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Going to the Show: Lesson Plans

Conduct your own oral history project

Introduction  |   Activities 1 - 3  |   Activities 4 - 6  |   Oral History Record Packet  |   Learn More


The introductory activities for this lesson plan will access historical theater information available from the UNC "Going to the Show" online digital collection ( ) and oral histories available from the UNC DocSouth "Oral Histories of the American South" online digital collection ( ). Otherwise, the students' activities will be primarily focused on conducting and analyzing oral history interviews.

Activity One: Activating background knowledge

Explain to students that they will be conducting a series of activities that explore the moviegoing experience, both now and in earlier historical times. The major focus will be conducting oral history interviews, both with peer students as well as with family and/or friends to get insights about the moviegoing experience from older generations.

In this brief introductory activity, students will collectively brainstorm ideas about their experiences about going to the movies, both now and their perceptions about moviegoing in earlier times. This encourages students to begin thinking about the topic and prepares them for questions they might want to ask during their oral history interviews.

Read students the following prompts, or write them on the board or overhead projector.
Give students time to generate ideas and questions.
Teachers may want to write down / capture student responses on the white board or overhead project, using a 2-column format for "today" and "yesteryear."

Part A: Contemporary moviegoing:

Part B: Historic moviegoing:

Activity 2: Research going to the movies in the early 1900s

1. Explain to students that they will now have a chance to learn a bit more about moviegoing in the early 1900s. This should give them some additional perspective in the differences between then and now and give them enough understanding and context to interview someone about it.

Have students read "Moviegoing in Early 20th-Century North Carolina" by Robert Allen:
(Have students wait to review the oral history excerpts on the page—they'll get to that in the next activities)

Have students review the following images and news clippings related to the Bijou Theatre, the first permanent moving picture house in Wilmington, and maybe even North Carolina. The theatre opened in December 1906.

This photo is of the original Bijou Theatre. It was built of canvas and wood and had a sawdust floor.
How might this have affected the moviegoing experience?
bijou theatre

This view is looking north on North Front Street, taken just to the north of the Bijou Theatre. Imagine walking out the door of the Bijou and turning left—this is what you would have seen (time 1900-1910).
Front Street

Bijou Theatre news clippings ( ):

A permanent building was built for the Bijou Theatre and opened in May 1912.

Teacher Note: The Bijou Theatre was unusual for its time in that it was custom built and in a dedicated building. Most of the theaters at the time "repurposed" an existing commercial space, usually the first floor, and often shared a building with other businesses.
Bijou theatre

Review the news clippings below for more details on the Bijou theater.
Bijou Theatre news clippings ( ):

2. Decide if students will generate their own questions individually or in groups, or if you will provide the questions for them (refer to the "Moviegoing Oral History Sample Questions" included in the Conducting an Oral History student packet).

3. Organize the students into groups of 3 to conduct their contemporary peer interviews.

Activity 3: 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 making connections between generations, capturing experiences that are no longer available, allowing minority groups to record and publicize their experiences, 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 that include references to their moviegoing experiences from North Carolinians. These will be accessed from UNC's DocSouth Oral Histories of the American South online digital collection ( ). Teacher Note: The references to moviegoing are rather sparse in the following oral histories. You might want to look at the transcripts first. However, a key value of this activity is hearing the stories in the interviewee's voice. You also might want to have students listen to all of the oral history excerpts first, and then have a brief discussion.

4. Hand out the transcripts of the oral history excerpts to students.

5. Play the following oral histories for students:

6. Discussion questions:

Introduction  |   Activities 1 - 3  |   Activities 4 - 6  |   Oral History Record Packet  |   Learn More