Step 2: choosing and preparing interviewees 

Interviewees need to be selected with care if they are to prove an effective source of oral history for primary school situations.

A number of issues need to be considered:

• The quality of the person’s memories: some potential interviewees may have lived through a particular period but were too young at the time to have clear personal memories of the events

• The ability of the person to talk about the past while taking account of the interests, vocabulary and limited attention span of children

• The willingness of the person to talk about his/her personal circumstances, family, and experiences. Some of the questions asked by children may evoke, quite unintentionally, memories of an intensely personal nature. 

• The degree of rapport between the teacher and the interviewee. If the teacher knows the interviewee well there should be no embarrassment about stepping in to end a session if the attention of the class has been lost, or asking the visitor to return for a second visit if necessary.

Potential interviewees may be contacted in a number of ways: among parents and grandparents of pupils, among parish and community groups and through local history societies and local heritage centres or museums.

Talking to the interviewee at length is very important. This will give the teacher opportunities to

• Assess the areas about which the visitor could talk most readily

• Familiarise the interviewee with the studies which the children have undertaken so far

• Explain about the age group involved, the kind of historical skills which they may have, their likely attention span

• Discuss the areas about which the children might like to ask questions

• Explain whether a group or a class will be involved

• Ask whether recording of the session would be possible

• Make an appointment and arrange transport for the visitor if necessary