Learning to Give, Philanthropy education resources that teach giving and civic engagement

Autobiography and Interviews
Lesson 2
Academic Standards
Philanthropy Framework


In this lesson the students prepare for their visit to the retirement home. First the students create and use a personal timeline and questionnaire to write their autobiographies to be used as the author page in the Living History Book. The class will work together to come up with questions to ask their senior friends. Finally, they will begin the interview process with their senior friends.


Two to Four Forty-Five Minute Class Periods for Preparation Two or Three Forty-Five Minute Visits at the Retirement Home


The learners will:
  • prepare a personal timeline with the help of his/her family.

  • use questionnaire to determine his/her philanthropic experience and where his/her family originated.

  • write the rough draft of autobiography to be edited at home.

  • publish the good copy of the autobiography in the computer lab, inserting a photo of him/herself taken with a digital camera.

  • create interview questions that will help him/her know more about his/her senior friends so that a factual, detailed biography can be written of them.

  • interview his/her senior friend at the care facility with a partner and take notes for the writing of the biography.

Service Experience:

Although this lesson contains a service project example, decisions about service plans and implementation should be made by students, as age appropriate.
Learn more about the stages of service-learning.

Provide companionship to a senior at a care facility. After viewing the following YouTube video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NKDXuCe7LeQ about an unresponsive man responding to music, students may be inspired to load up an MP3 player or burn a CD with the seniors' favorite music from the 30s, 40s or 50s. 


  • Prior to this lesson, send home the Living History Autobiography Checklist (Attachment One). Set the due date for their rough draft so students are ready to work on the autobiographies in class the day you begin this lesson.

  • Folders or clipboards and pencils for keeping and taking notes during the interview (one for each student)

  • Shoebox (one for every two students) and decorating materials
Handout 1
Living History Autobiography Checklist
Handout 2
Interview Notes
Handout 3
Fun Time Comparison
Handout 4
Living History Remembering Box Letter

Instructional Procedure(s):

Note: Prior to this lesson, the students have taken home the Living History Autobiography Checklist (Attachment One). This lesson may take two to four class periods depending on the number of computers available in the lab.

Anticipatory Set:
Help the students make the connection between the idea of a family tree and the autobiography facts they gathered. Read Who’s Who in My Family by Loreen Leedy or Me and My Family Tree by Joan Sweeney. Talk about the value of family relationships. Looking at where we come from is an important part of who we are.
Show the students some books that have an “about the author” paragraph. Read some of the information that authors share about themselves. Call attention to any facts that relate to the content of the story the author wrote. Tell the students that they are going to write their own “about the author” piece based on the facts they brought from home .

  • The autobiographies that you will be writing today are not only for the “about the author” page, but also a rehearsal or preparation for writing the biography of their senior friend. Many of the questions on the checklist for their autobiography will be in their interviews. Today they will take the information they gathered at home to write a well-organized autobiography.

  • Split the class up so that some are at the computer lab and the rest are in the class making “remembering boxes.” Rotate the students until all have been to the computer lab and all have completed a remembering box.

  • In the computer lab, students write their autobiographies based on their notes taken from home. They should print their rough drafts for peer or home editing. When they have typed in the rough draft, they return to the class to work on the remembering box.

  • In the classroom, pair up students for their interviews (two students will interview one senior). Each pair will decorate and label a “remembering box” similar to the one in the story Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge by Mem Fox. The students will be giving this box to the senior prior to their interview visit. They may include something special such as photos of themselves, drawings, friendly notes, etc. They will enclose the note Living History Remembering Box Letter (Attachment Four). This note will explain the purpose of the box. Encourage the students to make the boxes look special.

  • Optional: Take a digital photo of each student for the about the author page. Have the students place the correct photo in their own documents.

  • When student pairs have completed their remembering boxes, they can start jotting down ideas for interview questions for their visit to the retirement home.

  • Students bring their ideas for interview questions to a brainstorming session where the class determines what questions they will all ask at the interview. Determine which questions are appropriate and duplicate the list of questions for each student. See Interview Notes, Attachment Two. This attachment may be used as is or as a guideline. It is more meaningful if the students come up with their own questions. These interview questions may be revised after the first visit to the retirement facility.

    The First Visit to the Senior Center or Retirement Facility
    Note: The first visit to the retirement facility should be set up as a tour of the facility first and then a brief visit with the students’ senior friends. In this visit, the students present their remembering boxes in preparation of the interview visit. If this initial visit is not possible, the teacher can drop off the remembering boxes and the first visit can also be the interview visit.

  • Review the sensitivity training and proper procedures to be used at the retirement facility. You may practice the initial visit with a role play. Talk about what to expect. Teach students how to introduce themselves. Tell them to ask the senior how they wish to be addressed (by first name, last name, etc.).

  • Student partners will introduce themselves to their senior friends. They will present their remembering boxes. (Students may receive the senior’s name ahead of time or you may pair them up with the help of the facility social director when you arrive.) Students will ask the senior friends how they wish to be addressed.

  • Upon returning to the classroom, students write reflections in their journals, focusing on their impressions, specific details of the senior friend and feelings about the project at this point.

    The Second Visit
    Note: On the second visit to the retirement facility, student pairs will interview the seniors using the prepared questions. They bring pencils and clipboards and paper (or folders) for writing their interview notes. Although there are two students for each senior, they should both take notes. If necessary, a second interview visit can be set up if they do not have time to finish.

  • Before the second visit, the students bring their edited autobiographies from home and finish their final copy of the autobiography at the computer lab. They will bring a copy of the autobiography to the interview to share with their senior friends.

  • Role-play the interview before the visit. Student pairs should take turns taking the role of the senior and the student. They should also determine who will ask which questions.

  • After the interview visit, students write reflections in their journals, focusing on their impressions, specific details of the senior friend and feelings about the project at this point.

    Notes for teaching:
    The excitement and response after this first visit and interview is enough to keep me doing this project each year. I continue to be amazed at the sensitivity and rapport the students and seniors have for each other immediately. Try to write down quotes as you hear students discussing things, like “My girl had red hair just like I do.” or “Our senior friend still has his memory…it’s a good one…he told us so much!” or “We got candy from our lady!” or “I don’t want to leave yet; it wasn’t’ long enough. or “When are we going back?” or “We got all of the questions answered!”


  • Students will use the Autobiography Checklist as a rubric to be sure they have included the appropriate details for their autobiography. Their final version typed in the computer lab will be a test grade as to how well they have followed instructions and written in chronological order.

  • Journal response and verbal feedback will be the assessment for the interviews.

School/Home Connection:

  • Interactive Parent / Student Homework:
    Families will help students with this assignment of writing the student’s personal timeline and facts. They will help edit and proofread the rough copy and return it to school to be finalized in the computer lab.

Cross-Curriculum Extensions:

Students will insert a digital picture of themselves (taken by the teacher) into the autobiography document. The teacher may also take digital photos of the senior friends while at the retirement facility to be used in the final books.

Bibliographical References:

  • Leedy, Loreen. Who’s Who in My Family. Holiday House, 1995. ISBN: 0823411516

  • Sweeney, Joan. Me and My Family Tree. Dragonfly, 2000. ISBN 0-517-88597-2

Lesson Developed By:

Kathleen Veenstra
Reeths-Puffer Schools
Central Elementary School
Muskegon, MI 49445


Handout 1Print Handout 1

Living History Autobiography Checklist

Dear Family,

We are preparing for our upcoming Living History Project at a senior center or retirement home. The students will be interviewing their senior friend and writing a biography. To practice, they will first write their own autobiography for the “About the Author” page of their Living History Book. Please help your child gather facts for the autobiography. Help your child record landmark events in a sequential order on a personal timeline. The facts that do not fit in a timeline should be grouped or listed in a meaningful way. The more organized the list, the easier the rough draft will be to write. Please include the following facts if possible:

  • Birth (date and location)

  • Extended family (births and deaths)

  • Pets (joining family and deaths)

  • Vacations and trips

  • Moving or changing schools

  • Milestones such as first tooth, walking, first bike, etc.

  • Classroom teachers for each grade level

  • “Favorites” such as favorite food, book, TV show, etc.

  • First person in the family to come to this state (include when they came and what brought them here)

  • How have you been a philanthropist outside of the classroom? (church groups, scouts, helping a neighbor or relative)

Timeline due __________
Rough drafts will be written in class but edited at home.
Editing due ____________

Handout 2Print Handout 2

Interview Notes

By ________________________
and _______________________


Senior Friend’s Name ____________________________________
Date of Birth__________________________________________
Place of Birth__________________________________________
Ancestors came from____________________________________
When and why they came to this state________________________
Siblings (their brothers and sisters) _________________________
If married, the date, when, where?__________________________
Spouse’s name(s) _______________________________________
How many grandchildren and great-grandchildren? ______________
Chores they had as children
Jobs they have had as adults
School Memories
Favorite foods, sports, hobbies, etc. ____________________________________________________
How are kids different from when you were a young person? ____________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________
How is life different from when you were my age? ____________________________________________________
How did you use philanthropy (giving of your time, talents, and/or
treasures for the common good) in your life?
Stories!!! (happy, sad, funny, etc.) ____________________________________________________

Attachment Two
Lesson Two: Autobiography and Interviews
Page 4
Interview Notes

What is the most important thing you did in your life so far? ____________________________________________________
Other interesting facts or details ____________________________________________________

Handout 3Print Handout 3

Fun Time Comparison

You and your senior friend have many ways to entertain yourselves. Decide which of these activities you and your senior friend did when in elementary school. Put a check in the correct column:

                              Just you                 Just Senior Friend                                  Both

Playing baseball   _______________________________________________
Fishing                   _______________________________________________
Ice-skating  ____________________________________________________
Going to a movie________________________________________________
Listening to music_______________________________________________
Popping popcorn________________________________________________
Going to a Valentine’s Party________________________________________
Skateboarding       _______________________________________________
Eating at Burger King _____________________________________________
Going on a picnic   _______________________________________________
Reading a book      _______________________________________________
Watching TV           _______________________________________________
Making ice cream________________________________________________
Sledding                  _______________________________________________
Family vacations _________________________________________________
Swimming     ____________________________________________________
Playing with a electronic game_______________________________________
Using a computer ________________________________________________
Enjoying a bonfire________________________________________________
Going to a football game___________________________________________
Playing croquet__________________________________________________
Going shopping      _______________________________________________

Handout 4Print Handout 4

Living History Remembering Box Letter

Dear Senior Friend,
We are so happy that you are willing to work with us on our Living History Project. It will be fun getting to know each other and to learn more about the past.
This remembering box was created for you to use for pictures, souvenirs, or any items that you would like to talk with us about when we visit. We will be coming to visit on ___________ to interview you for our Living History Project. We would like to write your biography and present it to you on our last visit. We would like to talk with you about some of the following information:

  • Date and place of your birth
  • Your family – siblings, spouse, children, grandchildren
  • Where your ancestors came from
  • What brought you to this area
  • Ways that you have shared your time, talents and treasure
  • School memories
  • Jobs
  • Childhood (games, chores, fun times, vacations)
  • Favorites (food, games, sports, hobbies, etc.)
  • Lots of stories—happy, funny or sad

We are excited about this project! Thank you so much for volunteering. We look forward to our partnership.



Philanthropy Framework:

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