Projects and Courses

Storytelling through Oral History & Digital Timelines in a High School English Class

Dr. Erin Zavitz
(Bosque School)

We’re focusing on learning more about ordinary people’s lives and understanding how everyone has a story to tell even if it’s not one that makes it in a book.

Project Overview: Oral History

  • 10th Grade (private High School) English course project
  • Conduct an oral history interview with an individual of your choosing
  • Create an interview plan, including description of the narrator, interview location, interview technology, letter to the narrator, and questions
  • Obtain informed consent
  • Complete a video reflection in which you reflect on your experience and what you learned through the oral history interview

Outcomes & Deliverables

Students reflect on the importance of storytelling in the context of the texts they read in class, and acknowledge the importance of how we tell stories as well as how those stories get told.

In the past I have had students make their own timelines, but I’ve found that having too many people on one spreadsheet is a disaster. This time, I entered their data in Timeline JS and shared the versions with them for a peer review. . . By having them work in groups and share their work, they were more engaged with the entire process.

Project Overview: Timeline Biography

  • Group activity in which students create a timeline of William Shakespeare’s life in preparation for reading The Tempest
  • Conduct biographical research and compare important life events and their relevance
  • Data is entered in Timeline JS and reviewed by class

Outcomes & Deliverables

Students learn about Shakespeare’s life and the historical context when he lived, better understanding how he may have been influenced when writing The Tempest.


Oral History Assignment

Rationale and instructions for oral history assignment (Shared under a CC BY-NC 4.0 license.)

Shakespeare Timeline Assignment

Complete instructions for timeline assignment (Shared under a CC BY-NC 4.0 license.)

Tools & Topics: Oral History

Learn more about the oral history presentations from the 2019 institute, and find relevant resources

Blog Posts Reflection

Reflection: Erin Zavitz

While Bosque School teacher Dr. Erin Zavitz was unable to attend the institute in person, she still made the most of her involvement by attending follow-up workshops and viewing recorded presentations. Her experience proved the value of digital humanities tools not only at the university level, but also at the high school level.

First, I want to say it was an honor to be selected as a participant in the institute. Overall, the institute, both the in-person week-long session and semester asynchronous workshops, provided a valuable introduction to questions, tools, and theories in Digital Caribbean Studies. I’ve included with this reflection a few lesson plans that integrate elements of the institute. They represent an immediate application; however, one of the institute’s values is long term pedagogical shifts and the development of new digital humanities curriculum. I will continue to reflect on the lessons, return to the videos of workshops, and review fellow participants lesson plans to further refine my teaching. 

The in-person week-long institute had a fabulous program of events that balanced presentations, hands-on sessions, discussion, and work time. Unfortunately, I was unable to participate in-person in the week-long session because of personal circumstances. The institute facilitators provided virtual options, and I was able to join in discussions with fellow participants and watch several presentations in real time. The discussions were the most useful and provided a space to receive feedback on current teaching practices while also learning about new methods and assignments. For example, I had used StoryMaps JS and Timeline JS in both university and high school settings, but in conversation with others I realized tweaks I could make to my plans to scaffold the assignments and provide students more support. I also picked up other assignment ideas, like the playlist. I ended up using a playlist as an exam for my sophomore English students. They had to create a playlist for a main character in the novel we were reading and and write a short justification of the playlist. 

The semester long series of workshops continued our training and provided flexibility. As the only high school teacher, not all of the content was relevant. This was fine; the institute was mainly for university level teachers, staff, and students. While the workshop mode was asynchronous, it was hard to attend the live discussion meetings because of time zone differences and a less flexible teaching schedule. As the included lesson plans show, one of the most beneficial workshops was Paul Ortiz’s and Deborah Hendrix’s videos and discussion on oral history. I have experience with oral history but had never used it in the classroom. This was one area I particularly wanted to explore because of the institute. Their workshop helped to make my class project a success. 

Overall, this was a wonderful opportunity to review familiar DH tools and explore new ones and to reflect on my teaching practice. I look forward to continuing to implement the tools and theories from the institute in the years to come.