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 Class Periods and two visits to the Retirement Home

The learners will:

  • use pre-writing activities and write an autobiography for an "about the author" page and as an introduction for their senior friend.
  • prepare to interview their senior friend for the Living History book. 
  • Living History Autobiography Checklist (handout). 
  • Folders or clipboards and pencils for taking notes during the interview (one for each student)
  • Shoebox (one for every two students) and decorating materials
Teacher Preparation 

Prior to this lesson, send home the Living History Autobiography Checklist (handout). 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.

Select a book by author Patricia Polacco to read aloud. Most of her books are based on stories from her family history and can serve as an example of where the interviews for the Living History project could lead. 

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.

Home Connection 

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 on the computer.


  1. Note: Prior to this lesson, the students have taken home the Living History Autobiography Checklist (handout below) and are ready with the information gathered. This lesson may take a few class periods.

    Anticipatory Set: Read aloud a books by author Patricia Polacco to illustrate how stories from families are interesting and may bring out information about history and personal integrity and generosity. Discuss the relationship between this story and the Living History project.

    Show the “about the author” paragraph. Discuss what information authors share about themselves. Call attention to any personal 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 computers, and the rest are making “remembering boxes.” Rotate the students until all have been to the computer and all have completed a remembering box.

  4. At the computer, students write autobiographies based on their notes taken from home. They should print their rough drafts for peer or home editing. The autobiographies may be edited and finalized before the first or second visit to the retirement home. 

  5. Student pairs 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 include items to get to know one another. It may be something special such as photos of themselves, drawings, or friendly notes. They will enclose the note Living History Remembering Box Letter (handout below). This note will explain the purpose of the box. Encourage the students to make the boxes look special.

  6. When student pairs have completed their remembering boxes, they together draft ideas for interview questions for their visit to the retirement home. They may use the Interview Notes handout as a guide. 

  7. Optional: The brainstormed questions may be brought together, and the whole class may decide the final ten questions they all ask in their interviews. 

  8. Field Trips to Retirement Home

  9. Before leaving for the first 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, other).

  10. At the retirement home, students get a tour and an introduction from a staff member with guidelines for the visit. When they are paired up with a resident, student partners introduce themselves to their senior friend, give their remembering box, and ask the senior friend how they wish to be addressed. This may be a time for a brief conversation and a snack. If time allows, the students may start their interview and/or share their autobiographies. 

  11. 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. Talk about what is next. 

  12. Second and Third Field Trips to Retirement Home

    Arrange one to three more visits so students can finish their interviews and develop relationships over conversation, snacks, games, and stories. On the next visit to the retirement facility, student pairs 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. More interview visits are set up until they have time to finish

  13. Notes from the author of the lesson: 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.