Memories of School Days

Online Lesson Plan
Memories of School Days

Using oral history techniques to teach students how schools have changed over time, how to comprehend strategies from multiple text structures, to retell school stories, to listen and speak effectively and to produce their own book of collected stories that will become a community resource.

Lesson Plan by Suzanne Ratzlaff, Fourth Grade Heartland Community Schools, Henderson, Nebraska.


Suggested Grade Level – 3rd-5th, possibly 8th.The student will:

As a learner

  • interview, record, and retell (through writing) school stories of a family member
  • research, document, and describe how schools have changed over time
  • utilize organizational skills by following a timeline and completing extended assignments on time

As a reader

  • utilize effective comprehension strategies from multiple text structures

As a writer

  • take notes and document information while conducting an interview
  • retell school stories through the writing process of creating, revising, editing, and publishing

As a speaker

  • engage in a rich, verbal interaction while conducting an interview
  • effectively speak and ask questions throughout an interview

As a listener

  • listen attentively, appreciatively, and critically while conducting an interview


“I” stories are always attention getters and help students connect to the teacher as a person. So, before starting this project, find your connection to the original Dick and Jane readers. It could be you, a parent, a grandparent, or an acquaintance … just find someone who learned to read with Dick and Jane.

“Bell Ringer”
Have a photograph of that person as a child sitting on your desk. When the children come into the classroom, they will notice the photo and ask who that person is. Tell them they will have to wait to find out. Also, if you have a schedule on the board, write something like:


12:50 to 1:30 – Reading
1:30 to 2:00 – Creative Writing
2:00 to 2:30 – Dick and Jane

When it is time to begin, have the photo, along with a Dick and Jane reader, setting in the front of the room. Tell the students who the person is, where and when he/she went to school, and how he/she learned to read with this book. Pass around the Dick and Jane reader, look at the illustrations, and read some of the stories. Don’t forget to point out Spot and Puff!

Have the students look at the copyright date and explain that this book was first introduced in 1931. Who would have thought Dick and Jane were that old? Bring up the question: “Do you think anyone in your family read Dick and Jane books when they were in school?” Tell them that when they go home, they should ask a parent or grandparent.

The Resources

Links from within the Wessels Living History Farm site. [Note that clicking on these links will open a new browser window. Just close it and you’ll be back to this page.] Direct the students to these pages to learn about what school was like in Nebraska during the 1930s.

Materials needed –

Handouts – Sample letters, permission slips, interview questions and other items needed to help this project run smoothly and be successful. Some of these handouts can be simply printed and handed out; others should be personalized with the name of your school, local historical society, etc.

The Process

Over the next few days, continue reading the Dick and Jane book and discuss old-fashioned school. The story pages listed above on this Wessels Living History Farm Web site can be accessed by the students to learn about what school was like in Nebraska during the 1930s.

As the students read and discuss the information about school during the 1930s, inform them that all this information came from “Oral History” interviews, and if they would like to know more about their family’s school stories, they could also conduct interviews.

Learning must have a purpose for many children, and generating a purpose for this project will help to create enthusiastic learners. The students’ writings could be compiled and bound into books, with each student receiving a copy. Here is another idea that would have connections to the community – if your town is in the process of building a museum or restoring a historical site, have the students offer to conduct interviews, write short stories, publish them in a bound book and donate the books to the historical committee. Then, the profits from the sales of these books can go towards the funding of their project. Knowing the committee will be receiving all the profits, they will hopefully offer to pay the printing costs. This is a wonderful way for the students to give to their town’s future while remembering the stories from the past.

When the students are ready to begin planning their research project, pass out a Big Chief Tablet for each student. Tell them that these tablets were used in classrooms during the Depression, and since they will be gathering school stories from as far back as the 1930s, what better than to have a Big Chief Tablet for their note taking.

Group Interview Experience. Set up an interview with a local retired teacher or a good storyteller and invite them to the classroom. Students can be a part of choosing and contacting this person, setting up the date and time, organizing the interview itself and setting up the room for the interview process. They could also meet the person at the front of the school, record and document the interview, accompany the visitor when he/she leaves and write a letter of thanks. This way, the children learn how set up and conduct an interview, document the information, and how to treat a visitor in their classroom.

Now the children are ready to conduct their own interviews.

  • Send home a parent/guardian note explaining the interview process and expectations, then attach the consent form.
  • Send home the interview handout with sample questions and a checklist.
  • Students complete the interview within a two-week timeline and return notes and permission slips.
  • Next, have the children look through their interview notes, share some good stories, and begin writing vignettes. A sample of a story like ones they may write is here.
  • Keyboard, proof, edit and correct until their writings are ready for publication.
  • As stories are being completed, begin deciding on chapter titles, photos, dedication, etc. A sample table of contents is here.
  • Save all print-ready stories into one electronic file.
  • Once the book is complete, contact the local organization, committee or business for printing.

Learning Advice

Project Timeline – This project can be spread over a two month period. Near the completion of the book, the children will need to work each day in class for at least two weeks while preparing their writings for publication.

Student Timeline – With the class, draw out a calendar and fill in the assignments and the dates each one is to be competed. Refer to this often to keep students on schedule.

Some students may have difficulty choosing a family member to interview. An alternative to a family member might be a local person, such as an employee of the school. Don’t forget that a local nursing home can be a wonderful resource.

If students make corrections by looking at a teacher’s red pen marks and then make their writing match the corrected one, this becomes just a visual matching skill. Therefore, when finding corrections in students’ work, write the marks in the margin to the right of the page and tell them they have to find their mistakes and make the corrections. Example: Make the symbol for a comma in the right margin of the page and tell the child that there is a comma missing in this row. As he/she tries to decide where it goes, the mind is thinking and processing the where and why. When you go through the corrections with him/her, say, “Yes, that is where the comma goes. You put two complete sentences together with the word ‘and.’ You needed a comma before the ‘and’ because you wrote a compound sentence.”

If you are not as technologically literate as you would like, or if time is a factor, have your school’s technology specialist assist with creating the book cover, title page, table of contents, chapters, etc. These people are worth their weight in gold!

If you choose to donate the books to a community organization, work with them and discuss the idea of each student receiving a free personal copy of their book because some may not have the money to purchase one themselves.


Plan for a “Memories of School Days” book signing and sale. This could be held at a local museum, an old one-room school building that is still standing or a city park. Send out personal invitations to parents and those who were interviewed. Then run announcements in the newspaper, on the local cable channel and in the school newsletter.

On the day of the book signing, have the students sign autographs as the books are sold. They could also share some of their stories with the visitors. A sample announcement and invitation to a signing is here.

Assessment Activity

Students can be assessed on their note taking skills related to Nebraska Writing State Standard 4.2.5 or 8.2.5 while demonstrating the use of self-generated questions, note taking and summarizing while learning.

Proofing and editing can be assessed relating to Nebraska State Standard 4.2.3 or 8.2.3.

Student’s final writing can be assessed on Nebraska Writing Standard 4.2.1 or 8.2.1 relating to standardEnglish conventions.

General Notes

Big Chief Tablets were used in classrooms during the Depression, and if the class would like to learn more go to “Ask Jeeves” on the Internet or do a web search for Big Chief Tablets.Dick and Jane Reading Series – What’s the history behind Dick and Jane? To learn more, visit these sites:

Theater Performance – Many of the stories collected are quite interesting and even funny. Skits could be written, parts chosen and a “Memories of School Stories” play could be performed for the community. Then, after the performance, the students could be in the lobby of the theater selling and autographing their books. This is a wonderful opportunity for those kinesthetic learners to actively move on stage and perform.


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