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Using TV Interviews to Craft Authentic Questions

posted: 3.31.14 by Andrea Lunsford

Today’s guest blogger is Andrew Bishop. Andrew has an M.A. in English from the University of Tennessee. In addition to tutoring at Highbridge Voices in the Bronx he also teaches writing and American literature courses at Hudson County Community College in Jersey City, NJ. 

Interviewers (like teachers) are often guilty of asking questions to which they assume they already know the answer. Besides having a potentially negative psychological impact on the interviewee, condescending or biased questions rarely make for productive conversation. One way to push students to develop more authentic questions in their ethnographic research assignments is to have them to do a little role-playing, imagining themselves as the host of a popular television program.


To have students practice developing effective interview questions.

Background reading before class

  • Everything’s an Argument, p. 404, Conduct Interviews
  • The St. Martin’s Handbook, Ch 11e, Conducting Field Research
  • The Everyday Writer, Ch 16e, Conduct Field Research
  • Writing in Action, Ch 13e, Conduct Field Research
  • EasyWriter, Ch 37e, Field Research

In Class

First, familiarize your students with the idea of authentic questions. Have students work in pairs, with each group creating a list of authentic and inauthentic questions, good interview questions and bad ones. It’s not going to be obvious to many students; some of them will never have thought about how much the type of question matters to the quality of the interview. Encourage students to purposely create bad interview questions, getting students to recognize when questions are condescending/biased/leading and why this might be a problem. Perhaps you could show the class a terrible interview with a celebrity or political figure.

Follow –Up Assignment

Then, provide students with a few brief primary and secondary sources related to a celebrity who has recently published a memoir and appeared as a guest on a television show – or, have them collect their own sources. For instance, I have used Neil Young as a hypothetical interview subject, and I provided my students with a few of Young’s song lyrics, a brief bio, and a reproduction of the front cover of Waging Heavy Peace, his memoir. Ask students to imagine themselves as a television show host about to interview the celebrity you have chosen. In preparation for a five-minute live interview, have students use the sources to develop a set of five authentic questions.

After students have written their five questions, have them watch an actual interview with their chosen celebrity. Then, have students consider the following questions:

  1. In the actual interview, which questions created the most – and the most interesting – conversation? Which questions fell flat?
  2. Which of your own questions would have worked? Why or why not?
  3. How would a different rhetorical situation (a different talk show, a younger audience, etc.) affect the types of questions you asked? For example, Justin Timberlake on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon will be different than, say, former Tonight Show host Jay Leno being interviewed on 60 Minutes.

Next Steps

This activity works well as preparation for a larger ethnographic research paper assignment, one which requires students to conduct two to three interviews. Students should now be ready to go out in the field and conduct interviews of their own.

Want to collaborate with Andrea on a Multimodal Monday assignment? Send ideas to for possible inclusion in a future post. 

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