Supporting Multilingual Learners with Intergenerational Storytelling

Students and seniors in the intergenerational storytelling project
Over the previous semester, Voice of Witness supported a new cohort of students and senior citizens in completing an intergenerational storytelling project, focused on using oral history and ethics-driven, culturally responsive practices to build relationships and foster communication across the generation gap.

The project was a continued collaboration with Sequoia Living, a local nonprofit that provides affordable housing and services to low-income seniors, and Willie Brown Middle School in Bayview, San Francisco.

VOW supported Esther Honda, teacher of the 6th grade English language learner students who participated in the project, and Bronwyn Howlett, Intergenerational Program Coordinator at Sequoia Living, to create amd facilitate a curriculum that would benefit students and elders alike.

For the students, a key benefit of the program was having authentic opportunities to practice conversational skills in English. Each week, students came to sessions prepared with relationship-building interview questions to ask of their new senior friends. As the senior residents spoke about their lives, interests, and experiences, students listened carefully, recording notes on the key takeaways of the conversation. Students were given further opportunity to practice their speaking skills by asking follow-up questions and by sharing stories about themselves.

According to Marbella, a student in Ms. Honda’s class, speaking with senior citizens was extremely helpful in improving her English pronunciation. She said:

When they didn’t understand, I was able to repeat it. So when I repeated two or three times, I feel like I got better.

Aside from deepening their language skills, students reflected on how much they enjoyed getting to know the senior residents. Similarly, the participants at Sequoia Living found meaning in sharing their stories and building relationships with young people. They enjoyed the conversations and appreciated the opportunity to become thought partners and mentors for their student buddies.

As a result of positive feedback, VOW and our partners brainstormed ideas and put together a mini-research project for students to consult with the senior residents about over the upcoming months. At the end of the school year, students will present their research to the seniors.

The success of the intergenerational storytelling project has led to discussions about developing and expanding the program in the future. Voice of Witness plans to collaborate with Sequoia Living and Willie Brown Middle School again next year, working to add a civics and California history lens to the program. Students and senior residents will focus their storytelling on where they are from and how their families ended up in San Francisco, learning about what the city means to the diverse members of our community.

Join Our Newsletter


Next Steps: Sync an Email Add-On

To get the most out of your form, we suggest that you sync this form with an email add-on. To learn more about your email add-on options, visit the following page ( Important: Delete this tip before you publish the form.
Name *(Required)
I want to recieve:(Required)
This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.