The National Library of Australia’s Oral History and Folklore Collection houses over 45,000 hours of recordings with prominent Australians. They provide us with a rare insight into the thoughts and feelings of scientists, politicians and historians.

Have students pair up and create their own oral history recording. This could be about a discovery they have made, a holiday, or their most memorable experience. They will need to prepare 4 or 5 thoughtful questions to ask each other. The questions should probe the memory of the interviewee and prompt a detailed recollection. Ask students to discuss the differences between closed and open questions. What are the advantages/disadvantages of each? Make a list of inquiry questioning words and phrases such as: ‘Tell me more about … ’; ‘How did you … ’, etc.

Students should then use their phones or class devices to record their histories (using only the audio recorder, not the video camera). Have students start the recording with by introducing the interviewer, interviewee, time and date and location. Students should also record a disclaimer, as heard in the recordings in this module. This will help them understand the concept of ownership of content and let them decide whether or not their recording can be played to the class. Set a time limit for the recordings; 5 minutes per student should be sufficient.

When the recordings are finished, have students upload or email the videos to themselves, a teacher, a class shared folder etc. for safekeeping. At the end of the unit, term, semester or year, students can listen to their recordings.

After the activity, facilitate a class discussion. Ask students to describe how it felt to be interviewed about their life:

  • was it stressful to recall details?
  • did they feel comfortable?
  • how did they feel having only their voices recorded instead of the whole exercise being filmed?
  • when they listen back to the recording, do they think it is an accurate representation of them? (sound, etc.)
  • Ask students to think about how we may capture personal stories and history in the future.

This activity aims to familiarise students with the process of recording history. It can also be used to show students that even their own lives and experiences are part of a shared history. It aims to encourage public speaking skills and develop confidence speaking in a formal setting.