Drawing from the Well

Chapter Two Lowering the Bucket
Preparing for the Interview

Setting the Stage:

Students' ability to communicate through interpersonal interactions as a means to both glean information and establish new relationships is a critical life-long skill. In addition, learning how to organize and prepare for the interview sessions is a valuable skill that will also have applications throughout a student's formal education and beyond.

Prior to students going into their communities to record interviews they will need: research on subject matter, arrangements confirmed, list of questions organized, practice with their recording equipment and be mentally prepared to respond during the interviews. This lesson is designed to further develop students' skills in conducting successful interviews.


    • The students will utilize research as background for further questions and inquiry. • The students will develop open-ended questions for interviewing. • The students will analyze and improve their questions for their interview. • The students will practice their oral and listening skills for interviewing and analyze them for effectiveness. • The students will organize and prepare for an interview.

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 for Each Group:
List of interview questions (From Chapter Two, Lesson 1)
Recording equipment (See Appendix/Resources for recommendations)
Paper and pens
Interview Rubric for each student (Appendix/Methods of Evaluation)
Handout #7 Group Presentation of Plan (See Appendix/Samples and Activities)

3 - 5 days depending on how many practice interview exercises you conduct.


  1. Reviewing and organizing the interview questions:

    In Chapter Two, Lesson 1, students produced a series of questions pertaining to their subject matter. Now we will examine how these questions can be designed to encourage a variety of responses. Introduce to your class to the following concepts:

    • Establishing rapport
    • Open-ended questions and active listening

    Establishing Rapport: Starting with students' initial contact with their interviewees, they will want to create a relaxed environment that helps the person feel comfortable in telling stories about their lives. This means taking the time to inform the interviewee about the project, how the interview material will be used and why it's important to talk specifically with them.

    The first step in becoming a good interviewer is to be a good listener. Often when students work hard on their list of questions, they concentrate only on getting through their list. A successful interview is one in which the interviewee(s) and the interviewer(s) are in a dialogue, with the interviewer(s) picking up on all the many leads that prompt indepth questions and genuine responses. You ultimately want the interviewees to be so involved with talking that they ignore the recording equipment and the formalized framework of the interview.

    Open-ended Questions and Active Listening: As students assemble their interview questions they will want to balance their questions with both factual inquiries and conversational openers, or open-ended questions. For example, a good warm-up question may be, "Please tell us your name, place and year of birth." Now here is a good opportunity to practice active listening and to develop questions that are open-ended. If the person states, "I'm Josefina Lopez. I was born in San Ignacio, Colorado in 1932," rather than go to your next written question of "Who were your parents and how many siblings do you have?" you can pick up on many aspects from the first response. For example: 1) "When and why did you move from San Ignacio to Peñasco?" 2) "What do you remember about San Ignacio?" 3) "Why was your family living in San Ignacio?" 4) "Do you still have relatives in San Ignacio and do you go back to visit them? What's that like for you?"

    In every answer there is an opportunity to follow up with other questions. If your topic is about local health practices, you may ask questions related to health. For example: "Were you born at a hospital or at home?" "Have you heard stories about your birth while growing up?" "Do you know if you were delivered by a midwife and what were the procedures at that time?" The sharp interviewer is poised for learning, exercising curiosity and stepping into the moment.

    We mentioned warm-up questions which are intended to be easy, to relax the interviewee, to establish rapport, and to open up the interview. Here are some suggestions to use at the beginning of your interviews or to intersperse during the interview to regain momentum:

    • Tell me about your family.
    • What do you remember about growing-up?
    • What were you interested in at an early age?
    • Can you tell me about going to school?
    • What did you do before and after school?
    • Tell me about your parents.
    • Tell me about your best friends.

    These examples of open-ended questions are intended to get students and interviewees' gears going. The goal is to have your interviewees paint pictures about their memories and experiences. Have students use the basic inquiry questions below to see how one question can turn into many.

    Basic inquiry words: Who, What, When, Where, Why and How are standard lead ins to interview questions. In addition, it's helpful to follow up with requests like:

    • Tell me about...
    • What do you think about...
    • What do you remember about...

    It also can be helpful to bring your own experiences into play, for example: "I've always liked fishing on the Rio Santa Barbara with my older cousin; did you do that?" Or "When I was five I got chicken pox and still have a scar, did you have a childhood illness?" Sometimes adding the personal aspect of the interviewer opens the door for more personal stories from the interviewee.

  2. Practice interview exercises:

    As students begin to put their questions together, it is helpful to simultaneously keep them involved with the dynamics of the equipment and the practice of interviewing. Here are a few exercises to practice interviewing skills:

    1. Mock interviews - Choose someone to be interviewed by the whole class such as a teacher, student, school employee, parent, coach, or counselor. Prior to the interview have each student write up five questions to be handed in at the end of the class period. Try to formulate questions that will get to the essence of knowing this individual. Take 10 minutes before starting the interview to put ideas on the board. Have students respond to what it means to them to "know someone." Is it what they like to eat, who they live with, a place they like to go, an activity they like to do, clothes they like to wear, a movie they love to watch, or a festival they cannot miss that determines who a person is? Is it their religion, their job, their parents, their children, their community? See what comes up for the students and have them use this list to formulate their questions. This exercise can also be done with the interviewee acting as someone else such as a character from a book, a movie, a TV show, one's family.
    2. "Man on the Street" interview exercise: This can be a lot of fun for students to do as an out-of-class exercise. Either they can use their particular essential question or they can make up another topic to try out questions with people in public. Teams of 3-5 students can arrange to do this activity during lunchtime, in the cafeteria, or right after school as students are leaving. The goal is for students to get good, spontaneous "sound bites" from people passing by. Sample questions: If students are studying water pollution and the impact on their community for example, they first need to identify themselves and explain what they are doing. Then, on the heels of making a connection with a potential interviewee, ask the first question: "How would you describe the quality of your water?" Have you ever noticed a change in the quality of the water you drink?" "How would you know when water is good for drinking and when it's not?" "If you think your water was contaminated, what would you do?" "Do you think there is a relationship between the quality of our water and the quality of life in our community?" Play back the tape in class and assess its success in getting the good "sound bites." What was effective? What could have been done differently?
    3. Have students try out the questions they have developed for their community research. Students can work in their teams pretending one of them is the person they will be interviewing. Sometimes questions look good on paper but don't read well when asked. Have students analyze their interview questions and the responses to see which were most successful.

    Advice to Give Student Videographers or Radio Interviewers:
    Ask your interviewees to put your question into their answer. This is good practice for the community interviews that you will later edit. If the interviewee has the question set into their answer, you will have the option to use your question or not.

    Record the interview, either with video or audio equipment, and play back portions with the class assessing the following criteria:

    1. Were the questions authentic and were the responses followed up with new questions?
    2. Were the interviewers and interviewee in a dialogue or was the interview session a series of disassociated questions and answers?
    3. Were the interviewers and interviewee genuinely interested in one another?
    4. Did students learn new information? - What was it?
    5. What happened spontaneously in the interview?
    6. Is there a new understanding of what it may mean to "know someone."

  3. Sample clips:
    Give the assignment for students to watch one interview/talk show on TV and come to class with a taped interview. (This works for students who have VCRs. It also increases their use of technology if they can figure out how to record from a television broadcast.) This assignment could also be carried out by students who are paired up in teams. Come up with a list of potential TV interview shows to watch. Some examples may be Barbara Walters, 60 Minutes, Nightline with Ted Koppel, Oprah Winfrey or Bill Moyers. Have students bring the tapes and be prepared to discuss what makes these interviews successful or not by reviewing the criteria in the Interview Rubric. (Appendix/Methods of Evaluation)

  4. Arranging the interview:
    As students begin to delve into their subject matter and/or their essential question, they also need to explore which community members can speak to their concerns. If there is a family member who is knowledgeable about the topic it is often a wonderful way to expand the relationship between the student and a relative. Unless the teacher(s) want to plan it differently, Drawing from the Well is designed to have students go in teams to perform the interviews. This offers the students the chance to have their peers know their family. As a group, students need to decide who will make the initial phone calls to the potential interviewees and coordinate with the teacher/supervisor when the interview sessions can take place. If none of the students in a given group can decide on a family member to interview they may get suggestions from teachers, coaches, administrators or religious leaders. Have students get a list of at least five names of potential interviewees. Have them use the ideas that surfaced during the community mapping. (Chapter Two, Lesson 2)

    The Ideal Interview Arrangement:
    After many years of organizing interviews with students and community members, we've found the ideal situation is when the interviewees can be flexible with their time and are willing to have a small group of students come to their homes. Conducting the interviews in the subject's home is a memorable experience for everyone. There's a lot to be learned by stepping into the interviewee's environment. It's always nice to bring a snack and drinks to share at the end of the interview, as a means of saying "thank you." If going to an interviewee's home is not possible, you may want to consider their place of work or last choice, a quiet room at the school.

  5. Guidelines for setting-up an interview

    1. Students are responsible for identifying perspective interviewees and making the initial contact. After students have experienced several classroom interviews they are in the position to determine what makes a good interviewee. Have the class make a list of criteria for choosing an interviewee. This will help steer groups to find an interviewee who is willing and knowledgeable.
    2. The teacher and/or responsible adult follows up with the interviewee to confirm day, time and logistics, directions, how many students will be coming, and the signing of a release form, allowing the students to use the recordings for their educational endeavors. It's also helpful to reinforce what the students are studying and why they have selected this person to be interviewed. Send home permission slips so the students can officially be excused from school and be sure to request their absence from the other teachers who may be expecting them in class.
    3. Make arrangements for transportation. Over time this has become one of the problematic aspects of conducting the interviews. At some schools, insurance is an issue if students don't drive in school-authorized vehicles with authorized drivers. In some cases, going after school or on weekends alleviates this logistical feat, since the permission simply is with the parents or legal guardians. The principal, parents or designated administrator can be of assistance with transportation, as well. It's best when the teacher can go with the students to the interview. If there is support for doing this work, there will be a way. If coordinating the interview sessions during school time and with the teacher becomes logistically difficult, you may trust the students to conduct the interview on their own time, with their own arrangements for transportation.

    However, we believe teachers who attend the interviews will understand at the core what this project is about: connecting school and community, engaging students and validating local knowledge.

  6. Selecting an interviewee and determining the number of interview sessions:

    What you'll be looking for in a good interviewee is someone who is open to telling good stories and giving candid responses. You also want someone who will be in tune with the interviewer(s). If you have your class develop a community resource list, students may be able to find someone to address their subject concerns. Otherwise, have students network with the people they know, their relatives and community leaders to find an appropriate interviewee.

    The length and number of interviews is a matter of logistics and time. Ideally it's best to do at least two interviews with the same person, though in the years of doing Drawing from the Well, we've not always been able to achieve this. Because we're primarily interested in building new relationships between young people and adults the more contact the two can have together, the better. Also, there is added depth when students have interviewed, listened and logged their tapes and then returned for a second interview. There's more investment, on the part of both parties, and ultimately a more substantial exchange of information, trust and understanding.

    Generally the recording sessions last between one to two hours, including the set-up, breakdown of the equipment and some relaxed socializing. If you can, designate one member to continue picking up ambient sound and dialogue after the formal interview session has ceased. The informal exchanges are often the richest.

    Here's a simple template for each student group to fill out prior to the interview session. It is assumed that if they can fill this out, then they have had an initial conversation with the perspective interviewee.

    Interviewee  Name Phone No.  Times available  Date & time set for interview

    The reason we have students identify at least five interviewees is because often, with the best of intentions, people offer their time, but they are not able to follow through. Be sure to have a back-up list to use if people cancel their appointments.

  7. Presentations prior to the Interview (Handout #7 Group Presentation Plan in Appendix/Samples and Activities)
    Give the groups some lead time on this assignment. This is the determination of whether groups are prepared for going into the community or not. Each group will need to:

    1. Address the class with their topic and essential question.
    2. Identify the people they plan to interview, time, date and location.
    3. Determine what information they are hoping to acquire as a result of their interview(s).
    4. Present the list of questions they are going to ask.
    5. Identify what supplemental sound, visuals and text they will use for their final product.
      For radio shows it will be music, sound effects and narrative
      For videos it will be images, activities, environments
      For websites it will be elements of the afore mentioned
      For photographic displays it will be images and quotes
      For print it will be images, formatting ideas and text
    6. Hand out the Oral Presentation Rubric to the students who are listening. (See Appendix/Methods of Evaluation)

Student and Teacher Assessment:
Use Oral Presentation Rubric to assess the presentations. Include preparation questions, notes, and rubrics from all practice interviews in the portfolio.

Working Portfolio: Have students write a reflective piece on their personal strengths in interviewing and identify what they need to improve before the community interview, using the Interview Rubric as a prompt. They also should have questions ready for the formal interview. The teacher needs to check these two areas and either require more practice sessions or approve as ready to interview the designated community member.