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Language Arts Lesson: Posing Good Interview Questions


Susan Seet is a language arts teacher at the Crispus Attucks Middle School in Indianapolis. Below is the description of a lesson she conducted with students in her seventh grade class. The goal was to help them pose questions for interviewing "an expert" in Phase III of the I-Search process.

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Susan began the lesson by setting the context. She explained,

"You will be interviewing a person who is an expert or who has valuable experience to share. If you need help in locating a person to interview, I'll be happy to help you. After you have contacted the person you will be interviewing to set the time and date, you'll need to prepare by writing five interview questions. Let's talk about what makes a good question."

Susan asked for a student volunteer to play the role of the interviewer while Susan played the role of the expert being interviewed. When Andrea raised her hand to volunteer, Susan handed her two index cards with questions. They sat down facing each other in front of the class.

Andrea asked the first question from the first index card, "Have you ever been in a blizzard?" Susan responded,"Yes."

Susan then turned to the class and asked them for their reaction to this question. A student responded that Andrea asked a question that she already knew the answer to.

Andrea then asked the next question,"Do you remember any of the effects?" Susan responded by nodding her head.

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At this point, Susan stepped out of her role as the interviewee, and again assumed the role of the teacher. She used the overhead projector to make a critical point.

Susan explained,

"You don't want to ask a 'skinny' question because then you'll get a 'skinny' answer. When Andrea asked me the question, 'Do you remember any of the effects?' my answer was something she probably already knew because that's why she had chosen me for her interview. How could she reword the question to get a 'fat' answer?"

As the students offered the following alternatives, Susan wrote their suggestions on the overhead projector:

"Could you tell me some of the effects?"
"Explain the emotions that you felt being in the blizzard."

Another student commented that the second question sounded like a command, not a question. Susan agreed and suggested that they might want to rephrase it. However, she added that asking for an explanation was a good tactic.

Susan then asked the class, "What other words could we use to begin a question that yields good information?"

Students responded with, "Why," "What," "When," "Where," and "How."

Susan ended the lesson by explaining that the next day they would practice posing questions with a partner. She reminded them that they wanted to ask questions that would help them find information they did not already know.

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