Grade Range: 8-9

ACF Lesson Plan: Coal Miners and Their Mining Towns: Their Stories


Students conduct interviews with people who work (or have worked) in the mining industry.

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Students will:

  1. prepare and conduct an interview with a person affiliated with coal mining,
  2. write and compile a nonfiction account based on the oral history of the person interviewed, and
  3. understand the role that coal mining has played in regional and national history.

National Standards:

National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) Standards

  • Time, Continuity, and Change
  • People, Places, and Environment
  • Individuals, Groups, and Institutions

Time Needed:

Two class periods and ample time outside of class to conduct interviews.


  • Contact information for mining-related people who have agreed to be interviewed for this project
  • Audio recorder(s)
  • Video camera(s)
  • Digital camera(s)
  • Paper and pens

Discussion Questions:

  • In what areas of the United States is coal mining prevalent?
  • Aside from miners and their families, what other groups of people have been affected by the coal industry?


  1. Before beginning this lesson, you will need to generate a list of people in the coal mining industry who have consented to being interviewed (either in person or by phone). You might contact nursing homes, coal museums, the United Mine Workers’ office, state geological survey offices, or other related organizations for help in identifying people to interview. Have the name, vocation, and contact information for each person ready to distribute to each group of students.

  2. Begin the lesson by examining the U.S. map of the coal mining industry found in the Coal Energy Facts section. Show students how prevalent the industry is in different regions around the country. Explain that coal mining has played, and continues to play, an important part in U.S. and regional history and culture.

  3. As a class, brainstorm about the various groups of people whose lives are intimately affected by the coal mining industry. The list might include
    • coal miners, both active and retired;
    • families of coal miners;
    • mine managers;
    • land reclamation experts;
    • mining equipment designers and manufacture
    • mining lobbyists;
    • train/truck/barge drivers who deliver coal; and
    • mining union representatives.
    (Note: refer to the ACF booklet “Coal, Careers and You” for more information on careers in the coal industry.)

  4. After generating a list of people, brainstorm about questions the students would like answered about the individual and his or her job. Encourage students to think of questions with answers that will produce a sense of history. Questions might include the following:
    • Where were you born? Where do you live now? When did you arrive in the coal mining town?
    • What job(s) have you had in the coal mining industry? For what mines or companies have you worked? Describe the jobs and the conditions under which you work(ed).
    • What was/is the mining town like where you live(d)? What is the ethnic makeup of the community? How large is the town? How has it changed over time?
    • What role have unions played in your community? How have you been involved in a union?
    • What are the biggest changes you have seen in the mining industry in your lifetime?
    • What are the major uses for the coal that comes from your area? To where is it transported? How?
    • How has mining influenced your life and the lives of your family and community members?
    • What significant events in local, national, or international history have been associated with the coal industry?
    • What are some of the most memorable stories you have about your life in a coal mining community?

  5. Divide the class into groups of two to four students. Each group will be given the name and contact information for a designated interviewee. Before conducting the interview, the group should decide on the role each person will play and what questions will be asked. One student should arrange the interview, and one or two students should ask the questions. One student should be responsible for the audiovisual recording and photographing of the interview. One student should transcribe the interview from the recording. One student should prepare a thank-you note (which the entire group should sign) and send it, with a copy of the taped interview and the written account, to the person interviewed.

  6. Give the students a few weeks to arrange, conduct, and transcribe their interviews. If conducting the interview in person is not possible, students may tape-record a telephone interview. Encourage them to ask their interviewee for photographs.

  7. Have the students work together in their groups to prepare an account of their interview. They should retell the information they gathered in a story format about the person they met. Encourage them to include all the information they learned about the person and his or her community, as well as the interviewee’s understanding about the coal mining industry. Have them use the photographs to illustrate their stories. Make sure to address the role that coal mining has played in regional and national history through the interviewee’s point of view. Compile the stories into a collection. You might want to host a reunion of the interviewees to show the videos and share the stories.


Discuss as a class the attitudes of the different interviewees. Did their role as a coal miner add to the regional or national history of coal mining?  What impact did their involvement have in the coal industry? How did they feel about their career? Ask the students whether they think people in the coal mining industry feel differently about their vocation than workers in other industries. What impact did their involvement have on the coal industry?


Contact a local newspaper about possibly publishing some of the accounts. Create a library of tapes (audio and video) and transcribed interviews so that community members can refer to them in the future. Have students develop a cataloging system so that the materials are easily identified and located.


This activity can be done with middle school students by bringing the interviewees to the classroom. If fewer people are able to come to the school, set up a panel discussion and prepare students with questions to ask the panel members, rather than having students conduct individual interviews.

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