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The Power of Listening

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Every voice matters and listening closely to someone is an act of love — one of the greatest gifts one person can give to another.

By having a conversation and listening to someone’s story, we get to know each other, practice empathy and gain a greater appreciation of our shared humanity regardless of race, creed, sexual identity, religion or age. Listening to one another strengthens our social and emotional muscles and helps us build powerful interpersonal connections.

As we approach Thanksgiving and the holiday season, often packed with family (or chosen family) gatherings and shared meals, we are given incredible opportunities to facilitate and participate in meaningful conversations across generations. This fall, let’s empower students to connect with a family member or someone important in their life and help make history.

StoryCorps records, preserves and shares peoples’ stories so that the wisdom of humanity lives on for future generations. Through a partnership with the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, we are building a national archive of these interviews to create a wealth of voices and first-person narratives for future historians.

Recording Intergenerational Conversations: A Bridge Between Then and Now

We recognize and celebrate the contributions of young people to the growing and evolving archive of this country. Their own stories enrich our understanding of today’s generations and the interviews they conduct with others are rich unique, primary-source materials. By encouraging students to participate in recording intergenerational conversations, we are building bridges of understanding between then and now, and are teaching the power of asking questions and listening carefully for answers. 

So, what makes a great conversation? Start by asking great questions. You can help your students prepare to have a meaningful interview by reviewing StoryCorps’ list of Great Questions or by using the Great Questions Generator in our free StoryCorps App. We’ve organized the questions into categories to help get your ideas flowing. Here are some examples:

Getting Started: Great Questions for Meaningful Conversation

General Questions for Anyone

  • How would you like to be remembered?
  • What has been the happiest moment of your life so far? The saddest?
  • What does your future hold?

Family Heritage

  • Tell me about some traditions that have been passed down through our family. 
  • When and how did they get started?

Growing Up & School

  • Did you have a nickname? 
  • What was it and how did you get it? 
  • Does anyone still call you by that nickname?

Civic Engagement

  • Has there ever been a time in your life when you wanted to vote, but were not able to? 
  • What was that like?

Encourage your students to choose the questions they like or to brainstorm their own questions. You could also facilitate a question generating activity in your classroom (or at your own Thanksgiving table). Compile a list of questions unique to your family, school, or town. The more specific, the better. 

More Prompts to Get the Conversation Going

  • What makes our school or town special?
  • What stories have you heard about this place or about us? 
  • What problems do you see here? What might be a possible solution to one of these problems?
  • Is there an intriguing, confusing, or funny tradition in our school or town that you want to learn more about? 
  • Is there a particular food we eat here that makes this place unique? How can we learn more about it in our interviews?

StoryCorps has developed a set of tools like the free StoryCorps App and interview practice exercises that can help your students record, preserve and share first-person narratives. This year also marks the 5th annual Great Thanksgiving Listen, a national project that empowers young people to interview an elder over the holidays — check back next week for curriculum resources and more from the 2019 Great Thanksgiving Listen Teacher Toolkit.

Using these tools and other resources you may already have in your classroom, your students can add their voices to our national archive and help preserve the wisdom of humanity.

Lisa Gale Chief Programming Officer

Lisa V. Gale has been at StoryCorps since 2017. She has more than 25 years of experience in the administration and management of nonprofit organizations in the fields of adult education and community development. Prior to joining StoryCorps, she served as Deputy Commissioner, Employment Services, for the Human Resources Administration of the City of New York, a $200 million employment services division, offering city programs such as Back2Work, Business Link, Training Assistance Group, and more.

Before her position with the City, Lisa managed a portfolio of workforce development programs funded by the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone Development Corporation; she worked as the Deputy Executive Director for the Literacy Assistance Center; and held various senior leadership positions at nonprofits focused on adult literacy and community and economic development. Lisa holds a PhD in Social Welfare from The CUNY Graduate Center and an MSW from the Hunter College School of Social Work.

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