Effective Interview Questions

Good interview questions help shape the interview and, as Studs Terkel says, “Pull out people’s best stories.” By choosing questions that are open-ended and important to them, students can learn great interview skills that can be helpful in future college and job interviews. Tell students that in today’s lesson they will have a chance to interview one another and ask each other the “big questions.”

  • Objective: To learn how to ask effective interview questions and to practice asking effective questions by conducting an interview with a peer
  • Standards: Applicable Common Core Standards
  • Time: 45 minutes
  • Preparation: Review the entire lesson, including the learning object Tips for Effective Interviews and the animation “Q & A”
  • Materials: Student copies of the Great Questions List, the learning object Tips for Effective Interviews (see below), the animation “Q & A”computer, speakers, Internet connection, projector or Smart Board, index cards for each student

Warm-Up: The Big Share

8-Minute Face-to-Face Activity


  1. Provide each student with an index card and the Great Questions List. Ask students to choose one question for someone else in the room to answer and to write it on their index card.
  2. Model how the activity will work. Approach a student and ask the question you wrote on an index card. He or she answers it, then asks you his or her question. After you have both answered a question, trade index cards. Both you and the model student will now find a new partner and ask a new question.
  3. Explain that each time students talk to a new person, they will trade questions. Tell students they will all do this at the same time. Encourage students to talk to at least three different people.
  4. Collect the interview questions and set them aside to use later in the lesson.
  5. Ask students to move their chairs into a circle.

Activity: What Makes An Effective Interview Question?

10-Minute Digital Learning Object And Face-to-face Activity


Explain to students that today’s warm-up focused on asking questions because later they will have the opportunity to conduct an interview with a peer. Asking effective questions is an important skill that takes practice to develop.

Tell students that they are going to learn more about giving interviews through the 4 Tips for an Effective Interview learning object. Students can view this learning object individually, in small groups, or a whole group as a guided activity using available technologies. Click the player button to begin.

Download a printable version of the interactivity.

Many of the questions included in the Great Questions List are designed with this guideline in mind. Ask students which questions that were asked in the warm-up relate to the guidelines outlined in the learning object.


Activity: Joshua’s Story: “Q & A”

10-Minute Digital Learning Object, Listening Activity, And Face-to-Face Discussion


  1. Tell students they are going to watch“Q & A”, a StoryCorps animation of an interview between a mom and her 12-year-old son, Joshua Littman, who has Asperger’s syndrome. Explain that Asperger’s syndrome may cause someone to have difficulty interacting socially and that people with Asperger’s often demonstrate intense interests or obsessions, for example with chess or bugs. Someone with Asperger’s may also engage in repetitive behavior, like hand waving. The students can view this animated clip individually, in small groups, or as a whole group as a guided activity using available technologies. There is also a printable version of “Q & A”  available for students to read.
  2. Ask a volunteer to summarize the clip. Invite other volunteers to add to the summary. Sample summary: “In this interview, Joshua asks his mom about animals, enemies, and what it’s like to be a parent.”
  3. Distribute copies of the transcript of Joshua Littman’s recording. Ask students to underline the effective questions Joshua asked his mother.
  4. Ask students to share examples of Joshua’s questions and discuss why these questions were effective or not, based on what they learned in the 4 Tips for an Effective Interview learning object.

Activity: Interviewing A Peer

10-Minute Face-to-Face Activity


Two Students Standing Outdoors Talking


  • Explain that students will now conduct peer interviews with each other to practice asking interview questions.
  • Ask students to brainstorm effective questions they might ask a peer. Examples include the following:
    • “What are you proudest of?”
    • “What is the hardest thing you have ever had to do?”
    • “Who has had the biggest influence on your life? How?”
  • Ask students to choose one question that will be the start of their interview with a peer. The question should follow the guidelines for an effective question. It can be one of the questions from your brainstorm, a question from the warm-up, or they can come up with a new question.
  • Pair up students by counting off. If you have a group of 20, for example, count off one to ten and match each students with the other student assigned the same number as them. If there are an uneven number of students, you can participate.
  • Let students know that everyone will have a chance to be interviewer and interviewee. Ask each pair to decide who will be the first to conduct an interview.
  • Explain that each person will have three minutes to interview his or her peer. You will announce when three minutes have elapsed so that students can switch roles.


3-Minute Face-to-Face Activity


Facilitate a discussion of the interviews using the following questions:

  • “What was it like to interview a peer?”
  • “Which of the interview guidelines did you use, and how did it help you as the interviewer?”
  • “As an interviewee, did you feel that the interviewer truly heard your answers? If so, what did the interviewer do or ask to make you believe this? What more could an interviewer do to show you that s/he is truly listening to you?”
  • “What are some recommendations to add to our Guidelines for Effective Questions, and why should we add them to our list?”

Closing And Optional Homework Assignment: Go-Around

7-Minute Face-to-Face Activity


Explain to students that their homework assignment is to conduct an interview with a friend, family member, or someone else they know about something important from their past. Encourage students to use the 4 Tips for Effective Interviews learning object and the Great Questions List from today’s lesson. They can use these questions or write their own. Students should record their questions and their interviewee’s responses; they are also welcome to record the interview using the StoryCorps App. All the information students need to download and use the StoryCorps App for recording an interview can be found here.

Ask students to sit or stand in a circle. One at a time, in clockwise fashion, have students complete the following prompts:

  • “One person I’d like to interview for my homework is…”
  • “Something important I would like to ask this person is …”

Each week, the StoryCorps podcast shares these unscripted conversations, revealing the wisdom, courage, and poetry in the words of people you might not notice walking down the street.