East Montpelier: Past, Present, Future

The Third Grade at East Montpelier Elementary School studied ethnographic methods with Vermont Folklife Center media instructor, Mike Leonard. Their project - entitled East Montpelier: Past, Present, Future - brought community members into the classroom to be interviewed on camera about their experiences living in East Montpelier. The interviews were then turned into a documentary by the 5th/6th Grade Tech Club. 

The following lessons delivered by VFC staff provided the foundation for this project, emphasizing the importance of storytelling and practicing interviewing techniques:



Introduction to Storytelling


To understand the meaning and importance of storytelling


45-55 minutes


Anthropology, Ethnography, Ethics, Social Studies, Humanities, Storytelling




understanding and interpreting storytelling, analysis of content and information, critical thinking 


White board/markers, word bank, random objects for Autobiography of Anything, An Alien in My Town Worksheet


·      Introduction – How do we define storytelling? (5 min)

o  Ask the students to explain what they think storytelling means. 

o  Explain that storytelling is telling stories and that each story is a special way of sharing real or imagined events in a sequence.

o  Explain that storytelling is a type of folk art. Explain that folk art is something that people do as a way of expressing their culture and identity. It is special because it exists for everybody, no special equipment is needed, it requires imagination, and allows people to pass on information/wisdom.

·      What does storytelling consist of? (5 min)

o  Ask students what a story consists of? They should answer: Beginning, middle, end. Includes some sort of events that happen – often with a conflict/resolution. It includes a setting and characters.

o  Ask students to explain what kinds of stories exist.

o  Explain that news, radio, songs, pictures, movies, listening to your friend, following instructions, dreaming, walking from point A-to-B. These are all different types of stories that explain events.

·      What is the importance of storytelling? (10 min)

o  Ask students why storytelling is important.

o  Explain that stories are important because they are an effective way to:

§  Share information, make us think, laugh, cry, or feel a connection.

§  Teach us morals and the history of a culture – how we came to be

§  Build identity and a sense of belonging – who we are

§  Explain that everything has a story even if it doesn’t seem interesting – segue to 

·      POSSIBLE ACTIVITY: ‘Autobiography of Anything’

·      How do we tell stories? (10-20 min)

o  Ask students to share what it is they think makes a good story. What do they need to tell a story?

o  Explain that in order to tell a good story you need information and details. We collect information by asking questions, observing our surroundings, and listening.

o  Explain that another important part of telling a good story is how we present the story to others. Discuss different ways people share stories (oral, video, written, etc.)

o  Explain that good storytelling can also be a performance:


·      ‘1 to 10 in Many Ways’

·      ‘Walk the Walk’

·      Practice telling a story (15 min)

o  POSSIBLE ACTIVITY: ‘A Stranger in My Town’

·      Review


Introduction to Interviewing


To understand why we conduct interviews and to practice interview techniques


40-50 minutes


Anthropology, Ethnography, Social Studies, Humanities, Interviewing, Communication, Journalism, Language Arts


PRIOR KNOWLEDGE: None necessary; Introduction to Storytelling would be helpful


understanding communication, practicing conversation and interview, analysis of content and information, critical thinking 

RESOURCES NEEDED: Link to video 



·      Introduction - What is an interview? (5 min)

o  Ask students if any of them have ever been part of an interview. Have a discussion about what an interview is. Explain that an interview is when 2 or more people talk and share usually information – usually one person is asking questions and listening to the other one give answers.

·      What does interviewing consist of? (10-20 min)

·     Show video about interviewing: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_4pm_-GGyUw

o  After watching the video, have the students think about some of these questions: 

§  Why do we ask questions? So that people will share information.

§  How do we prepare for an interview? Research the person you are interviewing and the topic you want to discuss

§  How do we arrange the setting? Make sure there aren’t many distractions; make it comfortable for your interviewee

§  Why do we get permission before we interview someone? People’s stories are their property; people can be sensitive; we don’t want to offend others

§  How do we listen? Discuss good listening techniques – eye contact, show expressions that you are listening, body language, minimize distraction, don’t act robotic, let the conversation flow, use a loud, clear voice.

o  How do we ask good questions for an interview? 

§  Don’t ask yes/no questions. 

§  Follow-up with questions that are related to the answers. 

§  Make sure to ask relevant questions to the topic.

§  5Ws: Who, what, where, when, why, (and how)

§  Go over some of the list of Interview Question Starter Examples


·      Question Brainstorming

·      Choose the Best Questions

·      Practice a sample interview (10 min)

o  Host a sample interview between two adults in the classroom. 

o  Have the students analyze what went well and what didn’t go well in the interview.

·      Class interview practice (10 min)

o  Have the students break off into pairs or groups of three.

o  Instruct the students to practice interviewing each other. If they are struggling to find topics to discuss give them some options such as:

§  Hobbies

§  Vacation/weekend plans

§  Your family

§  Favorite TV shows/movies/books

·      Review