Working in the City (1970’s)

Video: It’s a Living: a documentary inspired by the book “Working” by Studs Terkel

Level: Middle, High school
Subject: History, Journalism, Social studies/science
Date: 1975
Duration: 60 minutes
It’s A Living was based on Terkel’s groundbreaking oral history book, Working. It features the stories of six different people at their jobs: two from Terkel’s book (“Wheelin’ Lovin’” Al Pommier, a parking lot attendant, and Yolanda Lief, a waitress) and four new people (a barber, a piano tuner, a model, and Terkel’s WFMT receptionist). A highlight of the program is Terkel’s own working life as he did his daily one-hour eclectic radio broadcast, and his thoughts on fame, artistry, and his legacy.

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Teaching Tools

Discussion questions


  • Provide students with a history/background on Studs Terkel. Biography from Chicago History Museum: Studs Terkel
  • From “Working” by Studs Terkel, read the Alfred Pommier chapter (pp. 219 – 223) and the Dolores Dante chapter (pp 293 – 298)

Note: Questions are arranged based on when they occur in the video

Post-screening questions

  • Al Pommier – parking lot attendant
    1. Where does Al work, what is his job?
    2. What do Al’s customers think about him?
    3. What is Al’s personality like?
    4. Where is Al from?
    5. How does Al feel about his job?
    6. How long has Al worked at the lot?
    7. What other jobs has he had?
    8. What kind of job does he want?
    9. How long will he work there? What does he plan to do next?
  • Marcia Stocking – receptionist
    1. What is Marcia’s job?
    2. What does she do at work?
    3. What kind of skills does she need?
    4. How does Marcia feel about her job?
    5. What doesn’t she like about her job?
    6. How long has she worked there?
    7. Does her job seem stressful?
  • Bernard Passmore – barber
  1. What is Bernard’s job?
  2. What does he like about his job?
  3. How long has he worked as a barber?
  4. How did he become interested in the job?
  5. How does he feel about his job?
  6. Does it seem like his business is doing well? What does he blame for loss of business?
  7. What kind of skills are needed to be a barber?
  8. How hard does his work seem?
  • William Farrell – piano tuner
  1. What is William’s job?
  2. What does he like about music?
  3. What story does he tell, as a highlight of his career?
  4. What skills does he need to be able to do his job? How hard does his job seem?
  • Margie Robbins – model
  1. What is Margie’s job?
  2. How does she prepare for a shoot?
  3. How does she feel about her job? In comparison to other jobs?
  • Yolanda Leif – waitress [given pseudonym Dolores Dante in “Working”]
  1. What is Yolanda’s job?
  2. Does her work seem difficult?
  3. How long has she held her job?
  4. How does she feel about her job?
  5. What else what would she like to do?
  • Studs Terkel – interviewer
  1. How does he feel about his job?
  2. What kinds of people does he interview?
  3. What does he think about TV?
  4. What is Studs’ job?
  5. What does Studs say about working-class people and their jobs?


  1. Which job seems the hardest to do?
  2. In what ways are the jobs different from each other?
  3. Which jobs require more skills, which jobs seem physically more demanding?
  4. Which of these jobs could you see yourself doing, which if any would you want to have?
  5. How do you think the jobs that Studs Terkel and the filmmakers picked would be different if these interviews were done today? Would they have chosen to interview different people?
  6. Do you think that most of these people are happy with their jobs, or would they rather have a different job?


In-class activities

  1. Watch the clips together with the students. Have students answer questions individually, then discuss.
  2. Divide the class into small groups. Have each group watch a particular interview on the computer, and answer the related questions. Come together as a class and have the students report out about the segment they saw, followed by a general discussion.

Homework activities

  1. Interview a relative, friend, neighbor, etc. about their work. Write a one to two page description of their life or day based on the interview. Include photos or illustrations. Interviews can be collected into a book and shared.
  2. Record the interview using a digital video device (smart phone, video camera). The teacher sets up a class blog to share the videos and written reports.
  3. Choose one of Studs Terkel’s characters and write a creative short story about a day or two in their life. Stories can be collected into a book and shared.

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