The Anatomy of a Great Interview

Posted by Kim Baskin on October 27, 2016

This fall, StoryCorps and Facing History are once again bringing The Great Thanksgiving Listen to Facing History students around the country. Students can take the opportunity to listen to stories from their loved ones by having a meaningful conversation and learning critical listening skills.  

StoryCorps The Great Thanksgiving Listen

Everybody has a story worth telling but getting someone to open up and tell their story is about more than just asking questions. Here are some helpful tips on how to have a great interview with someone you love. These tips will make sure you create a memorable experience while learning something new - and maybe even something surprising.


  • Let your partner know beforehand why you would like to interview them and come with questions prepared, but also be prepared to go off script and follow the conversation where it leads. Remember to find a quiet, private space for your time together.

Getting started:

  • Ask warm up questions to make your interview partner feel comfortable and to ease into the conversation. For example, where were you born? Who did you grow up with? What is your favorite memory from your childhood?

Build trust and rapport:

  • Listening is such a simple act, but it is often very hard to do. Try to listen carefully to what your partner says and how they say it. There are so many hidden clues in there and you might find a topic, feeling, or subject that you want to explore further.
  • Follow-up a usual turn of phrase or a memorable response by asking “what” questions. “What did you mean by that?” or “What happened next?”
  • Be conversational. Don’t be afraid to offer one of your own favorite memories about the person. This will ensure that it is a relaxed and enjoyable experience for both of you.

Reflect together:

  • Repeat events back to your partner in your own words, giving your guest a chance to affirm that the story is correct or incorrect. This way they have a chance to clarify in greater detail or add a new element.
  • Don’t runaway from silence! Often we’re tempted to fill a long pause during an interview, but if you wait, and allow your partner to really think about what they want to say, you may end up hearing your interview’s best moment!

Wrap it up:

  • Plan some closing questions that help to summarize the conversation you had and its major themes: “What advice would you give to a new parent?” Or, “Looking back after the war, what lessons would you want future generations to know?”
  • Be grateful and thank your partner for sharing their life with you!

Make sure to sign up for this year's Great Thanksgiving Listen with Facing History and StoryCorps. And don’t forget to tag your interview with the keyword FacingHistoryandOurselves! Below you'll find more resources to help you conduct the best interview you can with your loved one!

Sign Up Today!

Facing History Resources:

StoryCorps Resources:


Topics: StoryCorps, The Great Listen

At Facing History and Ourselves, we value conversation—in classrooms, in our professional development for educators, and online. When you comment on Facing Today, you're engaging with our worldwide community of learners, so please take care that your contributions are constructive, civil, and advance the conversation.


Welcome to Facing Today, a Facing History blog. Facing History and Ourselves combats racism and antisemitism by using history to teach tolerance in classrooms around the globe.

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