this extraordinary time. Being able to preserve and return to these stories is a way of giving the gift of ourselves and our loved ones to one another and to future generations. 

Additional Teaching Resources 


Storycorps Team

Founded in 2003 by Dave Isay, StoryCorps has given over 500,000 people across the United States of all backgrounds and beliefs the chance to record interviews about their lives. The organization preserves the recordings in its archive at the Library of Congress, the largest single collection of human voices ever gathered, and shares select stories with the public through StoryCorps’ weekly podcast, NPR broadcasts, animated shorts, digital platforms, and best-selling books. These powerful human stories reflect the vast range of American experiences, wisdom, and values; engender empathy and connection; and remind us how much more we have in common than divides us. 

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