Holiday celebrations often include music, conversation and storytelling. The American Memory collections contain numerous audio files that provide clues to the traditions, ideas, language, speaking style, vocabulary, accents, and dialects of generations past. Exposure to America's songs, sounds, and oral histories will enhance students' understanding of written and visual documents. Learning to listen carefully provides another means to understanding the past. Begin by listening to an audio interview that was recorded in southern West Virginia in 1995. Follow the observe, think and ask analysis process. Use these guiding questions or create your own. Use a graphic organizer for recording notes.
• Observe: "Observing" an audio file means listening carefully. Create a quiet environment. Set the scene for the students. For an initial listening experience, provide them with background information. Let them know whose voices they will hear and the date and place of the recording. Explain that this interviewer is asking the interviewee about gathering fruits and nuts from the woods. Have students listen to the recording. What are the names of the trees mentioned? Where are the nuts being collected? What is "mast"? What is a "holler" or a "possum". Why is this person collecting fruits and nuts? Ask students to jot down unfamiliar words. If students have difficulty understanding the dialogue, play the recording again.
• Think: After completing the listening and note-taking process, conduct a class discussion. Ask students to consider why this recording was made. What was the recorder trying to document? Could the students understand the conversation or did they have difficulty with the dialect? What do they know about the setting of the interview? Did listening to the voices help create a visual picture of the people and setting? What did they learn about the lifestyle of the interviewee? Does this relate in any way to the students' own lives?
• Ask: After listening to and discussing the interview, do students still have questions? What resources could help them learn more? Are there related audio files in the American Memory collections? Can they locate photographs that would help them visualize the setting? Would a science field guide have information about the types of fruits and nuts mentioned? Can they find the location of the interview on a map?
Effective listening is an art. With frequent practice, students can develop this important life skill. Explore the interviews, sound files, music, and speeches that are can be found in the American Memory collections. Link to the sample selections on the left side of this page, or search for more sound files on your own. Select "sound recordings" from the "Limit Search to:" box on the right side of the search page. Link to photo: Mae Bongalis in her kitchen with locally-gathered black walnuts that she has been canning.