Browse By Migrations Geography Timeline Source Materials Education Materials Search
The Second Great Migration
The Greatest Generation Lesson Plan
Much of the narrative The Second Great Migration examines the impact of World War II on African Americans who served in the military and defense industries. As this group ages, the opportunity to conduct oral history is ebbing, so this activity is designed to encourage students to talk with people of this passing generation. The teacher may wish to coordinate with local individuals or groups to set up interviews; the teacher also may locate tape or video recorders, and set up any necessary release forms for interview subjects. In the lesson The Greatest Generation, students will prepare a list of questions for their interviews, taking into account whether the person is male or female, served in the military or in a home-front capacity. They then will explore the impact of the war on the life of the person interviewed in such areas as migration, gender relations, economic conditions, status within the African-American community, as well as race relations. The Veterans History Project of the American Folklife Center of the Library of Congress may serve as a guide for this activity and also, if the school or community wishes it, as a repository for collected oral histories.
Grade Levels:Middle school, grades 6–8
For use with:The Second Great Migration
Concentration Area:History
National Curriculum Standards met by this lesson
The following standards have been taken from the Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning (McRel) standards.
Students will understand

  • The struggle for racial and gender equality and for the extension of civil liberties.
  • How minority groups were affected by World War II (e.g., how minority groups organized to gain access to wartime jobs and the discrimination they faced, factors that led to the internment of Japanese Americans).
  • The economic boom and social transformation of the post-World War II United States.
Time required
Five 50-minute class periods if students read the narrative outside of class and conduct oral history interviews after school hours
Materials needed
  • Narrative, The Second Great Migration
  • Tape or video recorders and recording media (tapes, disks)
  • Permission/release forms for interview subjects (check with school officials before creating your own form)
Anticipatory Set

  1. Direct students to read the narrative The Second Great Migration, focusing on World War II-related information in the sections " "Causes of the Migration—Pulls," " " "Who Were the Migrants," " " "African-American Women and the Migration," " and " "Impact on Destination Communities." "
  2. Newsman Tom Brokaw said, "They came of age during the Great Depression and the Second World War and went on to build modern America—men and women whose everyday lives of duty, honor, achievement, and courage gave us the world we have today." He interviewed dozens of people and honored them in a book, The Greatest Generation. Point out that Brokaw featured two African Americans in the book, Martha Settle Putney and Johnnie Holmes.
  3. Ask students if they have ever talked to African-American members of the Greatest Generation about their experiences.
  4. Have students brainstorm a list of individuals and/or organizations that might be able to link them with African Americans who either served in the military or worked in a civilian, support capacity on the home front during World War II. Organizations might include veterans groups (Veterans of Foreign Wars, American Legion), senior citizen advocacy or support groups and facilities, church organizations, and genealogical or local history societies.

  1. Explain to students that they will be conducting oral history interviews with African-American members of the Greatest Generation. They will need to complete a pre-interview checklist before conducting the actual interview. If this project is going to become a public document through the Veterans History Project or other oral history projects, make certain to complete all necessary forms and additional requirements. For the purposes of this activity as a stand-alone project, students will need to prepare by:

    1. Familiarizing themselves with World War II, including the chronology, key historical figures, and themes and issues of the era.
    2. Familiarizing themselves with interview techniques and the hardware they will be using. They should practice ahead of time by interviewing friends or classmates. Instruct them in learning not to be afraid of silence or stirring emotion but to be respectful. Have students practice with the equipment to avoid failure.
    3. Setting up the interview, establishing a location and length of time that the interview will run. Tell students to avoid noisy interview settings, such as at a busy restaurant or where there is background music or television. They should find out in advance whether the subjects of the interviews are veterans or not, if they were in combat or not, and what activities they were involved in during World War II. If this interview is going to become a public document, such as through the Veterans History Project, students should advise the subjects of the interviews that this will be the case when setting up the interview.
    4. Preparing for the interview by conducting further research on the particular theater of battle in which interview subjects may have found themselves, or the types of home-front activities men and women pursued to support the troops.
    5. Creating a bibliography of all sources used for the project.
    6. Planning and drafting questions, starting with simple start-ups like the people's names, where they were born and grew up, and how old they were when World War II began. Students may wish to bring a picture (readily available in textbooks) of Pearl Harbor under attack, or other artifacts to stimulate a conversation. Instruct students to avoid questions that can be answered 'yes-no' in favor of open-ended questions, and also avoid questions that focus on chronology and other information readily available from secondary sources. Students should be prepared to ask follow-up questions, but realize they can be as simple as " "Why?" " or " "How?" " or " "Tell me more." " Students should remember that they are trying to explore the impact of the war on the life of the person interviewed in such areas as migration, gender relations, economic conditions, status within the African-American community, as well as race relations.
    7. Obtaining permission/release form for subjects' signatures.
    8. Reviewing evaluation rubric to understand criteria on which their grades will be based.
  2. Following the interview, have students either:

    1. Review the tape and make an outline of the contents, identifying key passages and transcribing the most outstanding segment of the interview; or
    2. Transcribe select portions of the interview; or
    3. Transcribe the entire interview; it takes four-six hours to transcribe one hour of conversation.
  3. Conclude the activity by having students present what they have learned from their interview subject and playing the highlight of the interview to the class.

Evaluate the oral history project on a 25-point scale (which you may be multiply by four to convert to a 100-point scale or letter grades) using the following rubric:

Grading Element/Total Possible Points Excellent (5) Good (4) Fair (3–2) Not Satisfactory (1) No Work (0)
Content (5) • The interviewer selected an appropriate person to interview

• The interview focused on an appropriate, specific era

• Interviewer was thoroughly prepared

• The interview brought out lots of excellent details and facts
• The interviewer selected a person generally appropriate for the interview

• The interviewer was generally prepared

• The interview generally focused on the appropriate era and topic

• The interview brought out solid details and facts
• The interviewer selected a person not wholly appropriate for the interview

• The interviewer did not adequately prepare or do enough background research

• The interview wandered off focus sometimes.

• The interview was rather vague in details and factual information
• The interviewer selected a person inappropriate for the interview or fabricated the subject or interview information

• The interviewer was unprepared

• The interview was off topic or time period

• The interview produced no details or new information
No Work
Questions and Questioning Techniques (5) • The interviewer was courteous and attentive

• The questions demonstrated an excellent understanding of the topic

• The questions followed an orderly, progressive structure, were effective and engaged the interviewee

• When the subject offered interesting new material, the interviewer pursued it with good follow-up questions

• The interviewer helped keep the subject on topic
• The interviewer was courteous and mainly attentive

• The questions demonstrated good understanding of the topic

• The questions were somewhat orderly, generally effective, and engaged the subject

• The interviewer sometimes asked follow-up questions

• The interviewer kept the interview focused most of the time
• The interviewer was courteous

• The questions demonstrated fair understanding and little background research

• The interviewer jumped around with questions

• The interviewer asked few follow-up questions

• The interviewer did not draw out the interviewee very well

• The interview was disjointed
• The interviewer was rude or inattentive

• The questions demonstrated poor research or weak understanding of topic

• The interviewer wandered from one unrelated question to another

• The interviewer asked no follow-up questions

• Questions were close-ended and ineffective in drawing out the interviewee

• The interview was completely unfocused
No Work
Technical quality (5) Tape quality had clear sound and pictures (if applicable) Sound and/or picture quality was good for most of the tape Sound and/or picture quality was poor Sound was unintelligible and/or picture quality poor and useless No Work
Transcription quality (5) Transcription was accurate for every word Transcription was accurate for every word but had misspellings Transcription was accurate but incomplete Transcription was inaccurate No Work
Bibliography and interview documentation (5) • Bibliography included a wide variety of appropriate sources

• Interview location, date and time was documented
• Bibliography included appropriate sources

• Interview location, date, and time was documented
• Bibliography included limited appropriate or some inappropriate sources

• Location, date, or time of interview was missing
• Bibliography was based on few, inappropriate sources

• Location, date, and time of interview was missing
No Work

Related Works

  • The American Folklife Center of the Library of Congress sponsors the Veterans History Project, an oral history project to collect the first-hand accounts of veterans of Twentieth century wars including World War I, World War II, the Korea War, Vietnam, and the Gulf War. They also want interviews with U.S. citizen civilians who actively supported the war effort, including those who worked in war industries, the United Service Organizations (USO), flight instructors, medical volunteers, civil defense, and so forth. The website homepage is In addition to collecting and making available oral histories, the project website includes student guidelines, model interviews and transcripts, and model teacher materials.
  • PBS sponsors the website Regarding Vietnam, Stories Since the War. Bret Eynon's How to Do an Oral History About the Impact of the Vietnam Era has valuable tips for students and teachers that are applicable for all forms of oral history interviews at:
  • Tom Brokaw's book, The Greatest Generation, spurred renewed interest in conducting oral histories with individual who had lived through World War II and coined the phrase to describe the people who lived through that era. Students may wish to read the entire book or selected profiles in the volume published by Random House, New York, copyrighted 1998.
Interdisciplinary Links

  • Language Arts/Drama: Ask students to select one of the raw transcripts of interviews and to write the story in the form of a narrative or dramatic scene. Students may collaborate to create a special oral-history publication or a play based on the oral histories they have interpreted. They then can work with the school administration or do fund-raising to allow the project to be printed or performed.
  • Media/Graphic Arts:

    • Ask students to take the raw videotape and produce a documentary film 15 minutes in length about African Americans in World War II. Enter the documentary in a student film festival, perhaps at a college campus.
    • Ask students to collect images of African Americans in World War II as presented in posters of the era and prepare captions for each. Organize an exhibit of the posters in the school media center, a public library, or city government building.
Home About Glossary The New York Public Library
Privacy Policy | Rules & Regulations | Using the Internet | Website Terms & Conditions

© The New York Public Library, 2005.