Effective Interviewing

Jennifer Duncan
Hamilton High School
Hamilton, Ohio

Title: Effective Interviewing

Rationale for Unit

A valuable elective for students, the high school newspaper encourages teenagers to develop communication and social interaction skills by going beyond their comfort zones to retrieve essential information from first hand sources. Many high school reporters avoid confrontation and truly dislike challenging their peers (acquaintances or strangers) or teachers with tough questions. Rather than taking risks to gain compelling research, students settle for retelling mundane stories so they don’t have to make anyone feel uncomfortable in an interview. Students should grow as effective communicators in this course. Instead of rigidly relying on printed lists of ten questions, students should develop their communication skills to a point where they can orchestrate quality conversations with their subjects. This practice should help them obtain specific information and gain new perspective that will help them develop stronger angles for their stories. The students’ writing will be much stronger once they learn to appropriately gather information from multiple sources, to determine what information is useful, and to most successfully report the information within their articles.

Benchmarks for the state of Ohio

  • Research A-1: Create open-ended questions for research and adapt them throughout the research process (interview) to adjust focus as needed.
  • Research B-2: Compile and organize information through notetaking. Identify meaningful sources.
  • Research C-3: Evaluate the value of collected date and synthesize findings.
  • Research E-7: Report findings from research.
  • Communication (Oral and Visual)A-1: Use active listening skills to monitor comprehension of information.
  • Communication B-2: Evaluate the coherence and importance of the speaker’s ideas.
  • Writing Applications C-3: Compose written documents that report organized, accurate information.
  • Writing Applications D-4: Write researched reports, utilizing multiple sources, that follow a logical structure and style with consideration of audience and purpose.
  • Writing Applications E-5: Produce compositions (editorials) that make arguments that appeal to emotion and logic using persuasive devices.

General Unit Objectives

  • Students will be able to ask open-ended questions and develop meaningful conversations to obtain information.
  • Students will be able to distinguish useful information from excess data in order to write compelling articles.
  • Students will grow more comfortable approaching strangers and asking questions.


Activity 1

  • Have students watch interviews from professional journalists from programs such as “The Today Show” or “20/20.” Pair students to practice notetaking. Have one set of students transcribe the interviewer’s questions and have the other set record highlights from the subject’s responses. Discuss with students the conversation style of the interviewer and how her subject responded. Ask if they students noticed the interviewer modifying her direction within the interview. Have the student pairs compose a lead with the information presented in the interview and share them with the class.

Activity 2

  • Hand out a set of 10 basic interview questions for students to use to interview a partner in class. Instruct students to interview one another with these foundation questions. Each student should modify the standard questions as the interview continues by asking at least 5 follow-up questions based on the subject’s responses. Talk to students about the importance of multiple sources. Based upon the answers given in this initial class interview, have interviewers identify two other sources (a friend, teacher, parent, sibling) each to verify or augment the classmates’ information. Students should extend their interviewing practice by asking open-ended questions for their new sources. As a follow-up assignment (and for the purpose of evaluation), have students compose a brief story about their classmates. Students will have to evaluate the worth of the data and determine what is most important to the practice story.


Students will turn in their first set of interviews, their two follow-up interview questions and responses. They will also hand in their pre-writing (drafts or outlines) and a finished report from their practice article. Students will earn points based upon their ability to draw out interesting information from their sources and for the quality of the written article. Students are working to earn at least 500 points for the quarter, so this assignment will be worth a total of 10 points for each interview, and up to 20 more points for the finished writing assignment. All components must be completed to receive any points.

Suggested Readings

  • Babb, Judy, et al. “Introduction to Journalism.” Evanston: McDougal Littell, 2001.