Storytelling at the Council on Aging's community meal

Storytelling brings people together. Here are some great questions to ask senior grandparents, neighbors, and friends to spark a story and find connection.

Author Joan Didion wrote that, “We tell ourselves stories in order to live.” As the oldest art form, storytelling is a fundamental part of human nature. In fact, anthropologists believe that storytelling may have been key to human evolution and has served throughout human history as a way to bring people together. For seniors, sharing a story is especially important for overcoming loneliness and finding community connection.

All it takes is asking questions and listening. We asked Council on Aging staff members to share their conversation starters for storytelling with seniors.

Here’s a list of great questions to ask a senior and spark a story:

  • What was your biggest worry growing up?
  • What makes you most hopeful about the future, personally, and as a society at large?
  • What’s one lesson your parents taught you?
  • Do you believe in aliens?
  • Who is your role model?
  • Where do you feel safest?
  • What is the kindest thing anyone has done for you?
  • If you were a piece of music, what would you be?
  • What is the most significant thing you have done recently to help another person?
  • What is your favorite holiday memory?
  • What holiday foods are your favorites?
  • What country would you like to visit, and why?
  • If you could have one superpower, what would it be and why? 
  • If you could have dinner with one person, past or present, who would it be?
  • What is one thing you wish you knew how to cook?
  • Do you remember the name of your milk man/ice-cream man growing up?
  • Who is your favorite older person?
  • What is the most amazing piece of technology to you?
  • What’s on your bucket list?
  • Any particular goals you have in place for the next year or so?
  • What have you been doing for fun lately?

For more great questions, the national storytelling initiative Storycorps has been facilitating interviews between family members, friends, and strangers for more than 15 years. Their list of great questions can be used for storytelling with seniors includes specific questions for grandparents, family heritage, remembering loved ones, and more.

What questions would you ask a senior loved one? Leave a comment below.

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