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Conducting interviews - animating a controversy

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Brief Assignment Overview: 

Students are asked to extract key claims and questions from an assigned article and then interview people about these claims and questions. The results can be used to demonstrate the spectrum of possible responses to a controversy, as contextual information when mapping a controversy, or even - with the appropriate strategic presentation - as evidence for a final, persuasive paper.

Assignment Length: 
Pedagogical Goals - Rhetoric: 
Pedagogical Goals - Writing: 
Pedagogical Goals - Digital Literacy: 
Required Materials: 
  • Article(s) for generating questions
  • Audio-visual recording devices will be helpful, but can be done on a questionnaire basis
  • Media console/projector will be helpful for presenting results
Timeline for Optimal Use: 
Full Assignment Description: 

This assignment is designed for lower level/intermediate rhetoric and writing classrooms. Its aim is to get students to think of the controversies they are working on as ongoing discussions with real life consequences rather than in abstract academic terms. It also introduces them to the concept of doing (light-weight) original research.

Students are assigned an opinion article related to the course topic as homework, from which they extract key claims and develop interview questions. Since this assignment is designed as a group project and students will benefit from a shared base for comparison when results are presented, I would not let each student work on their own articles. But this depends in part on the point in the semester at which the exercise is done. At some point towards the end, at least in my classes, students will have their own, quite specific research interests. By that time it might make sense to divide students into groups according to overlapping interests and let them work more freely. Depending on the technology available to you, it may be important to make sure that each group has at least one member with a mobile phone that can do audiovisual recordings.

For the first 15 minutes of class time, students get together in groups and design an interview questionnaire as they discuss their understanding of the assigned material. They should also talk about how to conduct interviews: will they have one person who will consistently be the interviewee and another one or two who will record, or do they want to switch roles? Finally, they should think about what kind of people they want to interview (only a certain age group, gender, only people from Texas, etc.) depending on the controversy at hand.

Students then get between 30 to 45 minutes to find interviewees and conduct their surveys. You may want to give them an area in which they are allowed to find interviewees if you don't want them wandering off too far. And it may be a good idea to be present in the general area to keep an eye on your different groups.

There will not be enough time to present each group's results in the same class period, but a quick de-briefing is a good idea. Ask students to talk about the questions people had most to say on and the ones for which it was most difficult to elicit a response. Did they identify any general trends in their interviewees' answers?

As a homework assignment, ask each group to condense their material and prepare a quick (2 min.) presentation on it. Depending on when in the semester the exercise is done, the presentations can be used as a springboard to discuss different stakeholders, audiences, or to talk about developing arguments from the interview materials

Suggestions for Instructor Preparation: 

You should identify an area on campus close to your classroom that is busy enough for your students to find plenty of interview partners there. Ideally it should also be an area that you can overlook from a strategic position to follow what your students are doing.

Instructions For Students: 


  • Read the article "[...]"
  • Extract the x main claims the author is making
  • Develop a catalogue of 4 questions you as a journalist might ask a 'man on the street' who has not read the article in order to find out more about the topic

In class:

  • Get together in groups of 3
    (if instructor cannot provide recording devices, make sure at least one student per group can record with their mobile device; of make this a written survey assignment)
  • Discuss the article and the questions you have come up with
  • Decide on a 5-8 question protocol to interview people on campus
  • You have 15 minutes to do this

  • In your groups, go to [area on campus you identified]
  • Interview at least five people about the topic of the article

  • Be back by [10-15 minutes before class is over]
  • Prepare to discuss your interviewees' reactions to different questions, their general positions, and any common trends you can identify


  • Sum up you group's findings in a brief (2 min) presentation
  • You may use snippets of original footage and/or statistical graphs to represent the most important information you obtained
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