Fish Bowls and Bloopers:
History in the Classroom
interview is the highlight of an oral history project for many
strengthen their ability to conduct an interview in the field
successfully, students should have multiple opportunities to
explore the interview process. Students afforded a chance to practice, discuss, observe, and
model interviews bring confidence and sensitivity to the
actual interview. The following sample activities are just a
few ways that the classroom can provide a forum for developing
good interviewing techniques.
Fish Bowl Interviews
bowl interviews take place when the teacher interviews a guest
on the topic under investigation in front of the entire class
as a way to model the process.
This allows students to observe an interview in
progress and give feedback. The teacher and guest should sit
either in front of the class or in the middle of a circle of
students, facing each other while being tape recorded. The
teacher should use this opportunity to model the kind of
interview she/he expects from students.
to the interview, the teacher should explain what he/she wants
the students to observe; the teacher could also brainstorm
with them and uncover what they would like to learn from the
interview. After the interview, the teacher should allow ample
time for a discussion and review of the interview. The issues
and questions raised in this forum provide teachers with an
opportunity to address the concerns students as they envision
themselves as the interviewers.
Many teachers incorporate additional writing
assignments; after the interview students could write about
one of the following:
Describe examples from the interview that did or did
not meet the guidelines you have been learning for good
What did you learn about your topic from this interview
that you probably
would not have learned from a newspaper or textbook?
Now that you have seen one, describe how you imagine
you would feel
conducting an oral history interview.
Write about something the interviewee said that stood
out for you.
Write one or several questions that you would have
asked the guest if you
had been the interviewer.
Write a list of suggestions to the teacher about how to
Describe what would have been the hardest part for you
if you had been
List questions you have about conducting an interview.
Write a thank you note to your guest describing what
you learned from
the interview and asking any questions you still have.
What are three questions used in this interview that
you would like to use
in yours. Why?
playing a variety of interview scenarios is also helpful. One
over time as part of a series of classes (e.g., ten minutes of
role playing per
or as an entire class. A couple of examples are:
Students role play the first two minutes of the interview
finding a place to set up equipment, warm up, first
Students role play a 2-3 minute series of interview questions
on a particular characteristic of good interviewing, e.g.
to ask follow-up questions, sensitivity.
each role play, the class gives the performers feedback about
well, what they might improve, what was missing, etc.
is another form of role playing that students enjoy. Pairs of
students receive an index card identifying one rule for or
characteristic of a good interview.
Students, in pairs, get five to seven minutes to create
a scenario that will demonstrate a violation of the assigned
rule. The student pairs take turns enacting their scenarios in
front of the class. One student plays the role of interviewer
and the other, the narrator. The class guesses which interview
rule has been violated and the enactors tell them if they are
correct. In these engaging performances, students observe or
enact both "bloopers" and consequences
beginning the interview abruptly, asking questions out of
sequence, being rude, forgetting batteries, and making an
awkward closing. Students "see" the implications of being
or failing to be thoughtful interviewers.
each other in class as part of a paired activity before they
to do their taped interview is quite helpful to many students.
can be short; ten minute activities in class in which each
pair has five minutes to practice with the other, followed by
a brief discussion
class of how it felt, what was hard, and what was easy. Even
begin to build familiarity with the process. In addition,
stimulate a lot of discussion; students with reluctance or
are willing to share their experiences as they "debrief"
after these classroom
invented transcripts of interviews is an activity that works
well after students have been introduced to the
characteristics of a good interview.
Students can identify what good or bad interview
characteristics the transcripts contain. This works as a whole
class or small group activity. A few sample assignments used
with invented transcripts are:
All students receive copies of the invented transcripts. Two
students, one as narrator and one as interviewer, read the
interview out loud. As they watch, students check off each
instance of bad interview practice. At the end of the reading,
teacher facilitates a discussion of student choices.
Class reads one or two interviews and inserts follow-up
questions wherever students feel they are missing. A
discussion of individual choices could further clarify the
need for, and the characteristics of, follow-up questions.
Class reads an interview silently checking off each place
where it feels the interviewer failed to follow good interview
strategies. Class then discusses its choices and identifies
which interview guidelines it felt were overlooked.
Class reads an interview making a list of which interview
strategies are used in the interview, citing examples.
OF HISTORY SPRING 1997
Magazine of History Volume 11, number 3, Spring, 1997
ISSN 0882-228X. Copyright (c) 1997 Organization of American
Historians <http://www.oah.org/>, 112 North Bryan
Avenue, Bloomington IN 47408. tel (812) 855-7311 fax: (812)
855-0696 email: <email@example.com> This is an Adobe
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