Drawing from the Well

Chapter Three Filling the Bucket
Lesson 1 - Conducting Interviews

Setting the Stage:

Now that students have had experience with working in teams, utilizing recording equipment, practicing follow-up questions, and making contact with interviewees they are ready to go out into the field and conduct official interviews. During the interview sessions with community people it is important to not only record clear, engaging responses from the interviewees, but also, it is imperative to pick up on cues from everything that occurs in the environment at the time of the interview. How to be alert, attuned and sensitive to information is the objective of a good interview. Go with a game plan and be ready for the unexpected.

This segment is designed to give students guidelines when conducting an interview. Developing students' ability to integrate preparation along with performance "in-themoment" is the challenge of conducting a successful interview. The following lesson offers ways to get the most out of an interview and how to "think on your feet."


  • The students will conduct an interview to gain information or a new point-of-view for primary or community research.

NM State Standards: Language Arts I-B (7-1, 2, 3, 4 & 8-1, 2) I-C (7-1, 2, 3, 4 & 8-1, 2) II-A

Materials and Resources Needed:
Recorder (camcorder and tripod or audio recorder)
Microphone(s), cables and extra batteries
Tape stock (more than you think you'll need)
Interview questions and list of images to capture
Props or photographs for prompting conversation
Extension cords, batteries
Lights and reflectors (optional)
Release forms
A quiet, uninterrupted recording space
Interview Rubric to review before and to self-assess immediately after (See Appendix/Methods of Evaluation)
Optional: Teamwork Rubric (Appendix/Methods of Evaluation) to assess the teamwork at the interview

Duration: Allow one to two hours for each interview, including set-up and "wrap." Consider scheduling more than one interview session with the same interviewee and interview team for greater depth in learning and developing relationships.

The following is a series of pointers for both teachers and students when conducting an interview: Once this information is conveyed, have students make a checklist to ensure a successful interview.

  1. Leaving for the interview: From the time students set out for the interview, have them notice the surroundings and environment of the setting. As they approach the house or work environment, record their observations to set a context for the interviewee's words. Example: One time driving in the car, a dialogue among students spontaneously occurred. They identified who lived in the houses that we passed and what relationships they had with the people.
  2. Setting up the equipment: Choose a place to record your subject where there are no extraneous sounds. If you are recording in someone's home be aware of room noise, e.g. refrigerators that turn on and off, radio or music playing or activities going on outside. If you have the option, set up in a room that is furnished with carpet, rugs and furniture. A room with hard surfaces will make a hollow recording. A room with a lot of furnishings will offer a cleaner, more accurate sound recording. Remember, if this person has agreed to be recorded then it's up to the recording team to get the best quality recording possible. Though it may feel awkward at first, it is better to ask if a refrigerator can be unplugged temporarily or to ask the person mowing the grass to take a break, than it is to come back from your session and realize that the soundtrack is unusable because the extraneous noises are too dominant in the recording.
  3. Establishing Rapport: If possible, spend time with the interviewee, prior to recording the interview. At the minimum, take time during the initial phone call to begin to establish a relationship. Once you are setting up for the interview, maintaining contact with the interviewee can be the job of the Director or the Interviewer while the Technicians and Scribes are getting ready for the interview. There is naturally an initial stiffness for everyone prior to beginning the interview. This is a natural time to chat about what is familiar to both of you and establish a frame of reference.
  4. Checking equipment: Though you will have checked your equipment prior to arrival at the interview setting, it is still important to do a sound check and to record a little tape and play it back. Again, this is a job for the Director to coordinate and important to do. Believe it or not, whole interview sessions have gone unrecorded because the tape wasn't set in properly, the microphone wasn't turned on, or the Technician forgot to release the pause button.
  5. Prior to rolling tape: Be sure to once again explain to the interviewee why you are conducting this interview and what your goals are in recording their information and stories. We recommend that you have your subjects sign a release form (See Appendix/Samples and Activities), which will give the producers (students) the right to use this footage for educational purposes. This also frees everyone from liability issues. Put new tape into the tape recorder and set counter to zero.
  6. Rolling tape: At the beginning of each tape have the Director or interviewer state on tape:
    1. the date and time
    2. the location of the interview
    3. all people in attendance of the interview
    At this time it is important for the Technician to look at the counter and/or tape to be sure the tape is rolling and set in record mode. In order to preserve existing recordings, follow this procedure: 1) Get to the end of the portion you want to save. 2) Zero the counter, rewind the tape. Note the counter reading. 3) Subtract it from zero, reset the counter to zero and move the tape forward to the appropriate setting.
  7. During the interview: Feel free to pause the tape, if you may need to organize your papers and/or confer with other members of the team. Also, let the interviewee know that there are no right or wrong answers and the tape will be edited for a final product. As the interview progresses, each member of the team needs to be a good listener and to develop follow-up questions. Allow for a structure that is both effective and relaxed.
  8. Your ultimate goal: Create an environment where the interviewee feels as if he or she is having a conversation and you, the interviewing team, are the eager listeners. You want to get specifics, details and descriptions of what your interviewee knows about the subjects. At the same time, you need to allow room for the unexpected. For instance, if you have come to ask your interviewee questions about his or her experiences irrigating the fields with the age-old acequia system yet they want to tell you about fishing in the summer along the Rio Santa Barbara, then let the interviewee go with his/her inclinations. You will ultimately want to get back to the information about irrigation, but, be patient and make room for a natural exchange. Remember, a river meanders, yet it still carries water from the headwaters to the sea. Stay open and respond to whatever comes your way.
  9. Team roles: The Director maintains the focus of the interview and the awareness of the recording environment, the Technician focuses on the dynamics of good recording. The Interviewer is asking questions and responding to the information coming from the interviewee and the Scribe is taking notes and generating new questions. During the interview, allow any of these members of the team to speak up, should something need adjustment or be considered. Remember, the tape will be edited, so it's all right to interrupt. It is the responsibility of every team member to be present and mentally involved during the interview. You want to come out of the interview with the best tape you can.
  10. Making corrections: Sometimes, you may need to ask an interviewee to repeat something that was said, because you either didn't get it or it got messed up. In other words, you'll want to establish a way to get people to repeat themselves. Saying, "I'm sorry I didn't quite get what you said about ..." or "Could you please restate or elaborate on what you said about..." may work. Find ways that put the interviewee at ease. Remember, you're after good tape.
  11. Follow-up: As you conclude the interview, ask the interviewee if it is okay to come back should your team have more questions. Also, you may want to take time after the interview to record some items or places that were referenced during the interview. (Notes of images as they surface during the interviews are a job for the Scribe.) If you are conducting a video project or any visual record of this event, you will want to think of different ways to tell the stories you've heard, beyond capturing the image of the interviewee. Here are some suggestions for images or prompts for interviews:
    1. Collect scrapbooks or photo albums
    2. If you are in someone's home, often there are family photos framed on mantles and on the wall. Ask about these photographs or artwork.
    3. Different rooms and peoples' outdoor spaces offer different visuals.
    4. Often the people you interview have particular hobbies or interests they would like to share. Inquire about these.
    5. Action shots: cooking, woodworking, gardening or making things. Capture your interviewees in the process of doing what they know and love to do.
  12. Finishing the interview: It's nice to finish the interview with refreshments that your team has brought. This often is a good time to get some audio and video clips as well. Practice with the Technician ways to be mobile and capture good images and sound. Thank the interviewee and invite him/her to your final presentation and celebration of the project.

Follow-up lesson: Before students go on their interviews have them go over the activities for the next lesson, Filling the Bucket, Lesson 2 - Documenting Impressions. This will help the students prepare for the reflection activities after the interviews.

Teacher and Student Assessment:
Interview Rubric, self-assessed by the student (You may want the team to peer assess each other on the interview to get a bigger picture.) Teamwork Rubric can also be done for self and peers, as desired. (See Appendix/Methods of Evaluation)

Reporting out: It has proven valuable for students to report to the class as soon as possible for sharing, learning and further reminders to avoid problems for those who have not yet interviewed. The rubrics are valuable as prompts for both reporting and eliciting questions from the class and teacher.