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"Power Lines"
Lesson 1: Powerless?

This assignment is based on an assignment titled "Gather Your Own History: Oral History Project" in Finding Katahdin: An Exploration of Maine History, by Amy Hassinger, University of Maine Press, forthcoming, 2000.


Guiding Principles

I. A Clear and Effective Communicator
Uses oral, written, visual, artistic, and technological modes of expression; reads, listens to and interprets from multiple sources.

II. A Self-Directed and Life-Long Learner
Finds and uses information from libraries, electronic data bases, and other resources.

IV. A Responsible and Involved Citizen
Recognizes and understands the diverse nature of society.

A. Chronology

Students will use the chronology of history and major eras to demonstrate the relationships of events and people. Students will be able to:

Middle Grades: 5-8: Describe the effects of historical changes on daily life.

B. Historical Knowledge, Concepts, and Patterns
Students will develop historical knowledge of major events, people, and enduring themes in the United States, in Maine, and throughout world history. Students will be able to:

Middle Grades 5-8:
1. Demonstrate an understanding of selected twentieth century issues and events in United States and in Maine history including "modern" Maine history (1945 to present).

Secondary Grades
1. Demonstrate an understanding of the lives of selected individuals who have had a major influence on history.
2. Demonstrate an understanding of enduring themes in history (e.g., conflict and cooperation, technology and innovation, freedom and justice).

Students will:

  • Formulate interview questions based on the information they learn from the video Power Lines.
  • Conduct an interview with a relative, friend, or community member over 60 years old.
  • Using the information gained from the interview, write a paper that compares the use of electricity sixty years ago to the use of electricity today.
  • Evaluate their performance using the rubric provided.


Timing: 4-5 weeks


1. Watch Power Lines with students. Discuss with students what they learned from the video. What was it like to live before electricity was widely available? Make a list on the board.

2. Now, have students raise questions they would still like to know about. What more would they like to learn about the effect electricity had on the lives of the people who had lived without it for so many years? Make a list of questions they have on the board, next to the previous list. Encourage students to take notes, because they may want to use these questions to help them write questions for the interviews they will conduct later.

Note: At this point, you might choose to take this lesson in a different direction by having students research a question they are interested in, one that might not necessarily involve interviewing someone. Some students will be fascinated with how electricity works, and this could be an interesting research project in itself.

3. Tell students that they will have the chance to ask some of these questions to people who might have interesting answers. There are still people living who remember what it was like in the early days of electricity. Assign students the oral history project. They will interview a relative, friend, or member of the community who is over 60 years old. Students must choose their interviewee, prepare questions ahead of time, and get them approved before conducting their interview. They should practice using a tape recorder and asking questions with a classmate before the interview as well. Suggest a time limit for the interview (30 minutes to an hour). See student assignment sheet for details.

4. Give students 4-5 weeks to set up the appointment for the interview, conduct it, listen to the interview, transcribe any quotes they want to use in their papers, and write their papers.

5. When students have completed their projects, discuss with them the advantages and limits of collecting oral histories. Ask them questions like the following:

  • How do you think oral histories might be useful for historians?
  • What can you learn from someone who lived through a certain time that you might not be able to learn from textbook?
  • How can you be sure that the person interviewed is remembering correctly?
  • How do an interviewer's questions affect the way the interviewee responds?
  • How does an interviewer's relationship with the person affect the interview?
  • One person's experience of a certain time period can differ greatly from another's. How should this influence the way historians use oral histories?
Evaluation: Have students evaluate their own performance using the rubric. Evaluate them yourself, using the same criteria.

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