Conduct the Interview

Forming and asking questions is an essential skill of reporters. It has application in many life situations and career paths.
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The interview is a basic tool of the reporter. The journalistic meaning emerged in the late 1860s with the intent to publish what was said during a meeting. In a not too complimentary use, etymologists have found “interview” used on January 28, 1869, in The Nation in which this practice is explained to readers: “The ‘interview,’ as at present managed, is generally the joint product of some humbug of a hack politician and another humbug of a newspaper reporter.”


The word “interview” comes from entre- meaning “between” + Old French voir meaning “to see” (from Latin videre). Whether the glimpse was for military purposes or later to get a job, the interview through the centuries involved two people, or more, facing each other in person to get to know one another.


This curriculum guide provides questions to consider when planning an interview and tips for a productive interview. Students are encouraged to explore The Washington Post to find uses of questions and interviews. "Think Like a Reporter: Use Quotations | Full, Partial, Paraphrased" gives examples and guidelines for incorporating responses to interview questions.


Students are also given examples of an interview in Q&A format (from the Business section) and through a search within The Post. An example of covering a school sports team serves as a model for use of many interviewees and research. Careers that make use of questions include being a Supreme Court Justice.


Students learn that if you conduct an interview with substantial questions and insightful answers, you can depart knowing veni, vidi, vici!

I came. I saw. I conquered — using the interview.



March 2016

Oral History
Resource Graphic 

Develop Vocabulary
English, Journalism, Media Arts

Each profession has its particular argot, the language that communicates the activities and daily function of people doing that work. In the Know has the vocabulary associated with interviewing. Teachers should get acquainted with these terms and introduce them to their students during the different suggested interview projects.


Form the Questions
Career Education, English, Journalism

Writing questions that will secure substantive responses is an essential skill of journalists — and useful in other professions. Teachers need to cover the difference between a closed question and an open-ended question. After explaining the difference, ask students to write questions to learn more about an event happening at your school.
• What do they want to know about the event?
• Who would they interview to get more details?
• Write three questions to ask this person about the event.
• Share the questions and discuss whether they are open-ended or closed questions. Will they get the information they want?

Give students "It's More Than a Question" to help student understand that interviewers must have a sense of purpose — know why they are interviewing this individual or event or place.


Read Post Columns
English, Journalism, Media Arts

Columns are a form of opinion writing found in publications. The columnist is expected to give thoughtful personal opinion. Sometimes the opinion is based on a particular expertise, other times on experience and insight. Locate examples of columns in the op-ed pages. Explain to students who the writers are and the different perspectives each provides.


Advice columns, how-to and entertainment pieces often make use of the Q&A format. Give students “The Q&A in The Post.”


After students have completed this activity, discuss the benefits of the Q&A. Let students know that even though they plan their interview questions, the order of the Q&A may be changed for better flow and progression of ideas that are communicated. Never separate the question from its answer. Always remain true to the interviewee’s intent.


Practice an Interview
English, Journalism, Media Arts

Give students “Interview Tips” and discuss each of the steps.


Pair students to conduct the first interview. Give a total of ten minutes for the interview; four minutes for one student to interview the other, switch roles of interviewer and interviewee, allow four minutes for the next interview. Use the remaining time to confirm what people said or ask a follow-up question.


Ask students to review the information they gained. Did they record the correct spelling of the interviewee’s name and grade? Do they have a quotation they might include? Do they see a theme or attitude in the answers? For example, an independent streak, enjoyment of adventure or a preference for solitude.


Plan a Q&A
English, Journalism, Media Arts

Teachers might invite the principal or another administrator to be a guest interviewee. Another approach would be to select a person in your school or community whom students would like to interview. After the person has been invited and confirmed, prepare students for the interview. Review the applicable steps in “Interview Tips.”


Ask the interviewee to provide a short bio or one-page resumé. Review this information with students. Place students in groups of three or four students each. Ask students to work together to write questions.
• What do you know about the person? Professional and personal sides?
• Is there information in this person’s bio/resumé that they would like to know more about?
• What influences have shaped this individual?


Ask each group to share its questions with the class. If there are similar questions, which one has the best wording? Which is the most unique question? Which may not be an appropriate question to ask? Combine to create a basic list of 20 questions.


Remind students that they should be ready to ask follow-up questions.


Write a Q&A Piece
English, Journalism, Media Arts

After students have conducted the interview, work in the same groups of three or four students. Review the answers and make sure they agree on the wording of responses. If there is uncertainty about the response, listen to the tape of the interview to get exact wording.


Give students "When it becomes more than a T-shirt" to read and discuss. This BUSINESS section article gives insight into founding and succeeding in a business. Discuss the order of the interview questions and answers. How does the story of CustomInk unfold through each response? What do they learn that may apply to any business? 


Students should now return to their interview. Decide on the order of the questions and answers. Prepare the final Q&A. Share the Q&A prepared by each group. Why were certain choices made to change the order of the questions? Are all the responses accurately quoted? 

Interviewing — Techniques and Examples
Resource Graphic 

Quote the Interviewee
English, Journalism, Social Studies, Other Disciplines

Think Like a Reporter activity “Use Quotations | Full, Partial, Paraphrased” introduces students to ways writers include quoted material in their works and give attribution. After discusses the explanation and examples, ask students to annotate examples of full quotations, partial quotations and paraphrasing in “Streetcars are finally here. But who are they for?” The margins are wide enough to allow students to mark their annotations (left margin) and to locate other information you may ask them to find (right margin). This might include:
• What question might reporter Laris have asked Steven M. Cummings to get information?
• Facts provided by the reporter
• Profession or reason the people interviewed are credible sources



Write About Family
Character Education, English, Journalism, Media Literacy, Social Studies

Teachers are encouraged to review Family Stories, the March 2010 Washington Post NIE curriculum guide. It provides a number of resources, activity ideas and articles to use as examples. Activity suggestions include “Make Memories,” “Tell Your Family Story” and “Drawing on Your Family Story.” The First Person Singular pieces are short examples of what students could write based upon interviews.


Give students the assignment to conduct an interview with one or more family members — or someone in their community. After identifying the person(s), students need to follow the steps suggested in “Interview Tips.”


Students should prepare a narrative based on the interview. Add drawings or photographs to create a more interesting presentation. This will also provide opportunity to practice graphic skills and computer/technology layout skills.


Teachers might develop this into a longer family history project. Give students “Oral History and Your Family” for ideas on developing this into a larger family project. Review the sidebar that lists sources of information.


Conduct an Oral History Interview
English, Journalism, Media Literacy, Social Studie

People have memories as well as timely information to be gleaned. This is the basis of oral history. The gathering of personal knowledge of events and people is the foundation of oral history.


If your school is approaching an anniversary year, your students can be part of the celebration by conducting interviews. Brainstorm with students who might be interviewed. This could include administration and faculty who worked there the year the school opened as well as cooks and custodians. The first graduates and well-known alum.


Another option would be to conduct a family history. Begin by asking students what they know about their grandparents and great grandparents, aunts and uncles. Has anyone in their families gathered information about previous generations to tell the family history? If yes, perhaps these individuals could be invited to be a guest speaker to share with students the ways they gathered information. Give students “Oral History and Your Family” to guide their inquires.


Whichever oral history option you choose, give students “Interview Tips” and “Think Like a Reporter” to help guide them to more successful interviews.

Read Interviews

Consider Careers and Questions
Career Education, Political Science, U.S. History

We have focused on writing questions to get responses to inform the public. It is an essential skill of the reporter — as well as the ability to record answers accurately and to provide background and context.

Ask students what other jobs depend on the ability to form and ask the right questions? In addition to stating the job, ask students why questions are important to these professionals and to give examples of questions asked by these professionals. Answers would include pharmacists, doctors, sales persons, manicurists and barbers.

Older students might enjoy the article by Robert Barnes, The Post’s Supreme Court reporter, about a Justice asking questions. Give students “For first time in 10 years, Justice Clarence Thomas asks questions during an argument” to read. Discussion might include:

• What background does Barnes provide to put the event into perspective?
• Why is it important to quote Justice Thomas’ questions?
• Barnes next paraphrases and uses a partial quotation. Why is this sufficient and informative?
• Why has Thomas not asked questions while serving on the Supreme Court? Why do Justices ask questions of both sides? Do you agree or disagree with Thomas?
• On what note does Barnes end his article? Explain your answer.


Cover a Class
English, Journalism, Media Literacy, Social Studies

Tell students there is a materials science course at Johns Hopkins University in which students study chocolate to learn principles. Ask them to write three questions they would like to learn about the course. Have students share their questions.

View “Chocolate: An Introduction to Materials Science” video (1:52) provided by Johns Hopkins University. 

• How many and which of their questions were answered by the video?
• Were they surprised to see how young the professor is? Did they have an image of who would teach materials science?
• What additional questions do they have after listening to the video? Add these to their list.


Give students “Materials science? Piece of cake!” to read. After reading, ask students to find answers to their questions in the article.
• Were all or most of their questions answered?
• Did it help to get the perspectives of several students in the course? What did each add?
• Who else would they interview to get answers to their remaining questions?
• What did they learn through the video? Through the print article?

Write About a Club or Team
Character Education, English, Journalism, Media Literacy

The meat and potatoes of high school newspaper and yearbook content are clubs and sports teams. Ask students what is happening this year in SGA, a prominent club and one of the sports teams. Who knows the leaders’ names, the team’s record to-date, the reason the club exists? Is there a new sport being considered at a school in your county? In what out-of-school groups (Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, 4-H, faith-related) are they involved? Who would like to know about these groups?


Their answers might lead to considering why certain teams and clubs are provided for student involvement. Give students a Post SPORTS section article to read and discuss. “For high school rifle teams, politics stays out of range” provides the current status of rifle clubs in D.C. area. Discussion questions to accompany the article are provided in “Covering Niche Sports.”  Students might work in teams to write an article about a club or sport, giving its history and place in the national scene.

Resource Graphic 
In The Know 

Audience The intended readers of a news article, feature or other written or recorded work
Closed question Question that is worded to illicit a “yes” or “no” response
Eye contact Maintaining visual contact, eye-to-eye, with the interviewee

Mannerism, physical movement both in the face and body. This would include shaking one’s head, folding one’s arms across the chest or fidgeting with one’s clothing or jewelry.


Meeting with someone in person to seek information or to promote an event or product; technology may be used for virtual interviews. A journalist interviews to bring personal points of view and particular knowledge into print, broadcast and online reporting. Companies interview individuals for job openings.

Interviewee The person who is intreviewed
Interviewer The person conducting the interview
Open-ended answer

Question that is worded to get a full response, more than a “yes” or “no” answer

Paraphrase Summary of the essential idea of a longer statement; without changing the meaning of a quotation, putting the response into the reporter’s words
Partial quotation

Using a small portion of a longer quotation within the text; the exact words of the interviewee or document are indicated between quotation marks

Question Inquiry, seeking information or personal response from an individual    
Quotation The exact words of the interviewee or document
District of Columbia Public Schools Academic Content Standards 

The District of Columbia has adopted the Common Core State Standards in reading and mathematics. In addition, DCPS has adopted new learning standards in arts, health and physical education, science, social studies, technology and world languages.



Academic Content Standards may be found at

Maryland Academic Content Standards 

English. The student will analyze and evaluate a variety of print, non-print and electronic texts, and other media (Standard 2. ECLG 1)

• Determine the tone or voice of a text or a portion of a text or across texts.
• Evaluate an author’s choice of words, phrases and sentences for a particular audience or effect, for a given purpose, to extend meaning in a context, or to provide emphasis


English. The student will analyze and evaluate the purpose and effect on non-print texts, including visual, aural and electronic media (Standard 2, ECLG 1.1.4, Grades 11 and 12)

• Critique the delivery and effectiveness or oral presentations, including interviews, oral interpretations, film and stage performances, and historically significant speeches (ECLG 3.1.2)


English. The student will compose in a variety of modes by developing content, employing specific forms, and selecting language appropriate for a particular audience and purpose (Standard 3. ECLG 2)
• Demonstrate attention to audience interest and understanding
• Demonstrate the ability to integrate ideas into written text from a variety of sources using paraphrase, quotations, citations and summaries


The Maryland Voluntary State Curriculum Content Standards can be found online at

Virginia Academic Content Standards 

English, Reading. The student will apply knowledge of word origins, derivations and figurative language to extend vocabulary development in authentic texts. (9.3)


English, Reading. The student will read and analyze a variety of nonfiction texts.
g) Analyze and synthesize information in order to solve problems, answer questions, or complete a task.
h) Draw conclusions and make inferences on explicit and implied information using textual support as evidence.
i) Differentiate between fact and opinion.


English, Communication: Speaking, Listening, Media Literacy. The student will examine how values and points of view are included or excluded and how media influences beliefs and behaviors. (11.2 and 12.2)

c) Evaluate sources including advertisements, editorials, blogs, Web sites and other media relationships between intent, factual content and opinion.


English, Communication: Speaking, Listening, Media Literacy. The student will examine how values and points of view are included or excluded and how media influences beliefs and behaviors. (12.2)

b) Determine the author’s purpose and intended effect on the audience for media messages.


Academic Content Standards may be found at

Common Core Standards 

English Language Arts, Key Ideas and Details. Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text. (CCSS ELA-LITERACY.RI.9-10.1)


English Language Arts, Key Ideas and Details. Analyze how the author unfolds an analysis or series of ideas or events, including the order in which the points are made, how they are introduced and developed, and the connections that are drawn between them. (CCSS ELA-LITERACY.RI.9-10.3)


English Language Arts, Craft and Structure. Determine the meaning and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative, connotative, and technical meanings; analyze the cumulative impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone (e.g., how the language of a court opinion differs from that of a newspaper). (CCSS ELA-LITERACY.RI.9-10.4)


Common Core standards may be found at



National Journalism Standards

Knowledge of Curriculum and Content/Classroom Knowledge. Journalism teachers understand

• The writing process as it relates to journalism to include brainstorming, questioning, reporting, gathering and synthesizing information, writing, editing and evaluating the final multimedia product
• A variety of forms of journalistic writing, including news, features, opinion and their appropriate style
• Importance of matching language use, angle, and style with intended audience


Standards for Journalism Educations may be found at