K-12 Teaching and Learning From the UNC School of Education

LEARN NC was a program of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Education from 1997 – 2013. It provided lesson plans, professional development, and innovative web resources to support teachers, build community, and improve K-12 education in North Carolina. Learn NC is no longer supported by the School of Education – this is a historical archive of their website.

Learn more

Related pages

  • Desegregating public schools: Integrated vs. neighborhood schools : In this lesson, students will learn about the history of the "separate but equal" U.S. school system and the 1971 Swann case which forced Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools to integrate. Students will examine the pros and cons of integration achieved through busing, and will write an argumentative essay drawing on information from oral histories.
  • De facto vs. de jure segregation: This lesson will help students understand the difference between de facto and de jure segregation. Students will listen to three oral history excerpts and discuss the experiences of segregation described in each. As a follow-up activity, students will brainstorm solutions to both de facto and de jure segregation.
  • School desegregation pioneers: In this lesson, students will learn about the challenges faced by the first students to desegregate Southern schools. Students will hear oral histories telling the story of desegregation pioneers from Alabama and North Carolina and critically analyze images of school desegregation. They will synthesize the information by writing a narrative from the point of view of a black student desegregating a white school.

Related topics


Please read our disclaimer for lesson plans.


The text of this page is copyright ©2007. All Rights Reserved. Images and other media may be licensed separately; see captions for more information and read the fine print.

In this unit, students will research the history of school desegregation and bring that history to life by listening to oral histories of North Carolinians who lived through desegregation. Students will then become historians, recording their own oral histories with relatives or community members, and reflecting on the experience through writing. The oral histories will be collected into a final project and placed in the school’s library for students and teachers to study in the future.

Learning outcomes

Students will:

  • understand the major events and impact of school desegregation in the United States.
  • learn the fundamental elements of recording oral history interviews, including conducting background research, crafting questions, responding to and analyzing the interviewee’s experiences, and understanding how cultural influences shape the interviewee’s responses.
  • compare and contrast the responses of interviewees on the issue of school desegregation.

Teacher planning

Time required for lesson

Approximately three to four weeks

Materials needed

  • Oral history excerpts:
  • Transcripts of oral history excerpts for each student (available at the links above.)
  • Computer with internet connection and speakers, or a CD player if you have burned your own CD.
  • Print and online sources about school desegregation for student research
  • Copies of the Oral History Student Packet — one per group
  • Copies of the Inquiry Chart — one per student
  • Examples of oral histories and oral history collections online (see Additional Websites below)
  • Several tape recorders
  • High-quality cassette tapes
  • Extra batteries for each group


  • Teachers should listen to the oral history excerpts (Joanne Peerman, William Culp, and William Hamlin) and preview the discussion questions before using them in class.
  • Teachers should collaborate with a school library media specialist to gather online and print resources about school desegregation for students to use when researching. Reserve time in the library media center for student research and in a computer lab for students to listen to sample oral histories.
  • Teachers should preview the Inquiry Chart and modify or choose another research method, if desired.
  • Teachers should identify and contact community members who have experienced school desegregation and would be willing to travel to the school to be interviewed by students.
  • Teachers should review the Release Form (included in the Oral History Student Packet) and modify if necessary for their own purposes.

Activity one: Activating background knowledge

In this brief activity, students will brainstorm ideas about school desegregation. This will enable teachers to determine students’ levels of prior knowledge and will encourage students to begin thinking about the issue.

  1. Read to students the following prompts or write them on the board:
    • What words come to mind when you hear the phrase “school desegregation”?
    • What images or pictures come to mind?
    • What would you like to know or find out about school desegregation?
  2. Give students time to generate ideas and questions.
  3. Explain to the students that they will study school desegregation in preparation for interviewing an adult about his or her experiences with this controversial issue. Encourage students to start thinking about possible interviewees — parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and other relatives; neighbors; family friends; coaches; teachers; or other community members who would be willing to be interviewed.

Activity two: Researching school desegregation

  1. Explain to students that they will now have a chance to learn more about school desegregation so they will have enough knowledge and understanding of the topic to interview someone about it.
  2. Hand out a copy of the Inquiry Chart to each student. If students aren’t familiar with the chart, explain how to fill it out and how it will help organize their research. You may want to model this strategy before having students try it on their own.
  3. Decide if students will generate their own questions individually or in groups, or if you will provide the questions for them.
  4. Allow students sufficient time to fill out their charts, helping them answer questions and guiding their research.

Activity three: What is an oral history?

  1. Introduce the concept of oral histories, and discuss their value as we study important events. Mention that oral histories provide a chance for the “regular person” to record his or her experiences, not just the well-known or famous people often recorded in written history.
  2. Ask students to come up with more reasons we should value oral histories — such as allowing minority groups to record and publicize their experiences, making connections between generations, and passing on the art of storytelling. (For more about oral histories, see the LEARN NC guide, “Oral History in the Classroom.”)
  3. Explain that students will hear oral history excerpts about school desegregation from North Carolinians.
  4. Hand out the transcripts of the oral history excerpts to students.
  5. Play the first oral history excerpt for students. The speaker is Joanne Peerman, a Chapel Hill woman who experienced the turmoil of integration as a middle school student in the late 1960s.

    Please upgrade your Flash Player and/or enable JavaScript in your browser to listen to this audio file.

    Download recording (Right-click or option-click) | About the recording

    Discussion questions:

    • What were some of the issues the black students were protesting?
    • What do you think caused the conflict between Joanne and her father?
    • Were there other ways the students could have made their demands?
  6. Play the second oral history excerpt. The speaker is William Culp, a teacher who taught at an integrated school in Charlotte.

    Please upgrade your Flash Player and/or enable JavaScript in your browser to listen to this audio file.

    Download recording (Right-click or option-click) | About the recording

    Discussion questions:

    • What are some of the benefits William Culp thought desegregation might bring?
    • Does Culp believe that desegregation was successful?
  7. Play the third oral history excerpt. The speaker is William Hamlin, a Charlotte resident who attended segregated schools but sent his children to integrated schools.

    Please upgrade your Flash Player and/or enable JavaScript in your browser to listen to this audio file.

    Download recording (Right-click or option-click) | About the recording

    Discussion questions:

    • According to Hamlin, what purpose did integration serve?
    • What do you think of Hamlin’s idea that respect and acceptance are more important than integration?
    • How do Hamlin’s ideas about integration differ from Culp’s? Are they similar in any ways?

Activity four: Practicing oral history

  1. Give students time to listen to and explore oral histories online, especially student oral history projects (see Additional Websites below for links to examples). Have students take notes on things they observe in the oral histories that do or do not work well, especially good or effective questions, questions that seem to get short answers, techniques for encouraging the speaker to continue talking, the tone of voice used by the interviewer and interviewee throughout the interviews, etc.
  2. Divide students into groups of three or four. Give each group a copy of the Oral History Student Packet.
  3. After students review the “Question Guidelines” and “Interviewing Guidelines” in their packets, have them conduct practice interviews in class. Assign a topic all students will be able to talk about at length, such as experiences in elementary school, how holidays are celebrated within their families, trips they have taken in the past, etc. Have students take turns being interviewers and interviewees, and end with a class discussion about what kinds of questions were best, what questions didn’t get very rich answers, and how the interviews could have been improved.
  4. Give students time to generate potential questions for their interviewees about school desegregation, using their inquiry charts to inform them. Each student should have five to seven questions prepared. You may want to assign this activity for homework to save class time.

Activity five: Becoming oral historians

  1. For each group, assign the roles of interviewer, writer, and transcriber to students, or allow students to choose roles. If you have four students in a group, the fourth student will be an additional transcriber.
  2. Make sure each group has a suitable interviewee who is willing to be interviewed on tape and has experienced school desegregation. For groups who aren’t able to find an interviewee, assign one of the volunteer community members.
  3. Have students begin to complete the tasks assigned to their roles. Over the next one to two class meetings, the interviewer will practice using the tape recording equipment and set up a meeting time to conduct the interview; the writer will collect and edit the group’s questions, then write additional questions, and the transcriber will listen to sample oral histories and practice transcribing them (links to sample oral histories are in Additional Websites below).
  4. After preparing during class, instruct students to record their oral histories as outlined in their packets. You may need to devote class time to this task if community members are coming to the school to be interviewed.

Activity six: Reflecting on the oral histories

  1. Have each group choose an excerpt to play from their oral history that they find especially interesting or that they think says a lot about the history of desegregation. Have students provide you with a handout of the transcript of this section. Make a copy for each member of the class.
  2. Devote one to two class periods for students to listen to the oral histories their classmates have recorded. Instruct each group to give a brief introduction to their speaker’s background and then play the excerpt for the entire class.
  3. After the class has gotten a chance to hear everyone’s work, have students complete these reflection questions:
    • How did the speaker in your oral history seem to feel about school desegregation? Did he or she have conflicting opinions? What emotions did you observe as he or she spoke about the topic?
    • Compare and contrast the opinions and experiences of your interviewee on school desegregation to the others recorded by your classmates.
    • How did school desegregation impact your interviewee?
    • How do you think school desegregation impacted the community in which your interviewee lived?
    • What have you learned by recording this oral history?


  • Students should participate in the class discussions (background knowledge of school desegregation, the value of oral history, and the reactions to the oral history excerpts) by volunteering observations and opinions and asking relevant questions.
  • Students should fully complete the inquiry chart.
  • Students should actively participate in the practice oral histories.
  • Students should complete each task for their assigned role of interviewer, writer, or transcriber (listed in the Oral History Student Packet).
  • Each group will turn in an oral history on tape (at least 20-30 minutes long) and a partial or complete transcript (of at least 15 minutes of the oral history).
  • Each student will complete the reflection questions, providing thoughtful answers that demonstrate the student has listened to and read the oral histories, has analyzed how the interviewee’s experiences are influenced by history and culture, and understands the essential facts of school desegregation in the U.S.

Additional websites

School desegregation websites

Oral history collections

Conducting your own oral histories

  • North Carolina Essential Standards
    • Social Studies (2010)
      • Grade 8

        • 8.C&G.2 Understand the role that citizen participation plays in societal change. 8.C&G.2.1 Evaluate the effectiveness of various approaches used to effect change in North Carolina and the United States (e.g. picketing, boycotts, sit-ins, voting, marches,...

North Carolina curriculum alignment

Social Studies (2003)

Grade 8

  • Goal 7: The learner will analyze changes in North Carolina during the postwar period to the 1970's.
    • Objective 7.02: Evaluate the importance of social changes to different groups in North Carolina.
    • Objective 7.04: Compare and contrast the various political viewpoints surrounding issues of the post World War II era.
  • Goal 9: The learner will explore examples of and opportunities for active citizenship, past and present, at the local and state levels.
    • Objective 9.01: Describe contemporary political, economic, and social issues at the state and local levels and evaluate their impact on the community.