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Using Primary Sources to Learn of the Life of Studs Terkel, His Interviews, and Individual Stories of WWII Veterans

6-8, 9-12
Subjects History, Language Arts, Social Studies

Academic Content Standards

McREL is the Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning in Aurora, Colorado, a site that provides K-12 academic standards.
Achieve is a site that addresses the academic standards of over 40 states.

Note to teachers: The following lesson materials are designed to provide teachers with several choices about the content and length of the lessons. As the title indicates, teachers may choose to have students study: (i) The life of Studs Terkel.(ii)Studs Terkel's interviews and interview practice (iii)The individual stories of WWII veterans who have been interviewed and (iv) Any combination of the above. Attached to the lesson are additional resources for further lessons that can serve as extension materials/ activities.

- Subject indexed audio excerpts of interviews from Studs Terkel's archives. (provided below)
- Paper
- Pens/pencils
- Classroom chalkboard
- American history resources with information on a wide range of 20th century events (world history textbooks, encyclopedias, 20th century references from your school library, computers with Internet access)
- Articles.


Overview of Lesson Plan

Students will listen to selected excerpts about Studs Terkel. They will investigate, through his interviews and personal reflections, the impact of war on individuals. Listening to excerpts of interviews (and reading letters) of WWII soldiers, students will appreciate the effect of war on the soldiers' lives and families. The lesson begins with students engaging in research on the life of Studs Terkel.

Students will:
1) Research the life of Studs Terkel.
2) Explore the role of an interviewer by studying Studs Terkel's interview skills and engaging in authentic interviews with individuals who remember their war experiences.
3) Use interview skills and strategies to interview one another about their own lives and families.
4) Develop an appreciation of the perspectives of veterans who participated in WWII.

Activities / Procedures

A. Studs Terkel

1. Beginning with Studs Terkel's web site, have the students discover/explore the life of Studs Terkel.
2. After reading the articles, what impressions have the students developed about Studs Terkel? Is his real name Studs Terkel? What is the significance of the red striped shirt and the red socks that Studs Terkel is known for?
3. Drawing from newspaper articles, radio and TV programs, celebrating the life of Studs Terkel, students are asked to develop a chronology of his life.
4. Develop a list of general questions to ask interviewees about their impressions of the impact of war on families and individuals.


1. Students will present their interviews and identify the various interview skills and strategies they employed in preparing their work.

Suggested Activities

Evaluating the Process of the Interview.

  • How did Studs get this person to tell their story?
  • What types of questions do you think he asked?
  • What kind of equipment do you think he used?
  • How many ways can we record interviews?
  • What are the advantages and disadvantages of different methods?
  • What kinds of things do you think an interviewer should avoid doing?
  • What can an interviewer do to keep his or her subject on track?

B. War Veterans

1. As a class, listen to the excerpts from the Studs Terkel archives:

2. Develop a list of questions that could be asked in interviews about individual's impressions on the impact of war on families and individuals.
3. Write a journal entry describing the effect war had on Eugene Bislech as he narrates his experience in the interview with Studs Terkel.
4. Working in small groups, and using the internet, and excerpts from Studs Terkel's book "The Good War: An Oral History of World War II" read descriptions of other individuals' expressions of the impact of war on their lives.


Choosing a letter of one of the individuals, develop a presentation around his/her life and war experiences. Given the information shared in the letter, reconstruct as much of the writer's circumstances as possible. For example, what was happening in the war at the time the letter was written? Where was the individual stationed? What events does the writer recount?

Suggested Activities

Doing Oral History

  • Have the class choose a subject that relates to one of Studs Terkel's interviews.
  • Have the class develop a list of interview questions based upon the chosen subject/topic. (Questions should be open ended, as to avoid yes/no answers.)
  • Organized in pairs, have students interview one another. Each pair should present the information gathered from the interviews.
  • Lead a discussion that allows students to synthesize the themes presented.
  • If you chose to follow the same subject that the Studs Terkel excerpt focused on, compare and contrast the information that you gathered with the information he collected.


"Ask me any question you like. If I don't know the answer, I will fake it". America's Interviewer by Lisa James.
"How dare you interview someone and not read their work? It is simply a matter of showing respect to the interviewee" America's Interviewer by Lisa James.
"...I get people to talk by listening." America's Interviewer by Lisa James.
"What is the one experience that we all share but haven't had happen yet?" Studs Terkel: Interview by Frank Halperin.
"E.B. Eugene Bislech, teacher of biology, bird lover, bird watcher, his specialist in ornithology and you don't believe in violence. This is what we were talking about". From Studs Terkel audio clip. (RM 4.1 from 1.20-1.36)
"...but you survived, so don't feel sorry for yourself" Eugene Bislech. From Studs Terkel Audio Clip. ( RM 4.1 from 0.42-53)
"...what a ridiculous and worthless thing a war is in the light of such a wonderful event" George Rarey; Soldier writing a letter to his wife (upon receiving the news of the birth of his son).

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