Basic Feature Interviewing

C. Dow Tate
Hillcrest High School
Dallas, Texas

Ultimate Goal
Student reporters will develop skills to interview for details, anecdotes and quotes for a feature story.

What you want to teach them.

  • Teach criteria for quality quotes. Students need to improve listening and note-taking skills by learning what makes a good quote. Help them learn to take down word verbatim if the interviewer:
    • Says something more descriptive than you could write.
    • Says something unique.
    • Says something usual but in a unique manner.
    • Says something that the reader needs to hear verbatim from the source.
  • Teach value of researching background. Students need to know that understanding as much as they can about the subject before the interview can help them develop questions for areas they would consider and can help them better understand the interviewee’s answers.
  • Teach question phrasing for eliciting specific, descriptive answers. Students need to understand that beyond the 5 W’s and H, the interviewer can phrase questions so the interviewee will discuss a subject in detail rather than answer with “yes or no” or short answers. Questions starting with words and phrases such as “Describe.” and “Take me back to when you first..” help the interview subject recreate a scene visually.
  • Teach detail needed for quality anecdote. Students need to know the level of specificity that they need to strive for when getting an anecdote through interviews. Students should be taught to ask follow-up questions to get the details they need.

Some ways to teach them.

  • The bad interview. Don a “Journalists Don’t Make Misteaks” T-shirt two sizes too small, some “Have a Happy Day” boxers and your favorite beaten-up baseball cap. Drag the most reluctant class member into the front of the room to be the interview subject in an improv interview. Acting as the interviewer, be as poorly prepared as possible and ask “yes or no” or “If you were a tree, what kind of a tree would you be” questions. Student responses to this dramatization of what not to do on an interview can be turned into a discussion of what makes a good feature interview.
  • An interesting interview. The teacher will invite a youth action officer or teacher with an interesting side job or experience to the classroom for a live interview with students. Teacher and students will then evaluate the answers they receive and identify the necessary follow-up questions they would ask in a second interview.
  • Quick hits. Do quick 10-minute questioning exercises. Give students stories such as one about a student who volunteers as a clown at an area hospital; then have students develop questions and observation possibilities.
  • Vacation tales. Allow students to pair up and interview each other about best or worst family vacations.
  • Classroom at the Improv. If you’re an improvisational master, play all the characters the class needs to interview to develop a story. Use voices and become five different people for the class to interview for a news story about changes in the student dress code.


  • Studying the masters. Students will watch a Barbara Walters interview special and a Charlie Rose interview. They will evaluate the interviews by comparing and contrasting the interviewing styles.

Some places to learn more.

  • Metler, Ken, “Creative Interviewing,” 3rd edition, Needham Heights, Mass.: Ally n & Bacon, 1997
  • Scanlan, Christopher, ed., “Best Newspaper Writing,” annual, Chicago: Bonus Books/The Poynter Institute, annual

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