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 for understanding the past. Begin by listening to this 1994 interview with Leonard Jones, urban gardener.
• 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 interview is part of a 1994 Folklife Project - Working in Paterson: Occupational Heritage in an Urban Setting. Share information from the About the Collection overview. Locate Paterson on a New Jersey map. Have students listen to the recording. What is the topic of the interview? What facts did Leonard Jones share about his gardening interest? What did they learn about Paterson? What else was discussed? Have students 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 share what they learned about growing a garden in an urban setting. Where is his garden in relation to his job? What kinds of plants is Leonard Jones growing? What does he like about gardening? What problems did he encounter gardening in an urban setting? What did they learn about his childhood? Were students able to understand the dialogue? Did they have difficulty with the vocabulary? What do they know about the setting of the interview? What did they learn about the lifestyle of the narrator? Did listening to the voices help create a visual picture of the speaker and setting? Does this interview relate in any way to the students' own lives?
• Ask: After listening to and discussing the speech, do students still have questions? What resources could help them learn more about the history of Paterson, New Jersey? Where can they find more information about urban gardening? Are there related audio files in the American Memory collections? Can they find a photograph of a Leonard Jones? (Hint: A search of the Working in Paterson collection using the words - "Leonard Jones" - will result in 39 photos and interviews featuring Jones.) What else can students find out about the interviewers and the Paterson Folklife Project?
Effective listening is an art. With frequent practice, students can develop this important life skill. Explore the interviews, sound files, music and speeches that 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: Jones holds freshly picked vegetables