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Ask a Candidate: Interview Skills

During election season, Scholastic Kid Reporters will be covering election news all over the country. In this activity, your students get a chance to "play" reporter and develop their own interviewing skills.

Duration: about 40 minutes

Objective: Students will be able to develop meaningful, open-ended questions for a political candidate.

Materials: Computer(s) with Internet access; Ask a Candidate (PDF)

Set Up and Prepare: Select a recent news story or video/audio feature in which Scholastic's kid reporters interview a candidate. Print out and make copies of the Ask a Candidate PDF .

Directions:

  1. Begin by explaining that students will have a chance to prepare interview questions for a current presidential candidate. Discuss what a news interview is like. Point out that a news reporter usually starts off with a prepared list of questions he or she would like to ask (of course, the person's answers often lead to new questions). These questions are based on research of the candidate’s background and stand on important issues.

  2. Have students read or listen to the news feature you have selected. If listening to a recorded interview, ask students to pay special attention to the kinds of questions the Kid Reporter is asking. If reading a news story, have students look for evidence in the text that the Kid Reporter has spoken with a particular candidate. The evidence may take two forms:
    • A direct quotation: Point out that a direct quote uses a person's exact words and is set off by quotation marks. For example: "I want to cut back on air pollution by 40 percent," said Candidate X.
    • Paraphrased material: In this case, the reporter uses his or her own words to summarize the candidate's words. For example: Smith also said that he would like to improve water quality near America's big cities.

  3. Challenge students to imagine the question(s) that the Kid Reporter posed to get the quoted or paraphrased information from the candidate. (If you are working with a recorded interview and know the exact questions that were asked, you can skip this step.)

  4. Using the students' brainstormed questions, discuss what makes a good interview question. Point out that open-ended questions elicit more information than closed-ended questions (questions that require a yes/no or one-word answer). Show students what you mean by offering some examples. If a reporter only has time to ask one question, which question would be more effective?
    • Do you care about pollution?
    • If you were elected, what would you do to help cut pollution?

  5. Next, explore the focus of interview questions. Almost all kids have had the experience of being asked, "How are you doing?" and giving the answer, "Fine." That's because a general question almost always leads to a general answer. A good reporter will think about what he or she really wants to know before asking a question. Sometimes the reporter will start off an interview with easy, general questions just to break the ice, but then he or she usually moves on to specific issues. Again, use examples to help students understand. Which question do students think would work better?
    • How is your campaign going?
    • What is your stand on beefing up airport security?

  6. Have students pair up and practice asking one another open-ended questions that focus on kids' everyday lives (Example: What animal do you think makes the best pet, and why?).

  7. Finally, have students use the Ask a Candidate PDF to brainstorm some questions that they would like to ask a specific candidate. Students should focus their questions on issues that they care about. You may want to brainstorm examples of election issues together as a class (education, the environment, the war on terrorism, foreign policy, poverty, crime, etc.). Have students check Scholastic's "Ask a Candidate" bulletin board to see what questions have already been asked relating to their issues. Then have them post their own new questions on the boards.

Supporting All Learners: To help auditory learners hear open-ended questions in use, have students listen to some of the audio features on the site.

Lesson Extensions: Invite a news reporter from your local newspaper or the high school student newspaper to speak to the class about the challenges of interviewing.

For older students, play a snippet of a television news show in which a person is interviewed. Have students critique the interview. Did the interviewer ask good questions? Did the subject answer what was asked?

Assess Students: Have each student hand in his or her completed PDF question-planning sheet. Look for questions that focus on specific topics but are open-ended.

ELECTION 2008

Scholastic Kid Reporters are on the campaign trail. Keep up with the latest election news in this special report.

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