Listening and talking this Thanksgiving, with help from StoryCorps

I love to talk, and as the saying goes, I don’t meet many strangers—well, they are not strangers for long. Most of the educators I know are talkers. It’s kind of hard to connect with students if you’re not chatting them up.

We also know that when connecting with students, it is even more important to listen. In fact, that’s how all of us build bridges across differences, come to an understanding, or at the very least, agree to peaceably and respectfully disagree. The Great Thanksgiving Listen provides us—especially students—with the opportunity to practice the skill of hearing each other out.

In the annual Thanksgiving Listen, young people interview their elders to learn about their lives. They discover more about them by asking questions and truly listening to their stories.


StoryCorps, which created the Thanksgiving Listen, has a pretty lofty mission: “To remind one another of our shared humanity, to strengthen and build the connections between people, to teach the value of listening, and to weave into the fabric of our culture the understanding that everybody’s story matters.”

StoryCorps is creating an archive that future generations can listen to and learn from. The point of it all is to “build connections between people and create a more just and compassionate world.” Sign me up!

To hear more about how StoryCorps got started, check out this animated video in which founder Dave Isay talks with his nephew about the history of his grand idea.

In the video, Dave says, “Most people love to be listened to, because it tells them how much their lives matter. All you need to ask are questions, like who is the most important person in your life, or what are you proudest of? Listening closely is simple. When you’re curious, treat people with respect, and have just a little courage to ask the important questions, great things are going to happen.”

I love StoryCorps. I cry and laugh as I listen to the world’s largest collection of short conversations among ordinary folks just remembering their lives: Grandfather and granddaughter. Teacher and former student. Friend and friend.

The Great Thanksgiving Listen is a wonderful project for students to learn more about storytelling. Over the past three years, more than 100,000 interviews have been preserved from every state in this way.

Anyone with a smartphone can participate. Download the StoryCorps app:

Educators can get more information about the Thanksgiving Listen from the StoryCorps in the Classroom Facebook group.

There’s also a Teacher Toolkit and Materials and plenty of inspiring, animated videos to get students psyched about the project. Sample questions, suggestions for how to plan the interview, and other helpful details will get students started.

Suggested follow-up activities include:

  • having students share brief clips from their interviews at a classroom listening party,
  • writing a reflection paper or poem, and
  • creating a visual storyboard of the interview.

And for those who want to kick it up a notch, you can record an interview in the StoryCorps Mobile Tour’s traveling recording studio. In 2019, the traveling studio is scheduled to make 10 stops, kicking off in Orlando, Fla. in January and ending the year in Yuma, Ariz. Schedule a recording with someone you love, and that conversation will be archived in the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. (Here are some stories from the Mobile Tour.)

If you’re in the Chicago area, there’s still time this year to schedule an interview with the Mobile Tour.

When you think about it, it’s the heart-to-heart talks that make Thanksgiving so special…along with the turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, mac and cheese, green bean casserole, sweet potato pie, etcetera.

I’m sending you my wishes for a happy and safe Thanksgiving, and foSr conversations that are just as fulfilling as the meal.

Leave a Reply