Autobiography and Interviews

3, 4, 5

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.

Lesson Rating 
PrintTwo 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.
  • 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
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.

  • 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


  1. 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 .

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

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

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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.).

  11. 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.

  12. 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.

  13. 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.

  14. 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.

  15. 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.

  16. 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.

Cross Curriculum 

Provide companionship to a senior at a care facility.After viewingthe following YouTube video 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.

Philanthropy Framework

  1. Strand PHIL.I Definitions of Philanthropy
    1. Standard DP 06. Role of Family in Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark E.2 Identify examples of families supporting giving and sharing.
  2. Strand PHIL.II Philanthropy and Civil Society
    1. Standard PCS 01. Self, citizenship, and society
      1. Benchmark E.3 Describe a benefit of group cooperation.
      2. Benchmark E.5 Identify one local citizen who has helped the community through giving and/or service.
    2. Standard PCS 02. Diverse Cultures
      1. Benchmark E.2 Discuss the importance of respect for others.
      2. Benchmark E.4 Demonstrate listening skills.
    3. Standard PCS 03. Philanthropy and Economics
      1. Benchmark E.13 Describe limited resources and scarcity.
      2. Benchmark E.3 Give examples of <i>opportunity cost</i> in philanthropic giving.
  3. Strand PHIL.III Philanthropy and the Individual
    1. Standard PI 01. Reasons for Individual Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark E.1 Describe one reason why a person might give or volunteer.
      2. Benchmark E.7 Give classroom examples of when a student does not need the teacher's permission to act philanthropically.
  4. Strand PHIL.IV Volunteering and Service
    1. Standard VS 03. Providing Service
      1. Benchmark E.1 Provide a needed service.
      2. Benchmark E.3 Describe the task and the student role.
      3. Benchmark E.4 Demonstrate the skills needed for the successful performance of the volunteer job.
      4. Benchmark E.5 Articulate and demonstrate the safety procedures that are part of the volunteer experience.
      5. Benchmark E.6 Describe the procedures and the importance of sensitivity to the people with whom students are working.