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Interviewing basics


This lesson begins with an introduction to interviewing including how to plan, conduct and conclude an interview, suitable for beginners who have no interviewing experience. In part two of the lesson, students will play an ice-breaker game that will help make them comfortable with asking questions, and they will critique each other’s performances. In part three, the culminating lesson, students will use the 5W’s and H as well as other question types to conduct their first interviews for profile stories about each other. After preliminary interviewing and research, or using a guided set of questions provided, students will develop their own questions and interview each other in depth. They will transcribe their interviews, conduct additional interviews for the same story, and write a simple profile story to share with the class.


  • Students will find a story angle using research, observation and preliminary interviewing. Their choice of story will be based on news values.
  • Students will use research as a means to select and evaluate their sources prior to conducting interviews.
  • Students will choose the sources that provide the best information for their stories based on expertise, diversity, influence and relevance to the story.
  • Students will develop a list of prepared questions that cover the who, what, when, where, why, and how of the story.
  • Students will conduct an interview using a combination of prepared questions with follow-up questions, establishing a conversational tone.
  • Students will use follow up questioning and fact-checking during and following the completion of interviews.
  • Advanced students will reflect and evaluate past interviewing assignments.
  • Students will critique their own interviewing performances.

Common Core State Standards

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.1 Initiate and participate effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grades 9–10 topics, texts, and issues, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.1a Come to discussions prepared, having read and researched material under study; explicitly draw on that preparation by referring to evidence from texts and other research on the topic or issue to stimulate a thoughtful, well-reasoned exchange of ideas.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.1d Establish and maintain a formal style and objective tone while attending to the norms and conventions of the discipline in which they are writing.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.SL.1 Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.W.2 Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.W.8 Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, assess the credibility and accuracy of each source, and integrate the information while avoiding plagiarism.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.W.2 Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.SL.2 Integrate and evaluate information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.


Four 50-minute class periods, plus parts of others for research, troubleshooting and writing


Slideshow: Introduction to interviewing

YouTube access

Handout: Guided note taking for Introduction to Interviewing

Handout: Reflection and prediction

Slideshow: How to write great questions

Handout: 5Ws questions

Handout: Interview questions

Handout: Finding out who you are

Class set: Interview reflection handout

Reporter’s notebook

Audio recorder

Interview rubric


Slideshow: News gathering vocabulary

Interviewing vocabulary terms

Lesson step-by-step

PART ONE, one class period: Introduction to Interviewing

1. Set

Ask students: How do you find out information about your friends? After they discuss stalking each other on Facebook, they should get to the word, “ASK.” Tell them that’s exactly how journalists find out much of the information they report. Today they will learn the basics of interviewing for information.

Pass out the guided note taking handout and tell students that this completed sheet will be their exit ticket for the day’s class. They must take notes on this sheet as you make the presentation.

Option for Advanced Students: If you have a mixed class with beginners and advanced, you can give the handout Reflection and Prediction to students who have already conducted interviews and are working on future stories. They can complete this worksheet in class while the beginners are viewing and taking notes on the slideshow.

2. Slideshow — 30-50 minutes

Walk through the Introduction to Interviewing slideshow with students, pausing to ask/answer questions as necessary. This is a 30-slide presentation with several short clips from journalist Ben Montgomery discussing the interviewing process. Use the guided note-taking handout to facilitate questions during the slideshow.

3. Assess: Turn in Daily Notes

Check the Guided Note taking or Reflection and Prediction handout for completion and a daily grade.

PART TWO, one class period: Get Up, Stand Up, Stand Out (Optional)

This is an optional “game day” activity in which all levels participate together for practice formulating open- and close-ended questions and thinking on their feet. This also serves as a nice ice-breaker that allows students to get to know each other. It can be used any time, not just during this lesson sequence.

1. Preparation

Give students five minutes to prepare a list of closed-ended questions associated with a topic or theme. Questions should establish a process of elimination by going from general to specific.


  1. Who traveled this summer?
  2. Who traveled outside of the state?
  3. Who traveled outside of the country?

2. Activity

GET UP, STAND UP: Students take turns taking the role of interviewer. Using his/her list of closed-ended questions, the student gets up and asks the class their questions. Students stand up if the first question applies to them. Then, if the following questions do not apply, they sit down. As the questions should go from general to specific, the number of students standing should decrease.

STAND OUT: After the last closed-ended question is asked, the interviewer picks a student still standing to stand out. If no one is standing, the interviewer resorts back to the previous question to find a student to stand out. This student becomes the source.

Now comes the spontaneous part of the activity. The interviewer performs a one-minute interview using open-ended questions. Others in the class will observe the interview. The goal of the interviewer is to probe for a potential story.

3. Reflect

Allow one-minute for other class members to critique the interviewer before moving on to another student to serve as interviewer.

Extension activities

  1. Students must take notes or record interviews to practice writing quotes.
  2. Students use this approach outside of class to find a source to write a Q&A or a brief personality profile.

PART THREE, two class periods, plus parts of others for research, writing and trouble-shooting

Option for advanced students who are working on their own stories for publication: Complete the Interview Reflection handout and work on research, planning, transcribing or writing while beginners complete this lesson.

Day 1

1. Slideshow —25 minutes

Show the slideshow How to Write Great Questions, stopping at slide 13.

2. Activity — 10-15 minutes

Pair up students, preferably with partners they do not know well. Let them hold a brief conversation with each other. The purpose of the conversation is to gain a story angle (students try to get a specific focus to prepare an interview).

If you have reluctant students or students who need help knowing what to ask at this stage, provide the handout “Finding Out Who You Are.”

3. Reflect and assign homework.

Ask for volunteers to share their story angles. Explain that the angle they have found will help them to know what to research.

Go over slides 14, 15 and 16. For homework, students should prepare a list of interview questions that explore the who, what, where, when, why, and how of the potential story. Students should also perform basic, background research.

Day 2

1. Reflect – 5 minutes

Ask students what questions they asked yesterday that helped them find their story angle and got the best responses. Why did those questions work? Ask for examples of research they did and questions they have prepared.

2. Interview — 30 minutes

Go to slide 16 of “How to Write Great Questions.” Allow paired students to interview each other for 15 minutes. Ring a bell or prompt them to swap places when 15 minutes are up. These interviews are to be recorded (each student is required to have an audio recorder or recording app on phone). Students are also expected to use their reporter’s notebook to take notes of quotes.

3. Assign homework: Transcribe and plan two more interviews.

Go over slides 17-19. Students will transcribe the interview, preparing copy-ready quotes for a profile story and then find two other sources and write questions for hypothetical interviews with those sources.

Provide a deadline for completed notes and questions with the reflection question from slide 20. (Which questions got the best responses? Why do you think those questions worked better than others?)

Use the Interview Rubric to grade the notes.

Optional assignment: Following the evaluation of the notes, require student to conduct the two additional interviews and write a 250-350 word profile story. As these will be profiles of people in your class, they are probably not suitable for publication in your newspaper, Website or yearbook. Instead, publish them for others in the class to read in whatever platform you choose (Google docs, Edmodo, a private web site, posting on the wall, a class booklet with photos, etc.)


Alternative handouts and options are provided for advanced or experienced students. Guided note-taking sheets are provided for students, particularly ESE and ESOL, who need them. Part two provides a kinesthetic approach for students who learn better while moving or interacting with others.